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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Why Is Your Turkey Dry?

By November 27, 2013

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Dry Roast Turkey? (Getty Images)While watching the History Channel, I learned why I haven't made a dry turkey. The secret of my success? Impatience. My family circles the roasting turkey, ready to pounce the instant it hits the minimum cooking temperature, which in my house is 170°F. Depending on what you read, the safe/optimum cooking temperature is 160°F to 180°F. The minimum temperature is supposed to protect you from bacteria (mainly Salmonella) and parasites (eww). If you shoot for the lower temperature then the dark meat of the turkey (the legs and thigh) will be tough and underdone. If you aim at the upper end of the temperature range then the dark meat may be fine, but the white meat will be tough and dry. According to the History Channel, at 170° the proteins that comprise turkey meat start to break apart, which produces a tender meat. However, at 180° the proteins start to coagulate, toughening and drying your bird.

Did you know you can't tell how done your turkey is by whether the meat is white or pink? The bones of young turkeys (and chickens) are porous, allowing hemoglobin to leech into the meat and tinge it pink, even if the meat has been thoroughly cooked. Smoked or grilled turkeys are especially likely to have pink meat when done.

Temperature can affect the quality of your turkey in a way you probably can't control, too. The rate at which turkeys were chilled when they were processed affects the meat texture. Similarly, you may expect differences in meat between fresh turkeys and thawed turkeys that were frozen.

Tired Turkey Syndrome | Thanksgiving Chemistry


November 23, 2009 at 6:00 am
(1) M says:

Thaaaaaat’s why there is a temperature range…I’m cooking my turkey to 170 degrees. Thanks!!

November 25, 2009 at 8:50 am
(2) drj says:

Just cook it upside down so the juices drain into the breast.
About 1 hr from done turn it over.

November 26, 2009 at 10:13 pm
(3) Jeff says:

The real secret to moist turkey is soaking it in a brine before cooking, and cooking it at a low temperature, like 300 for about 20 minutes per pound; 170 sounds way too low.

I figure some people don’t brine turkeys because they don’t have a container large enough; a 5 gallon paint bucket from Home Depot would do the trick.

November 26, 2009 at 10:18 pm
(4) Jeff says:

So I feel stupid, I totally misunderstood what you were saying, 170 in the actual turkey, not the cooking temperature.

Anyway, I still stand by the brine, it will solve the dryness problem.

November 27, 2011 at 6:02 am
(5) Chuzrain says:

I like a dry bird.

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