How to Baste a Turkey or Chicken

updated Nov 8, 2021
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Basting is an easy way to keep poultry like chicken and turkey moist, but the fact is that many of us only think about basting once a year at Thanksgiving. So if you need a little refresher on what basting is and how to do it, we have you covered.

What Is Basting?

Basting simply means to cover the surface of the turkey, chicken, or whatever else you want to baste with a liquid. The liquid can be cooking juices from the pan, melted butter, a marinade, or other sauces. And they can be applied with a brush, ladle, or (of course) a turkey baster. Basting helps to keep the meat moist and juicy. Basting is particularly beneficial when cooking a turkey because it slightly cools the surface of the turkey and slows down cooking, which in turn keeps the breast meat cooking at close to the same rate as the legs and thighs.

Is Basting Necessary?

The short answer is no, basting is not strictly necessary. There are other ways to keep meat and poultry moist, including brining, cooking a turkey upside down, and tenting it with foil. Basting is an optional step in our go-to roasted turkey recipe.

What Is a Self-Basting Bird?

A self-basting turkey or chicken has been injected with some combination of salt, water, other liquid, fat (like butter), and spices. The USDA requires bone-in poultry products, such as a whole turkey, that have been treated this way to be labeled as “basted” or “self-basted.”

How to Baste

  1. Gather your tools: A brush is the best tool for basting if you are grilling the meat since it allows you to apply just a small amount of the liquid and avoid flare-ups. But for easy basting when oven roasting, we recommend a ladle or turkey baster. A turkey baster will allow you the most control when basting.

2. Remove the meat from the oven: If you are grilling, you can baste directly on the grill (just be sure to avoid drips). However, for basting something you are cooking in the oven, the best approach is to remove the meat from the oven and close the oven door while you baste. Do not do the basting in the oven with the door open because you will lose heat, and it takes the oven a long time to regenerate that heat, which increases the cooking time. Remove your meat and place it on the top of the stove or a countertop and close the oven door.

3. Baste: Once you have the turkey or other meat out of the oven, quickly use the ladle or bulb baster to apply the pan drippings or liquid over the meat, and then put the meat back in the oven. Time is of the essence, as you do not want to disturb the cooking temperature, so baste quickly!

Most recipes will tell you how often to baste, but here’s a general rule of thumb.

  • Large birds such as turkey, duck, or goose: Baste every 30 to 45 minutes.
  • A whole pig on a spit: Baste once every hour.
  • Chicken parts: Baste every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Barbecuing meat: Baste every 15 minutes.