While the Norman Rockwell vision of the holiday table portrays a huge, gleaming roasted turkey brought out to cries of delight, often that turkey is unevenly cooked. Unless you want to cook your turkey frozen, it's difficult to get the dark meat (legs and thighs) cooked through before the white meat (breast) overcooks.
The geometry of the turkey is the problem. The breast is exposed to the heat and has less fat, so it cooks and dries out more quickly. The legs and thighs, when attached to the bird, are surrounded by connective tissue and also more protected by the carcass. They cook by heat conduction rather than direct heat, so take longer to cook on the whole bird.
Here's how to solve this dilemma: roast turkey parts instead of a whole bird! When cut away from the bird, the legs and thighs cook more quickly while the whole breast, which is much larger, takes a bit longer to cook. Choose one herb mixture or rub and use that on all of the turkey parts.
If your family likes dark meat more than white, choose a smaller breast (which will cook in a shorter time) and add more thighs and drumsticks. If white meat is the star, choose a larger breast or roast two of them, and cut back on the legs and thighs.
You can still have stuffing; just crack the breast and put it over some of the stuffing. Cook the rest of the stuffing in the crock pot. Drizzle some turkey drippings over it and stir from time to time to get the flavor of the bird or to add more flavor to the drippings (and therefore your gravy), put sliced vegetables such as carrots, onions, and whole garlic cloves in the bottom of the roasting pan.
Turkey Part Cooking Times
All of these recipes cook at the same temperature (350 F), so you can cook the parts at the time, even in the same pan; just stagger the start times. Add the turkey legs after the breast has been in the oven for 30 minutes, then after another 30 minutes add the thighs so they're done at about the same time. Be sure to leave enough room around each piece (about an inch) so the parts roast evenly. Put 1 and 1/2 cups of turkey or chicken broth in the bottom of the pan.
The big trick is to get the turkey out of the oven when it's done. Use a couple of oven temperature probes so you're alerted when the meat reaches the correct internal temperature. If you only have one, put it into the breast and keep track of it.
As the finish line approaches, test the turkey more frequently if you're using an instant-read thermometer. Take the parts out as they reach the correct temperature and cover tightly with foil to keep them warm. The parts should all be done within 20 to 30 minutes of each other and you'll have moist and tender meat for the whole family.
Make gravy as you always would, using the drippings remaining in the pan.
Roast Turkey Part Recipes
- Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
Choose your favorite herbs for this easy recipe. Fresh herbs do have more flavor, but you can use dried if that's easier. Use 1/3 the amount of dried herbs as the fresh herbs called for in the recipe. Start with the turkey breast skin side up on top of the stuffing or vegetables.
- Roasted Turkey Legs
The cooking time is about 30 minutes less than the breast. Since the legs are cut off the bird, they cook more quickly. That's the secret to this process! Arrange the legs around the breast, skin side up. Be sure to leave some room for the turkey thighs.
- Roasted Turkey Thighs
When the breast has been in for an hour and legs have been in the oven for 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and add the thighs. Return to the oven and roast for 1 hour before testing any pieces. Remove the turkey as it finishes cooking and cover tightly with foil.