Ice On Your Turkey Makes It Tender, Apparently

Turkey day is fast approaching and for those of us not cool enough to be rocking the deep-fried turkey this year we’ll have to suffer though a potentially dry oven-roasted bird. Chef [Justin] came up with a great way to prevent dried out white meat on a turkey using ice of all things.

The enemy of moist and tender breast meat is heat. Cooking meat for too long will dry it out. There’s a problem, though: the breast is the thickest part of the bird which means it will take longer than the legs or thighs to reach the necessary 160 degrees. [Justin] figured that if he could cool down the breast with ice, it will take longer to cook and both the white and dark meat will come out perfectly.

[Justin] set up a test with two 15-pound birds. Both turkeys were allowed to come up to room temperature, then ice packs were put on the breast of one bird for 15 minutes. This lowered the temperature of the experimental breast by a few degrees. Both birds were then thrown into the oven.

After coming out of the oven, both birds looked great. The bird treated with ice packs appeared to be more tender and moist. Sounds like the perfect thing to pull out of our bag of tricks next week.

51 thoughts on “Ice On Your Turkey Makes It Tender, Apparently

    1. Yes, Brine it. but before you do, cut up some garlic cloves and stuff them into knife slits in the turkey breast, brine it overnight, rub some sage all over it and coat it with ghee, no stuffing inside but you can stick an onion in there if you wish, bake it in a turkey bag, keep it sealed (no, it won’t explode). even the leftovers are juicy.

  1. Wait, This doesn’t make sense. If the breast is the thickest, and it takes longer to heat up, and you want it reach temperature at the same time as the legs and thighs, wouldn’t you want to cool the legs and thighs so they take longer (as long as the breast)? I would guess from this setup, any gains in moistness are just a result of cooling making the bird not get cooked as much as the other bird in the same amount of time, and therefore be more tender. Does this make sense to anyone else?

    1. You’d be correct except that you don’t want the breast to cook to the same temp as the dark meat.

      I’d also guess that the bones in the legs/thighs would have some affect on how long they need to cook compared to the breast, which has very thin bones and heat coming from the top and the under side. I’d maybe put ice cubes in the chest cavity? Meh… Aluminum foil on the breast works very well. Monitor with a real thermometer and you’re golden (brown).

    2. I think the point is to cool the outer breast meat so it takes longer to cook, or rather, it should cook at the same rate as the inner meat. Usually the issue is the outer meat cooks first and then dries out while the inside is getting to the right temperature.

    3. You’re forgetting that white meat and dark meat are made out of different muscle types, they’re best when eaten at different temperatures. By starting off with a temperature differential you allow the dark meat to get hotter than the white meat, if you don’t do this you end up having to compromise either a dry breast or an undercooked leg.

  2. Wait. If the breasts take longer to cook that the leg/thigh, why would you want to make them take even longer by pre-cooling? Doesn’t make any sense at all. If anything, you should be pre-chilling the leg/thigh, so that it takes longer for them to cook, thus equalizing the cook-time with the thicker breast meat. Right?

    1. You’ve got a point Craig. It only makes sense if you don’t care about over cooking the leg/thigh – and then it doesn’t even make much sense.

      Soak the sucker in brine!


  3. “… will take longer than the legs or thighs to reach the necessary 160 degrees … cool down the breast with ice, it will take longer to cook…”

    Hmm… Something is wrong with your calculations…

    I think that what you mean is that the dark meat takes longer to cook than the breast, so if you cool it a bit you can make than reach the perfect temperature on the same time.

  4. The article words it funny (even wrong, perhaps) but here’s what happens:

    The breast (white meat, no bones) is “ready” at a lower temperature than the legs and thighs (dark meat with bones).

    If you cook the bird until the legs and thigh area are properly done, the breast will be overcooked.

    By cooling the breast first, you make it take longer to cook. With a pre-cooled breast, by the time the legs and thigh are properly done the breast will be reaching its ideal temperature. Instead of being done first and overcooking while the legs and thigh finish, it is now all done at the same time.

  5. Option 1:
    Brine it first. Then butter and burnt sage under the skin. You can also inject it into the breast.

    Finish it up by cooking in an oven bag.

    Option 2:
    Oven bag, tons of honey, bbq sauce. Cook bird with the breast down. It will take longer to cook because of the increased thermal mass but it will taste fantastic. Clover honey from Colorado seems to work best.


    Oh and you’ll need at least one arduino.

  6. It’s worth noting that there is a short article in wired this month (on the same same as the Tofurkey [blech!] article) that recommends this as well.

    While I have always brined my turkey as well, their “expert” recommends drying it open in the fridge overnight instead of brining. I think I might actually try that and the ice this year.

    Brined and smoked last year’s turkey and it was delicious, but not all my yankee in-laws enjoyed the smokey goodness.

  7. The main goal in cooking a turkey is to get the dark meat good and hot (175-180F) while keeping the breast relatively cool (<165F) [see Joy of Cooking]. Presumably, the ice treatment is an attempt to keep the breast from overcooking (though their explanation is lacking).

    Personally, I've always like a good high-heat (450F) roast with the bird on its side, flipping it every half hour [see JofC again].

  8. Get a roasting pan with a decent seal between the lid and the base. Baste every 20 minutes. The meat will LITERALLY fall off the bone without the need to carve. Best damn turkeys I’ve ever eaten.

  9. I read an article in a cooking magazine that basically recommended giving up on all this. Just cut the dang turkey leg/thighs off the turkey and cook them separately. You cut it all up when it’s done anyway. So that’s what I do now, besides brining the breast meat. It also seems that the legs/thighs cook more quickly, not being next to the body of the turkey.

  10. This has been discussed elsewhere:

    Since you ultimately want the breast and legs to be different temperatures, the question is how to successfully accomplish this. McGree presents one option, by using ice packs to keep the breast of the bird about 20 degrees lower than the legs while thawing, so that the legs get a “heat start” on the cooking process when they’re put in the oven.

  11. Do what I do. Cook it upside down.

    Breast meat down, dark meat up. The dark meat will cook faster and reach a higher temperature than the white meat will, and the fat from the dark meat will drain down and baste the white meat.

    It doesn’t present quite as well, but it’s some good eating!

    1. America’s Test Kitchen said to do this, and also bard the meat. That is, put thick strips of bacon on top while it’s upside down (and take them off when you flip it). They also said to cook only 1/3rd your stuffing on the inside for half of the time, then take it out and then mix it with the rest of your stuffing and to bake that mix then to make it both safe and turkey juicy.

      America’s Test Kitchen is #1 for cooking hacks.

  12. brine turkey 24 hours, remove from brine

    let dry in fridge 24 hours

    TRUSS THE BIRD ( no one does this, its the most important part)

    allow to come to room temp

    cook 400 F until meat hits 120 F

    reduce temp to 325 F

    remove bird at 155 F, cover

    don’t touch the damn thing for twenty minutes (resting)

    Carve by section, don’t take thin slices from the top of the breasts, instantly dry.


  13. I am stunned that there is no reference to Alton Brown’s technique so far. Don’t you guys watch Good Eats?

    The basics:
    – brine, dry, rub with oil
    – first 30 minutes at 500 degrees for a beautifully golden skin
    – cover breast with a fold of aluminum foil rather than ice
    – cook until done
    – rest

    A full read of the transcript also points out:
    – basting is useless since the skin is waterproof
    – stuffing is evil

    Sous Vide is, of course, better yet.

  14. Funny, I don’t call it thanks giving.

    For me turkey day is Christmas. Oh wait, what? You mean it’s not only Americans who read this site. How dare they. Don’t they realise it’s a dot com address?!??!

    Still the best way to do a turkey is to cook it upside down then flip is over for the last half hour to an hour of cooking time. It self bastes that way. And you’re only flipping it over to make the skin on the breast turn golden and crisp up a little. -found that one out after being hung over and accidentally cooking a turkey upside down whilst at uni about a decade ago!

  15. I don’t know about turkey, but my microwave knows how to make a great chicken.

    I have a 1992 Sharp Carousel II over-the-oven model and tried a few weeks ago to cook a 5 pound chicken in the thing for a few kicks. Setting the compu-cook to a roast turkey at 5 pounds, the thing went off to cooking and about 50 minutes later I was enjoying a fully-cooked inside and out chicken. no pink meat anywhere, and the meat was falling right off the bone.

    i’m going to try this with the turkey I have in the freezer come next week. I’m cooking a chicken tonight though…

    1. Murder – “1. The unlawful killing of one human by another, especially with premeditated malice.”

      So, are you saying that turkeys are human beings?
      Or that people are a bunch of turkeys?

      Presumably it would be more apropos to call “eating crow” murder, since murder also means “3. A flock of crows”

    2. meat is only murder for cannibals. And only if you eat what you murdered after you do the killing. Thus, you may eat other humans (cannibalism) without being the responsible party for murdering them (murder).

      As I often state: If we weren’t meant to eat it, why does it taste so good?

      Otherwise, stating something so inflammatory as you did is akin to logging into an iClud website and spamming that Apple sucks and Steve Jobs was the antichrist (I’m no fan of either, but respect other folks’ viewpoints). Or, in similar fashion, you can preach your PETA views and come across like other entities that only see black-and-white, such as the Taliban, the KKK, and Nazis.

  16. One big caution/reminder they forgot.

    You should not let the turkey come up to room temperature. Presumably they brought them up to room temperature to maintain similar conditions in their experiment, but that is not good food safety technique. Thaw it/keep it in the refrigerator, then prepare it (while cold) and put it in the oven promptly.

    Leaving a turkey out to get to room temperature is just asking for trouble. Remember, maximum of 2 hours total time above 40 degrees.

    The outside of the turkey would get to room temperature (and become a bacterial feast) well before the insides do.)

    Big thanksgiving and/or Christmas feeds are notorious for improper food handling. (Leaving dishes out on table for too long.) Food born illness can make for a memorable event, but maybe not in the way one would prefer.

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