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Turkey Roasted Breast Down

I am cooking a big turkey for the holidays and want to cook it breast down so it will be as tender as possible.

I experimented last night with a chicken - cooking it breast down. I inserted the meat thermometer into the breast as I always do and then inverted the chicken. When the thermometer read 162 degrees, I took the chicken out. When I carved it, the legs and some of the breast meat was not fully cooked. Basically, I think the reading was not accurate because the part that takes the temperature was too close to the bottom of the roasting pan.

I don't want this to happen to the turkey. Is there a different area where the thermometer should be placed when cooking a bird breast down?

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  1. For a large bird (18 - 22 lbs). do the following. Roast it breast side down at 425 for 1 hour. Then remove, turn breast side up, reduce temp to 325 and roast until temp in thickest part of thigh registers 170 to 180 (breast should register 160 at this point). That should be roughly 2 hours, but monitor. Remove and let rest 30 minutes before carving.

    1. You're correct, you should not take the temperature of the breast meat when it is inverted, nor cook it breast down for the whole time. As bnemes says, start it breast side down, finish breast up - although recommendations for oven temperatures and desired finished meat thermometer temperature do vary. The temperature of the meat will RISE by 5 or more degrees as it rests.

      1. JenBoes, you may also wish to consider the difference in size between the turkey which you will be cooking and your experimental chicken. The larger the bird, the more thermal carry-over there is of the internal temperature of the bird. Alton Brown recommends removing a twelve pound or more turkey from the oven at 161 and letting the heat in the turkey continue to cook it and bring the temperature up to (darn! I've forgotten--170? or 180?). Anyway, the point is that the bigger the bird, the higher the temperature will continue to rise once the bird is removed from the oven. Your experimental chicken, on the other hand, probably only weighed 5-7 pounds and, therefore, the chicken did not reach as high a temperature as a turkey, removed from the oven at 162, and weighing two or three times as much, would reach.

        1. Thanks for the good advice. I followed Alton Brown's recipe for brining, cooked it breast down for one hour at 425 and then flipped it and cooked it on 325 the rest of the way (boy, was that a challenge as the bird was 30 lbs!!). My meat thermometer bugged out during the cooking so I had to guess when to take it out. I took it out before you could "wiggle the leg" and let it rest under tin foil for about 45 minutes. It came out perfectly. It was the best turkey we've ever cooked.

          8 Replies
          1. re: JenBoes

            Congrats to you... I might try this technique with roasting chicken or game hens... the breasts of my last ones have come out dry despite butter under the skin and olive oil outside!

            1. re: JenBoes

              First: you're confused about cooking breast side down: It does not and will not make the meat tender. You're probably thinking make it more moist.

              Second: the thermometer placement (closer to or farther away from the pan) does not make a bit of difference. What you likely did was incorrectly place the thermometer too close to the outside (skin) or inside (cavity) instead of the middle of the breast and you got a false reading. Breast versus thigh placement of the thermometer is a completely different discussion, and trying to compare a 3.5 pound chicken to a 30 pound turkey is nearly useless.

              Third: 30 lb birds are far larger than what most recipes are written for. I'm not sure what Alton Brown recipe you followed, but most of his turkey recipes begin with a 14 to 16 pound turkey. Yours was twice that size and cooking technique is far different for a bird that large.

              Fourth: Make sure that you have a "instant read" thermometer (link below). They are VERY cheap and should be used in conjunction with a probe thermometer in situations like yours. "Undercooked" turkey? How do you know? Just because there is some pink near the joints does not mean it's undercooked.
              http://www.amazon.com/Taylor-Analog-I...

              Fifth: Take a look at the USDA recommendations on temperature and turkey safety. They have re-done most of the suggestions and now suggest a final temperature of 165 for turkey.
              http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FactSheets/L...

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                The Alton Brown recipe was for a brine, not how to cook the turkey. I just doubled it and it worked out fine. The reason I cooked the chicken breast down was only to see if I could get an accurate reading from the thermometer that way - no other reason.

                1. re: JenBoes

                  Also, regarding the chicken, I am pretty sure raw meat in the leg joints and breast constitutes undercooked.

                  1. re: JenBoes

                    It also shows that the thermometer was not placed correctly. I promise the fact that it was roasted breast side down and the fact that the breast and thus, the thermometer was closer to the roasting pan had no effect on the temperature reading coming out false.

                  2. re: JenBoes

                    You can get an accurate temp reading cooking it breast side down.

                    And in any case, you first said you "want to cook it breast down so it will be as tender as possible".

                    Now you say "The reason I cooked the chicken breast down was only to see if I could get an accurate reading from the thermometer that way - no other reason"?

                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                      I wanted to cook the TURKEY breast down so it would be as tender as possible. Re-read my initial post. Though it may not have been 100 percent clear, the reason I cooked the chicken that way was to test out the thermometer. Also, to me, overcooked meat is tough. Moist meat is tender.

                2. re: JenBoes

                  congrats and jfood can only smile at the test run of a 4# bird extrapolating to a 30# godzilla. Glad it worked out for you.

                  But jfood has to ask...how long did the 30# bird take at 325? It's gotta be upwards of 10 hours.

                  TIA