Roasting a large turkey for Thanksgiving is challenging for even the most seasoned home cooks. There are the logistics of storing and thawing a 10-plus-pound orb of frozen poultry and then figuring out the per-pound math for roasting your particular turkey. You also have two different meats — light, tender breast meat prone to overcooking, and dark meat that needs extra time.
A simple solution to that last obstacle? Flip the bird over and roast it breast-side down. While this technique won't give you a picture-perfect turkey, it will protect the white meat from drying out, while cooking the thigh meat faster. Roasting a turkey upside down is just as simple as it sounds.
Why You Should Roast Your Turkey Upside Down
Often the biggest complaint about turkey is that it's dry, but this method solves that problem. When roasted upside down, the turkey breast isn't directly exposed to the heat. In fact, being inverted means it's actually protected and insulated by the rest of the turkey. Instead, the dark meat is exposed with the thighs cooking faster in this position.
Having the thighs exposed over the breasts comes with a few added benefits. As the turkey roasts, the fatty dark meat of the thighs renders fat and juices that drip down onto the breast meat, slow-basting the bird through the whole cooking process. The thighs cook quicker when directly exposed to the heat and no basting means less time spent opening the oven. So beyond this ensuring juicier breast meat, you'll also find an upside-down turkey cooks a little faster.
3 Reasons to Roast an Upside-Side Down Turkey
- It cooks faster.
- The white meat won't dry out.
- It doesn't require basting.
Roasting an Upside-Down Turkey
Recipe-wise, this upside-down turkey isn't all that different from any roasted turkey recipe. You want to make sure the turkey is completely thawed the day of roasting. Remove the neck and giblets and liberally salt the turkey. I like to stuff my turkey with an onion, an apple, and some fresh herbs, but these are purely for the way they perfume the kitchen while roasting. Flip the turkey so it sits breast-side down in a roasting rack and set the rack in a roasting pan. Then roast the turkey. Start it in a hot oven to promote browning and then reduce the oven temperature and continue roasting until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Here are a few tips for determining doneness for your turkey.
- Know your turkey math: Plan 13 minutes of roasting for every pound of turkey. A 12-pound turkey will take about 2 1/2 hours, while a 15-pound turkey will take closer to 3 hours.
- Invest in a thermometer: Use a digital probe thermometer to accurately test for doneness.
- Take the temp in a few places: Take the turkey's temperature in more than one spot. This is tricker to do with the turkey upside down, but test both the breast and the thigh.
Browning the Breast Meat
Some upside-down turkey recipes suggest turning the turkey over during the last 30 minutes of cooking to brown the breast skin, but having tried this, I don't think the risk of injury is worth the little browning that occurs in the last 30 minutes of roasting. If you really want a brown, crisped breast skin, rest the turkey, then flip and broil the turkey (or even just the breasts) for a few minutes under the broiler.
Serving an Upside-Down Turkey
Rest the turkey upside down for 25 to 30 minutes before carving. Remove the roasting rack to a cutting board or baking sheet to rest while you make gravy with the roasting pan juices. Remove the thighs while the turkey is still breast-side down. Then flip to remove the drumsticks and breasts.
How To Roast a Turkey Upside Down
What You Need
1 (12- to 15-pound) turkey
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 small medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 small apple, quartered and core removed
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
Measuring cups and spoons
Roasting pan (or an alternative roasting dish)
Roasting rack (or something to keep the turkey off the bottom of the roasting pan)
Kitchen twine (optional)
- Thaw the turkey, if frozen: Thaw the turkey in the fridge. For a 12- to 15-pound turkey, this will take about 3 days, estimating 5 hours of thaw time for each pound of turkey.
- Prepare and salt the turkey: Remove the giblets and neck from inside the turkey's cavity. Set the turkey on a v-roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Liberally salt the turkey inside and out. Fill the turkey's cavity with the onion, apple, and herbs. Turn the bird breast-side down in the roasting rack. Leave the turkey at room temperature 2 hours before roasting.
- Roast the turkey: Heat the oven to 400°F. Roast the turkey at 400°F for 30 minutes to darken and crisp the skin. Reduce the heat to 325°F and roast the bird for an additional 2 hours.
- Finish the turkey: Begin checking the temperature of the turkey after 2 hours of roasting at 325°F. Use a probe thermometer to check the turkey's temperature in both the thighs and the breast. The goal is 165°F for the thighs and 160°F for the breasts.
- Rest and carve: Remove the turkey from the oven and rest for 20 to 25 minutes before carving.
- Make ahead: The turkey can be salted up to 2 days in advance and stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 2 hours before roasting.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.