How To Roast a Turkey Upside Down

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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

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.

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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

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.
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

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.

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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

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.

387 Ratings

How To Roast a Turkey Upside Down

Serves10 to 12

Ingredients

  • 1

    (12- to 15-pound) turkey

  • 3 tablespoons

    kosher salt

  • 1

    medium onion, peeled and quartered

  • 1

    small apple, quartered and core removed

  • 6 sprigs

    fresh thyme

  • 4 sprigs

    fresh rosemary

Equipment

Instructions

  1. Thaw the turkey, if frozen. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. For a 12- to 15-pound turkey, this will take about 3 days, estimating 5 hours of thaw time for each pound of turkey.

  2. Prepare and salt the turkey. Remove the giblets and neck from inside the turkey's cavity. Set the turkey on a roasting rack set inside a roasting pan. Sprinkle the turkey inside and out with the salt. Place the onion, apple, and herbs in the cavity of the turkey. Place the turkey breast-side down in the roasting rack. Let sit at room temperature 2 hours before roasting.

  3. Roast the turkey. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven, remove any racks above it, and heat to 400°F. Roast the turkey for 30 minutes to darken and crisp the skin. Reduce the heat to 325°F and roast the bird for a 2 hours more.

  4. 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 turkey is ready when it registers 165°F for the thighs and 160°F for the breasts.

  5. Rest and carve. Remove the turkey from the oven and let rest for 20 to 25 minutes before carving.

Recipe Notes

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.

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