How to Cook an Amazingly Moist Turkey

how to cook an amazingly moist turkey

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Turkey is the bird to eat on Thanksgiving, but honestly it is not my favorite.  It is often so dry!  However, my mother-in-law makes the best, amazingly moist turkey.

This summer I requested that she teach me how to cook a moist turkey.  She has perfected her recipe over the past several years and it was a honor to have her walk me through the process.

The best part about my mother-in-law’s method, besides how moist the turkey turns out, is the fact that the bulk of the work and mess is done the day before!

How to Cook an Amazingly Moist Turkey

1. If your turkey is frozen, thaw it in the fridge according to the directions on the package.  Typical thawing time for an average size bird is 3-5 days.

2. On cooking day, take out all the extras (the gizzards) and rinse the turkey.

3. Put the turkey in a large roasting pan and prepare the butter rub.

Turkey Butter Rub – Mix together:

4. Gently put some of the butter rub under the skin on the breast of the turkey.  Spread the remaining butter rub all over the outside and inside of the bird.

5. Add 1 inch of water to the bottom of the pan, put the lid on the pan (with all vents closed), and put it in the oven at 350 degrees.

6. Let the turkey bake for 1 hour and then baste it (squirting liquid from the bottom of the pan all over the turkey).  Continue to baste the turkey every 30 minutes until it is done.  You’ll know the turkey is done when the legs start to break away from the bird.  For an average size bird (about 15 pounds) this will take 4-5 hours.

At this point, you could serve the turkey if you wanted to eat it the same day.  However, it will still be fairly dry.  I recommend that you cook the turkey the day before you want to serve it and follow the remaining steps.

7. Let the turkey sit until it is cool enough to handle.  Then take the meat off the bones.

8. Put all the meat in a pan and cover the meat with drippings and liquid from the roasting pan, thin gravy, or just plain water if needed.  Refrigerate until the next day.

9. On eating day, pull out the pan and bake it covered until the turkey is hot.  It will be amazingly moist turkey!

How to Cook an Amazingly Moist Turkey

I love that you can really take your time cooking the turkey without needing to worry if it will be done too early or too late for the start of your big meal.  Plus, you can take care of all the bones and mess the day before.

Don’t be so quick to throw away the bones!  This past year I started making my own broth/stock and you could get a lot of broth/stock out of those turkey bones.  I freeze my broth and then use it in soups and other recipes or in replace of water when making rice. Here are the step by step instructions for making homemade bone broth.

Are you hosting a Thanksgiving meal this year?  Have you ever tried to cook your turkey the day before?

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51 Responses to How to Cook an Amazingly Moist Turkey

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  2. Heather says:

    My Aunt cooks her turkey the day before and it’s always so moist. I’ll be cooking my turkey the day before this year as well. I figure not only will I have moist turkey, but it will free up my oven for other Thanksgiving day meal items :)

    • Lisa G! says:

      I have a big house full every year. I’ve always done my turkey the day before. I needed the room. Make sides the day before and cook them on T Day. I even mash the potatoes in the morning and put them in a crock pot on low until dinner time. They stay warm all day. Less stress and all the mess is cleaned up before people get here.

      • Rebekah Hoffer says:

        That is so smart, Lisa! I think the best part about my mother-in-law’s method is getting the mess out of the way ahead of time. It sounds like you and her have a lot in common.

  3. michelle says:

    I’m going to give this a try this year

    • Rebekah says:

      Michelle, how did your turkey turn out this Thanksgiving?

      • Angela says:

        I am thinking about trying to cook my turkey the day before and was wondering at what temperature do I reheat it at? Can I cook it the night before in a bag?
        Thanks :)

        • Rebekah Hoffer says:

          Angela, if you prefer to cook your turkey in a bag then that should be fine. I highly recommend using the butter rub in this recipe. It really does enhance the flavor.

          I’m not sure what temp you should reheat the turkey to. Um… until it is as hot as you would like to eat it? Since you are fully cooking it the day before, you are just reheating it the next day like you would any other leftovers. Right?

  4. michelle l says:

    My turkey was very moist and tender no left over. Thanks for sharing I will continue to make it like this every year :)

  5. Holly J Wells says:

    Does the primary cooking day have to be the day before? Has anyone tried to cook the turkey say on a Sunday and then the re-do on a Thursday (like for Thanksgiving). Just curious.

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      As long as the meat doesn’t spoil, it seems like you could do it several days before hand.

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      Holly, I called my mother-in-law to get her opinion on cooking the turkey on Sunday. She thinks that might be a bit too long to let it sit in your fridge. She suggested cooking it on Sunday, putting it in the freezer with all the juices, and getting it out on Wednesday to start thawing. She hasn’t tried this method herself though.

      • Holly J Wells says:

        Yes, I see. Thank you. Everything I’ve read says 3-4 days and reheat to 165 degrees. I appreciate your response and opinion also from your mother-in-law. A friend of mine approached me with this question this week as to whether you can cook the turkey the day before and that is how I found your site. Thank you for your feed back. I’m doing a “test” turkey today.

        • Rebekah Hoffer says:

          How did your test turkey turn out?

          • Holly J Wells says:

            It turned out great. I chose to initially cook the turkey on Sunday and the re-heat of Thursday (a 4 day stretch) and had no issues. I would do it again without hesitation. The seasoning in the recipe was very nice. We enjoyed a flavorful, moist, delicious turkey dinner and the mess was long gone!

  6. reese says:

    at what temperature do I reheat the turkey?

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      I’m not sure an exact temperature matter so much on the day you reheat it as long as you cooked it to the proper temperature the day before. It is just like reheating leftovers, right?

  7. aisling says:

    I don’t have a lid to my pan, can I just use foil?
    thanks!

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  9. Ana Jenny Craig says:

    I didn’t read anywhere at what temperature to I originally cook it at?

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      You want to put the turkey in an oven heated to 350 degrees when you the day you cook it. The official temperature for cooked turkey is 165, but my mother-in-law (who taught me how to do this) never takes the temperature. She waits until the meat is practically falling off the bone and she can tell by that when the bird is done.

  10. rachel says:

    Cook at 350f on day one. Internal breast meat temp should be at 165 to be done

  11. susanne says:

    Could you help with me with step #8? Do you make a gravy and pour over turkey pieces…water?? I am just not sure about this step….help?

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      Susanne, pour all of the turkey juice from the roasting pan over the turkey meat and then add enough water so that it is covering the turkey.

  12. Tricia says:

    once you let the turkey sit overnight in the juices and reheat the next day is there a lot of juice still left to make gravy or should you go ahead and take out what you will need before letting it soak overnight? I just don’t want to lose the juices that would be needed if it soaks them all up overnight.

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      Tricia, if you want to make gravy it would be a good idea to set aside some of the juice. The juice won’t all be soaked into the turkey, but it will be a bit watered down from adding extra water to the pan so you have enough to cover it. Does that make sense?

  13. Tricia says:

    Yep makes sense! So go ahead and take out what I need and leave the rest and completely cover the cut meat with the leftover juices and water if needed to submerge them. Thank you!!

  14. Kirstin Anderson says:

    What if my roasting pan doesn’t have a lid?

  15. Teal Fullmer says:

    Maybe I missed this, but are you still able to stuff the turkey when you cook it ahead of time?

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      You will be able to make the stuffing like you normally do, but then you would need to pull it out of the bird, store it in another container, and reheat that the next day also.

  16. Heather M says:

    I’m only cooking for two (my first Thanksgiving) . I think a turkey would be way to big. Do you think the same recipe would work for a chicken or maybe just a turkey breast ? Thank you !

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      Yes, it would work fine for either of those, but I would cut the recipe in half. You still might not need that much of the butter rub, but having a little extra wouldn’t hurt.

  17. colette says:

    do you put the turkey directly on the bottom of pan or do your use roasting rack? Thanks! I’m excited to try this this year.

  18. shannon says:

    Can you cook the turkey in an electric roaster and if so, would it be the same temperature and cooking time?

  19. Caitlin says:

    I’m hosting my first thanksgiving this year and I’m excited to try your turkey!!! I do have a question tho for the drippings that I take out for my gravy could I replace that with turkey broth? I’m nervous about loosing the turkey flavor while it sits over night if I take the drippings out. What do you think? Thank you for your recipe! I’m excited to try it!!! :-)

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  21. Amanda Morris says:

    Do you reheat it with the drippings and water in the pan, or drain and then reheat?

    Really excited to try this! Thanks for sharing!

  22. Nicole young says:

    will it be okay to make day of

  23. Nicole young says:

    Okay! Thanks…. This is my very first turkey so I wanted to make sure!

  24. Nicole young says:

    If I use a bag do I still put the water in the pan outside the bag

    • Rebekah Hoffer says:

      I think I would google that, Nicole. My guess is that you would put the water in the bag to help keep the turkey moist while it is cooking, but I’ve never made a turkey in a bag.

  25. denise says:

    This method is really just overcooking the bird and then re-hydrating it. Doesnt make any sense at all to me. A lot of extra work and extra cooking time. Much simpler to cook it right the first time and only do it once. Less time, less work and a much better tasting bird .

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