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Nov 22, 2011 12:07 PM

Pep talk needed--not basting for the first time

This is my second time hosting Thanksgiving, but my first taking control of the bird. Last year my mom handled the bird and used her tried and true recipe (circa 1980s Silver Platte basting + cheese cloth) that has yielded 30+ years of excellent turkey but a lot of work and literal heavy lifting.

It is just going to be those nearest and dearest to me (husband/parents and our toddler who has unpredictable tastes) so no high-stress situation but still I am a little nervous that a no-fuss bird (despite finding a recipe that has gotten rave reviews) will underwhelm. I know that many excellent chefs don't baste but would love to hear some positive thoughts....


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  1. It will be just fine! When I baste, I just open the oven, use the baster to get juices from the bottom of the pan and squirt. But, that's just because I like to peek at the bird while roasting!
    You can also loosen the skin and put some herb butter between the bird and the skin before you put it in the oven.
    It will be fantastic, don't worry!

    1. my issue with basting is that the frequent opening of the oven allows heat to escape, which makes the oven temp fluctuate and increases cooking time, in kind of an unknown way. i much prefer to air dry the bird in the fridge, at least overnight, and place herb butter under the skin, especially over the breast meat. blast at 450 for about 30 mins, then lower oven to 375 and finish cooking.

      restaurant chefs do not baste roasting birds, except at the very end and only with pan drippings.

      1. Have no fear. The reason many excellent chefs don't baste is because it does NOTHING to increase the moisture in the meat and only moistens the skin, which is what you don't want (if you are a crispy skin lover). Leave the oven closed, don't baste, don't overcook and the turkey and skin will be just perfect!

        1. I've been doing your mom's method, basting every 30 minutes and using cheesecloth for more than 20+ years and always have delicious crispy skin, never roasting more than 5 to 6 hours (that extra time due to temp. differences opening door) for a stuffed 20# bird. I can't talk you out of it which is what you want, but please let me know how your bird turns out without basting since you know your mom's bird very well. The only thing that has changed for me over the years is that I no longer lift and remove the entire pan with the bird, I carefully pull out the rack but I do have to hunch over and carefully baste without spattering.

          I've read many comments stating that basting does not yield a crispy skin; I have to disagree since I've been using the SP recipe for so long and we love to eat the skin. With the SP method, the pan juices are filled with fat; it's what helps crisp the skin. The SP method also yields a moister bird even without brining, but brining does increase the level of moisture even more so.

          2 Replies
          1. re: lilgi

            "With the SP method, the pan juices are filled with fat; it's what helps crisp the skin. "

            all this does is add additional moisture to the pan and to the oven. it does not help crisp the skin in any way. i'd venture more than 99% of what you pour over the turkey slides right back down into the pan anyway.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              All I can tell you is that after doing this for 25 years I have a crisp skin. I don't think it's purely basting, it could be a combination of elements working together with this particular method. The turkey has a solid coat of seasoned butter before going into the oven and the first basting is done with a little melted oil and butter. There is cheesecloth on top, and I baste every 30 minutes with a timer. And after all is said and done, this works tried and true. My mother's turkey was undoubtedly drier with no basting but I can't pretend to even know or remember what she did with the bird. All I know is this way works 100% of the time and even without brining the turkey meat is moist and fantastic.

          2. Basting does only two things. It brings moisture to the top of the bird. Most of which runs off almost immediately; therefore it's essentially fruitless unless you're basting almost continuously. It cools the top of the bird. The exposed breast in that portion of the oven which is slightly hotter than the bottom (sans convection ovens) may tend to over brown and basting helps maintain a more even temperature, reducing the tendency to over brown. The cheese cloth method "takes the heat" so to speak, reducing the over browning tendencies, and also holds the basting liquid longer than the bare breasted bird.
            Don't worry about your turkey. If the skin browns a little more than you'd like, remove it when you put the meat on the platter.
            Be cautious with your "no fuss" recipe though. Many of them that I've read this year recommend finishing internal temperatures that go far beyond those recommended by USDA. You've got to be safe in food preparation but it isn't necessary to dry out a perfectly good turkey.