This May Be Why Your Thanksgiving Turkey Is Never Crispy

Step away from the turkey baster.

turkey on a table
Photo: Photographer- Alison Miksch / Prop Stylist- Kay E. Clarke / Food Stylist- Mary Claire Britto

You've bought your Thanksgiving turkey, dutifully thawed it a few days in advance, brined it, dried it, rubbed it with butter, tucked some fresh herbs inside the cavity, and nestled it snug in its roasting pan. Into the preheated oven it goes!

About halfway through the cooking process, you start to smell the unmistakable aroma of Thanksgiving: buttery, herby turkey juices bubbling away in the oven. Time to find your trusty turkey baster, which has inevitably been unused since last Thanksgiving. (Hint: It's shoved all the way in the back of your cutlery drawer, wedged in between your unused garlic press and those fondue forks.)

After so much careful planning and cooking, this is where you go wrong.

I know, your mother always basted her turkey, and so did her mother, and her mother before that, all the way back to the very first Thanksgiving. Before they even served pumpkin pie. But I'm here to break the cycle.

At best, basting is an unnecessary waste of time and energy. At worst, it might slow down the cooking process. Or burn your knuckles on the oven door.

Why Basting Turkey Doesn't Work

A perfect Thanksgiving turkey has tender, juicy meat and crisp, golden skin. Basting, or pouring hot pan juices over the turkey, adds moisture to the skin, which prevents it from crisping up nicely.

Basting doesn't add any flavor to the meat either. The juices usually run right off the bird back into the roasting pan. And every time you open the oven door—which, for obsessive basters is often—you let heat escape, which lowers the oven temperature and can affect the overall cooking time.

As any seasoned Thanksgiving host knows, timing is everything on this food-focused holiday. No one wants to sit down for a turkey dinner at 9 p.m. because the bird took too long to cook.

This year, resist the urge to baste. There are plenty of other cooking tasks to keep your hands busy. Chop some celery for our best-ever cornbread dressing, whip some heavy cream for the apple pie, or force yourself to sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy that heavenly turkey aroma.

Tips for Crispy Skin

Toss out the turkey baster and try these tricks to crispy skin instead.

Dry the skin before baking

You need to thoroughly pat your turkey dry before putting it in the oven. This is especially true if you brined it the day before, as any excess moisture will prevent the skin from crisping.

Go the extra mile and air-dry your turkey the day before Thanksgiving. To air-dry, you'll still pat the turkey dry with a paper towel, but transfer it to a baking sheet with a rack and let it sit uncovered overnight in the fridge. This little bit of forethought helps dry out the skin better than just patting it dry will.

Rub the skin with fat

Fat is going to help the skin get brown and crisp, and contrary to what most might think, butter isn't better. Butter does an okay job, but because it contains a lot of water, oil is a better fat to rub on the skin to ensure it gets extra crispy.

Loosely cover the turkey with foil

It's pretty standard practice to cover your bird with foil while it rests, but that foil traps in steam making that perfectly crisp skin you worked so hard for go limp. Instead, very loosely tent the turkey leaving plenty of space for steam to escape. You can even skip foil all together, the bird will still be plenty warm by the time you carve.

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