The Best Way to Get a Hot Turkey Out of the Pan

published Nov 28, 2019
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Credit: Lauren Volo
Now what?

After smelling it cooking for many hours, one of the most satisfying moments is pulling your perfect, beautifully bronzed turkey out of the oven on Thanksgiving. But exactly how do you get that enormous bird from the roasting pan to the cutting board without burning yourself, dropping it, or ripping the gorgeous skin you worked so hard to achieve? After cooking many, many turkeys over the years, I’ve experimented with a number of methods, and I’ve found the easiest solution requires zero special equipment.

As a food editor and recipe developer, I typically roast a few turkeys each year for recipe testing or photo shoots — and sometimes more. So while the average cook may only need to move a turkey like this once a year, I’ve had to do it dozens of times, and it’s often important (especially for a photo shoot) that it end up on the plate looking perfect.

Transferring the turkey out of the roasting pan can be more difficult than actually roasting it. You have to contend with a hot pan, steaming juices, delicate skin — and a large bird is a particularly unwieldy thing.

Credit: Lauren Volo
This is the goal.

I’ve tried using two pairs of tongs, but they tend to rip the skin and it’s hard to tilt the bird to pour the juices out. I’ve tried sliding big spatulas under the bird, but the weight is awkward. And, again, tilting it to remove juices is difficult. For a while I used oven mitts, but they were too bulky, plus I then had to wash them. Finally, another editor showed me a simpler, more effective way: paper towels.

Paper Towels Make Gently Holding a Turkey Easy

Grab a few paper towels and wad or fold them up so that you have a few layers in each hand. Then grasp the turkey on each side right where the legs meet the body, and lift. The paper towels are thick enough so that you won’t burn your hands but enable you to keep a firm grasp on the turkey. After you lift the turkey up, tilt it so the juices run out of the cavity back into the pan, then place your turkey on your cutting board or serving platter. I promise that the paper towels won’t stick to the turkey, and then you can just toss them afterwards.

This tiny tip can work for large roasts like prime rib or even a roast chicken. But on Thanksgiving, when having a picture-perfect turkey at the center of your feast is important, it’s a no-fail way to make sure you get that bird safely out of the pan and exactly where you want it.