All About Overcooked Turkey

Turkey is definitely the star of your yearly Thanksgiving meal. But you can land in a horrific situation when you have guests sitting at the table and your turkey turns out overcooked. To save your day from such a mishap, I’m going to tell you all about overcooked turkey and how to rescue it.

Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room – cooking a turkey. Cooking a turkey happens to be a yearly tradition; therefore, no matter how expert a cook you are, you might still end up with undercooked or overcooked meat. Turkey is a tricky bird to cook. 

But by mentioning these facts, I’m not here to deter you from taking up the task of roasting a turkey. You should totally carry forward the tradition of roasting a turkey. It is a fun activity to do with your family and keeps the tradition alive.

There are multiple easy ways to save a turkey in case you happen to overcook it. So, let’s toss out the fear of cooking a turkey altogether.

Now that you are prepared to roast a turkey, we will first take a look at the reasons that lead to an overcooked turkey. These will help you prevent overcooking of turkey. We will then find out ways to salvage an overcooked turkey. Let’s get started!

Reasons Your Turkey is Overcooked

overcooked turkey

1. Blame The Turkey

So, while doing my research to find out the reasons for overcooked turkey, the first and most important point that I came across was how to select a turkey.

Just like the case with any dish you make, if your primary product is poor in quality, it will lead to poor results. So, make sure to purchase a good quality turkey.

According to tradition, white turkeys are purchased for Thanksgiving. But did you know that they aren’t known for creating the juiciest cut of meat after roasting? White turkeys are bred to grow so fast that they don’t develop the intramuscular fat that makes a turkey naturally juicy. 

Therefore, according to experts, while picking up a turkey, you should go for a bronze breed of turkey, which is harvested at six months of age. A slow-growing bronze breed will give you juicer meat. 

However, keep in mind that this breed of turkey also cooks faster than the commercial breed. Therefore, you should make the most of a meat thermometer while roasting this turkey to prevent it from overcooking. 

2. Brine The Turkey

The debate over whether to brine your turkey or not is never-ending. While this process is totally optional, it does help to add more moisture to the bird that prevents it from drying or overcooking. 

Therefore, more often than not, you don’t end up with an overcooked or dry turkey. The method of bringing especially does wonders when using commercial turkeys for the reasons mentioned above.

3. Roasting Pan

Before roasting a turkey, make sure to use the right equipment for good results. Dark roasting pans absorb more heat and the turkey cooks faster than it should. Therefore, you must divert the heat by using aluminum foil to slow down cooking. Moreover, using a lid over the pan also traps heat. So, you should open the lid at regular intervals to baste the turkey well.

4. Not Using A Roasting Pan

If you think a roasting pan is an unnecessary attachment, think again! A roasting rack under your turkey prevents it from drying and overcooking. It also eliminates the risk of burning your turkey. 

5. Basting 

Basting is known to keep the meat moist while cooking. But basting only helps the fat (butter or oil applied to turkey) to spread and cook faster as fat is a conductor of heat. While basting may help smaller parts of turkey, i.e. the legs and wings, to cook well with hot liquid from the pan, the juices (liquid) must cool down before being poured over the breast so that they get absorbed. This helps the breast to stay moist and prevents it from overcooking.

6. Pile On The Fat

On turkey day, keep your diet aside and make use of the butter sitting on your countertop. The key to a crisp and flavorful turkey is massaging it with lots of butter. This also ensures a juicer bird! 

7. Not Removing The Turkey On Time

The idea that a turkey needs to roast all day is one of the main reasons that lead to an overcooked turkey. This is a major Thanksgiving faux pas. 

While roasting a turkey, always keep your meat thermometer closer to your heart than anything else. Moreover, keep the size of your turkey in mind.

A 5 ½ -6kg turkey would need about 3 to 4 hours in the oven. But a 3 ½ kg turkey would only need about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Additionally, the cooking time of turkey also depends on factors like whether your bird is stuffed or not and thawed.

If you have taken out a frozen turkey, it must be defrosted in the refrigerator for a day.

A turkey continues to cook even after removing it from the oven because of the heat trapped in it. So, once the thickest part of your turkey breast reads 150°, it’s best to remove it from the oven.

overcooked turkey
Turkey WeightApproximate Turkey Cooking Time (Unstuffed)Approximate Turkey Cooking Time (Stuffed)
3 – 4 ib. Breast, Half50 mins – 1 hourNot applicable
4 – 6 lb. Breast, Whole1 hour 30 mins – 2 hours 15 minsNot applicable
6 – 8 lb. Breast, Whole2 hours 15 mins – 3 hours 15 mins3 hours – 3 hours 30 mins
8 – 12 lb. Whole2 hours 45 min – 3 hours3 hours – 3 hours 30 mins
12 – 14 lb. Whole3 hours – 3 hours 45 mins3 hours 30 mins – 4 hours
14 – 18 lb. Whole3 hours 45 mins – 4 hours 15 mins4 hours – 4 hours 15 mins
18 – 20 lb. Whole4 hours 15 mins – 4 hours 30 mins4 hours15 mins – 4 hours 45 mins
20 – 24 lb. Whole4 hours 30 mins – 5 hours4 hours 45 mins – 5 hours 15 mins
3/4 – 1 ib. Drumsticks2 hours – 2 hours 15 minsNot applicable
3/4 – 1 ib. Thighs1 hour 45 mins – 2 hoursNot applicable
6 – 8 ounces Wings1 hour 45 mins – 2 hours 15 minsNot applicable

8. Allow Your Turkey To Rest

Once you are done roasting your turkey, allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before carving. This step helps the turkey retain its juices during the cool-down period. Carving your turkey immediately after roasting, pour out all its juices over your cutting board. This will leave you with a dry turkey.

 Also, avoid covering the turkey with aluminum foil at this point, as it will trap the turkey’s heat and overcook it. 

9. Overbrowning The Skin

In an attempt to create a charred turkey, you may end up overcooking the skin or browning it unevenly. While a golden brown colored turkey is ideal, you don’t want it to be burnt. So, if your turkey skin looks perfect but the turkey hasn’t reached its ideal temperature just yet, remove it from the pan and cover it with foil to keep it from over-browning.

How To Rescue Overcooked Turkey?

overcooked turkey

Now that you know all the reasons why your turkey can turn out to be overcooked let’s take a look at the methods to save your turkey. 

1. Bring On The Stock 

One of the easiest ways to salvage your overcooked turkey is using a stellar stock to rehydrate your turkey. This method is a win-win solution all the way. Combine some melted butter and stock and pour over your sliced turkey. This will not only help moisten your dry and overcooked turkey, but it will also add more flavors to your dish.

Pour some warm stock over the turkey and cover it with foil to let it absorb the liquid. Do not overdo the stock because you don’t want to drown your turkey. Or else place the turkey poured with turkey or chicken stock in an oven for 10-15 minutes.

2. Turn To Turkey Gravy

No turkey is complete without turkey gravy by its side. But to be honest, I feel this is a sure-shot way of making sure your turkey isn’t served dry, cooked, or overcooked on the table. 

A turkey gravy is made with turkey giblets, stock, and flavorful herbs and seasonings. It also contains a lot of fat to compensate for any dry patch. So, make the most of your turkey gravy by pouring hot or warm gravy over overcooked slices of turkey.

3. Focus On The Dark Meat

Most often than not, a turkey is not fully overcooked. You will find that turkey legs and wings, referred to as dark meat, have been cooked to perfection, while the breast portion feels dry or overcooked. So, while you save the breast portion with the two methods mentioned above, you can serve your guest with these pieces first.

Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

How do I know if my turkey is overcooked?

If your turkey reaches the desired temperature on the thermometer and looks cooked but dry on carving, it means your turkey is overcooked.

How do I save overcooked turkey?

You can save your overcooked turkey by pouring some gravy over it or baking it in the oven for 10 minutes with chicken or turkey stock poured over it.

How can I prevent my turkey from overcooking?

You can prevent your turkey from overcooking by buying a good quality turkey, checking its weight, and cooking it at an appropriate time. You should also take care of the heat it’s exposed to and remove it from the oven at the right time.

Does overcooked turkey turn pink?

Pink discoloration in poultry and pork occurs due to overcooking.

Can I cook a turkey with aluminum foil while roasting?

Yes, you can roast turkey with aluminum foil wrapped around it. It’s a good way to lock the steam and moisture. However, remember not to overheat your turkey, as it can lead to overcooking.

How can I reheat the turkey?

You can reheat the leftover turkey by slicing it into smaller pieces and pouring some broth over it. You can reheat the turkey slices in a microwave on medium-high heat for 2 minutes or in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 F.


I hope the information above has prepared you enough to save your turkey from getting overcooked. Moreover, it has also solved the problem of rescuing an overcooked turkey. For any more help with cooking your turkey, you can check out our website or ask your queries in the comments section below. 

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