Dribbling hot pan juices over a roasting bird has always been one of the quintessential images of Thanksgiving. But in recent years, we've noticed some recipes for roast turkey are leaving this step out. That makes us wonder how necessary basting really is. What do you think?
The main point of basting is to ensure moist and tender meat. It's usually done with a broth-based mixture made separately or simply with the pan drippings themselves.
Either way, the fat melts into the skin and the meat closest to the surface, preventing it from drying out in the oven's dry heat and adding flavor. At the same time, the liquid in the basting mixture evaporates and keeps the surface slightly cooler. This helps the meat cook evenly.
But there are a lot of other methods that can also ensure moist and tender meat, some of which supplement and some of which replace traditional basting. Brined turkeys often don't need to be basted as heavily since the salting process already ensures a moist turkey. If you're cooking a smaller turkey that doesn't need as much time in the oven, you can also simply rub the outside with butter or lay a few pieces of bacon over the quick-cooking breast meat.
Turning the turkey during cooking or tenting it with foil partway through cooking also help to prevent it from drying out. These techniques protect the meat from direct oven heat and regulate cooking speed.
Honestly, this is one time when we just tend to follow the recipe! We tend to be wooed by a new recipe every year, so we haven't yet settled on a favorite method. All of them work with some pluses and minuses - basting is fussy and ties us to the stove, turning a turkey is unwieldy, rubbing the outside isn't always reliable.
How do you make sure your turkey stays moist?
Related: Food Science: Resting Meat