If you opt to baste your turkey, how often should you do it? After all, if you do it too much, the oven or smoker will cool down considerably. That means it will take longer for your turkey to cook. Here’s our ultimate guide on how often to baste turkey.
How Often To Baste Turkey
You can baste turkey every 30 minutes, but doing so will lower the temperature of the oven or smoker and prolong the cooking process. We recommend basting the bird every 45 to 60 minutes. If you’re using the cooking juices as your basting liquid, consider switching to olive oil or melted butter for the last hour or so.
As meat cooks, it loses moisture. That’s a given. But when you baste a whole turkey or chicken, you’re helping to prevent the breast meat from overcooking.
Turkey breast is white meat, which means it only needs to cook to 165 degrees in order to attain the proper texture. The dark meat on the thighs and drumsticks, meanwhile, should cook to around 180.
That means that the breast could be finished cooking long before the entire bird is ready to come off the heat. Basting helps to prevent this. Here’s how it works.
The act of basting is the application of liquid—usually to the breast portion of the turkey. When you apply the liquid, the meat will take longer to cook, because the heat from the oven or smoker will need to work harder to evaporate the moisture.
Basting has another lovely side benefit: the fat from the basting liquid will caramelize on the skin, so the bird will be crisp and golden brown by the time it’s finished cooking. This creates the ideal contrast of crispy skin and juicy meat.
Is Basting Necessary?
Strictly speaking, no. You can skip the basting process if you don’t want to take the time to do it, especially when using the smoker.
We recommend smoking turkeys directly on the cooking grate. That means there’s no way to preserve the juices, which are commonly used for basting. Of course, you have other options, as we’ll discuss in the next section.
However, basting isn’t necessary even if you’re roasting the bird in the oven. As long as you keep an eye on the internal temperature of the breasts and thighs, you should be able to avoid overcooking the meat. Basting just adds a nice flourish to the process.
Proponents of the no-baste approach argue that the method doesn’t contribute much moisture to the breast meat and is therefore a waste of time. That may be true, but it doesn’t do any harm to try it, as long as you don’t let too much heat out of the oven.
What To Use For Basting Liquid
If you’re using a roasting pan for the turkey, you can baste the breast with the cooking liquid that collects in the bottom of the pan. That’s the traditional method, and it doesn’t require any additional steps.
For smoked turkey, try using melted butter, olive oil, or a combination. Even if you’re roasting the turkey in a pan, introducing butter or oil in the last hour or two will allow the skin to crisp up even more.
You can get creative by adding lemon juice and fresh herbs to your homemade basting liquid. This will improve the flavor as well as the texture. Other common additions include apple cider, beer, or the giblets from the turkey’s cavity.
How To Baste a Turkey
When basting, you should remove the bird from the oven or smoker and close the door or lid. That way, you’ll prevent too much heat from escaping. If you stand there and baste with the oven door open, it could take all day for the turkey to finish cooking.
There are basting tools available that you can use to suck up some of the basting liquid, then release it back onto the turkey. If you don’t have one of these, you can use a basting brush, or even a spoon or a ladle.
After drenching the breast portion with the liquid, carefully return the turkey to the heat. Continue as needed (see below) until the turkey is done.
How Often To Baste Turkey
Some recipes recommend basting every half hour, but we aren’t fans of this method. In addition to being time-consuming, it results in more lost heat.
Our advice would be to baste the bird every 45 to 60 minutes. Don’t worry if you’re late or if you miss a step entirely. As we pointed out, there’s no need to baste at all, but doing so from time to time will increase the likelihood of juicy breast meat.
How Long Does it Take To Cook a Turkey?
The length of the cooking process depends largely on two factors: temperature and size.
The hotter the oven or smoker, the less time the turkey will take to cook. But you don’t want to set it too high, or the skin will char before the meat has a chance to cook thoroughly.
Our recommendation would be to set the smoker to 275 when making smoked turkey, and using an oven temp of 325 for roasted turkey. The smoking process should take a bit longer so that the smoke flavor has time to fully suffuse the meat.
That brings us to the next factor: the size of the turkey. You should make your calculations based on the overall weight of the specimen. There will be variations, of course, but this gives you a ballpark estimate.
At 275 degrees, the turkey should cook for about 20 to 25 minutes per pound. For turkeys weighing more than 20 pounds, you can decrease this estimate by 2 to 3 minutes to avoid drying out the meat.
Turkeys that roast at 325 degrees should reach the ideal serving temperature at a rate of 15 minutes per pound. If the bird is stuffed, add another 5 minutes per pound for turkeys weighing under 20 pounds, and about 45 minutes to the total time for larger birds.
Since most turkeys weigh well over 10 pounds, there’s a good chance the meat will need to cook for several hours before it’s ready. That means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to baste the turkey, even if you only do so once every hour.
Alternatives to Basting
If you don’t want to take the time to baste the turkey as it cooks, there are other ways to help the meat retain moisture.
For example, brining is a good option, whether you use the wet or the dry method. We’re partial to dry brining because it’s less messy and doesn’t take up as much room in the fridge, but you can use whichever you prefer.
To create a wet brine, boil 2 to 3 gallons of water, depending on how large the turkey is. Feel free to substitute apple juice or cider, wine, beer, or chicken stock for some of the water.
Add 1 cup of kosher salt for each gallon of liquid. If you use table salt, decrease the amount to 1/2 cup per gallon.
Add whatever seasonings you prefer. Brown sugar, molasses, citrus fruits, fresh herbs, and aromatic vegetables can all add their own unique punch to the mixture. If you use acidic ingredients, take care not to brine the turkey too long, or it might turn mushy.
Simmer the brine mixture until the salt is dissolved, then allow it to cool below 40 degrees before adding the turkey. Putting meat in a warm brine mixture will send it into the “danger zone,” meaning it may no longer be safe to consume.
Add the turkey to the chilled brine and put it in the fridge for 8 to 18 hours. Don’t leave it in there for longer than 24 hours, as this can give the cooked turkey a spongy texture.
Dry brines are more carefree than wet brines because you don’t have to take the additional step of boiling the liquid. You won’t need to make room in the fridge for a brining bucket, either (although you can also use a watertight bag for the wet brine).
To dry brine a turkey, use about 1-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt for every pound of meat. Add a bit of sugar, black pepper, and dried herbs or spices, if desired.
Mix together the salt and other seasonings, then dry the turkey using paper towels. Rub the dry brine mixture all over the turkey’s skin, making sure to massage it into all of the creases.
Refrigerate the turkey uncovered for 12 to 48 hours, depending on how long it was thawed before you applied the dry brine. When you’re ready to start cooking, pat the bird dry again (no need to rinse it), then season and prepare it according to your recipe.
The Bottom Line
Although we don’t usually bother with basting when smoking whole turkeys, it does add a nice element to the roasting process. In addition to providing the breast meat with a dose of moisture, you can get visual updates on your progress as the turkey cooks.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!