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Perfectly Cooked Light and Dark Meat

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Q:

I can’t seem to cook a turkey evenly. One year the breasts will be perfect, but when I carve the bird, the thigh meat is shocking pink; the next year, the thighs are perfect but the breast meat is overcooked and dry. What am I doing wrong?

None

A:

Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid one or the other of these scenarios, because turkey breasts cook faster than the legs and thighs. (For food-safety reasons, it’s important to cook the bird until the breast registers 160° to 165°F and the thighs register 170° to 175°F on an instant-read thermometer.)

You can slow down the rate at which the breasts cook by putting ice packs on the breasts while you defrost the bird so that the breasts are cooler than the rest of the bird when it goes into the oven. Or, you can try our favorite trick for keeping the meat moist: start the turkey off in the oven breast side down with the legs pointing toward the back of the oven, where it’s hotter. About halfway into the total cooking time, turn the bird breast side up so that the skin can brown and crisp.

One other option is to cook the turkey until the breast meat is done, then simply carve off the legs and thighs, put them in a pan, and return them to the oven to continue roasting until they reach 170°F.

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