How To Cook A Turkey In A Bag: 1 Simple Hack To Avoid A Dry Turkey

how to cook a turkey in a bag

I’ve cooked a lot of Thanksgiving turkeys over the years, and I’ve eaten even more of them! And based on my own experiences, one of the most common problems that plagues an otherwise wonderful Thanksgiving Day turkey is dryness.

Dry turkey for your Thanksgiving Dinner is truly tragic because even when the meat is perfectly seasoned, it still isn’t all that enjoyable to eat. And while dousing it in gravy may disguise the dryness to some degree, it can never compare to the bliss of eating a properly moist turkey.

But I recently learned about a super simple way to ensure that your roasted turkey comes out moist and flavorful. And I’ll be sharing the secret with you in today’s blog post! :-)

If you’re feeding a smaller group, you might want to consider using a turkey breast rather than a whole turkey, but the cooking process is essentially the same.

turkey

The Secret To Making A Moist & Juicy Turkey

Dark meat takes longer to cook than breast meat.  So, in order to cook a big Thanksgiving turkey all the way through, you need to leave it in the oven for a long time. The longer your turkey is exposed to the hot, dry conditions of your oven, the more moisture it’s likely to lose.  Your grandma’s turkey recipe said a turkey baster is your Thanksgiving Day’s best friend, but it takes a lot of babysitting to baste a turkey, and even then you can’t guarantee that the turkey broth will penetrate the skin.

Another popular method for cooking the perfect turkey is brining.  But not everyone has the time to soak their turkey in saltwater before cooking it.

The simplest way to prevent that moisture loss from occurring is to cook your turkey in a cooking bag! An oven-safe roasting bag will create a steamy cooking environment for your turkey, producing a moist and juicy turkey with no additional time or effort.

(Note: I prefer the Reynolds Turkey Size Oven Bags because of how thick they are, but they were back-ordered on Amazon at the time of writing. But you can usually find the Reynolds brand oven bags in grocery stores this time of year, so check there first!)

turkey

Other Benefits To Cooking Turkey In A Bag

  • It’s Faster. Your turkey will actually cook a bit faster in a bag because the bag traps in heat as well as moisture. It’s important to keep the bag sealed during cooking, so you’ll benefit greatly from using a digital meat thermometer like this one to keep track of the temperature.
  • It’s Cleaner. Using an oven roasting bag makes clean-up quick and easy! Carefully removing the bag from the roasting pan sure beats scrubbing the pan for half an hour after dinner!

How To Cook A Turkey In A Bag

turkey

Step 1: Season The Bird

If you are expecting to cook a frozen turkey, make sure you thaw it thoroughly before you cook it.   Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel, then rub softened or melted butter or olive oil (either alone or mixed with dried herbs) over the exterior of your turkey. Next, season the outside and inside of the turkey generously with salt, pepper, and any additional seasonings you want to use, like rosemary or poultry seasoning.

turkey

Step 2: Prep The Bag

Before putting the turkey in the bag, it’s important to coat the inside with a bit of flour to help prevent the bag from bursting during cooking. Just add one tablespoon of flour to the bag, hold it closed, and shake it around a bit to coat the interior.

turkey

Before putting the turkey in the bag, it’s important to coat the inside with a bit of flour to help prevent the bag from bursting during cooking. Just add one tablespoon of flour to the bag, hold it closed, and shake it around a bit to coat the interior.

Insert the turkey into the bag and place it in a roasting pan with a roasting rack. Twist the opening closed and tuck it under the bird, then cut six slits into the top of the bag to vent excess steam.

turkey

Finally, place the temperature probe of your digital thermometer (if using) into the thickest part of the thigh.

turkey

Step 3: Cook

With the prep work completed, it’s time to cook the turkey! Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended in your favorite recipe, then put the pan in the oven (or this fantastic electric roaster)

The 13-pound turkey pictured here took about 2 hours to cook in the Reynolds Oven Bag. But like I said, it’s best to use a digital meat thermometer to know for sure when it’s done!

turkey

Step 4: Rest

Once your turkey is fully cooked, remove it from the oven. Let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving, then serve up your delicious and perfectly moist turkey! :-)

More Tips for the Perfect Turkey

  • If you want crispy skin, wait until it’s fully cooked and you have let it rest, then open up the top of the oven bag so the whole top of the turkey breast is exposed.  Add some more butter to the skin and put it back under the broiler for 5-10 minutes.  Keep an eye on it, you don’t want it to burn.
  • If parts of the skin start to burn before the rest is crispy, cover them with aluminum foil.
  • If you don’t have enough turkey broth to make gravy, supplement with chicken broth.
  • If you’re using a convection oven, you can expect your turkey to cook 20-30% faster than using a regular oven.
  • Not everyone likes to save the giblets to use in their broth, but saving and boiling the neck is a great, fast way to get extra turkey broth.
  • I don’t recommend stuffing your turkey, since a stuffed turkey may not cook as well as one that is unstuffed.  You can still get the great flavor of turkey stuffing by using turkey broth in your recipe.

What’s your best Thanksgiving tip or trick?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • I always use Reynolds Cooking Bags with a twist. An Army cook told me how to get a moist turkey. When you’re cooking the turkey the juices always fall to the bottom of the pan, so put the breast down and as the juices fall down it runs through the breast and makes it super moist. I always cook it low temp and slow. The best turkey ever. Give it a try.

  • I always use the Reynolds Roasting Bags and my.turkey is never ever dry: one warning tho, I have made the mistake of taking it out too soon! The pop up timer WILL pop out before the turkey is done, due to the steam fooling it into thinking it is ready, lol. Go by the recommended times and use that thermometer!!!

  • Quite a while ago, I looked into using a bag for roasting the turkey but there were temperature limitations (don’t go over 350º or 400º, and as you can see, I do). My go-to method is the hothouse: Stuff the turkey, baste it with butter, then make an all-encompassing foil tent (heavy duty) loose around the turkey, but tight to the pan. Roast at 450º till it’s done (usually much faster than 350º). Since I also brine, and sometimes smoke first before roasting, the tent/high temp method holds in what moisture remains after smoking. Sometimes I’ll do 2 smaller turkeys, one smoked and one not. I do not stuff the smoked turkey. I use the broth (and bits) I canned from last year’s turkey for the stuffing and the gravy, so flavor is definitely enhanced. Family is away this year, so it is just the two of us. I have 6 inch pie plates, and will make a teeny apple pie for two.

  • Reynolds cooking bags are the best!!! Thaw the turkey or turkey breast early enough to do a three or four day dry brine in the cooking bag, and then its ready to cook with no extra prep. My turkeys are always moist and super flavorful

  • I cook my turkey a little differently. We use a Charbroil Big Easy Oilless Fryer. It’s super healthy, takes less time and frees up the oven. It will hold up to a 16 pound bird and gives a crispy skin and is still juicy on day two. I just thaw my bird in the fridge, brine the night before, then on turkey day, I rinse, pat dry, spray a hint of oil on the skin, then load in the basket and cook outside in the fryer until it reaches 165 degrees. We have never been disappointed.

  • I’ve never tried a bag but have had reasonable success with rubbing the bird UNDER the skin with butter, salt and seasonings (as I do with whole chickens) to keep it moist and act as a kind of dry brine. Otherwise I’d recommend buying a heritage bird as the breast portion is more proportionate to the rest of the meat. Most people don’t know that the Broad-breasted white turkeys that are mass-produced for Thanksgiving have such large breast muscles that they can barely walk and can’t even reproduce on their own! The heritage breeds are more closely related to wild turkeys, and the meat imo (or at least the dark portions) is more flavorful. And because the breast portion isn’t so large they don’t require such long cooking times. They tend to be small (and expensive) but there are also hybrids that are bigger and more economical. For those that love their white meat the smaller breast may be a detractor but those like me who prefer dark meat (and shorter cooking times) a heritage turkey may be worth the splurge.

  • My sister in law always uses the bag method and I always feel the turkey has a rubbery texture. I won’t use this method. Sorry. (But I love Jillee’s posts, won’t give them up!)

  • I roast turkey / chicken by using a basting cloth. This will baste the bird as it roasts. Use two layers of cheesecloth trimmed to cover top of bird. Soak the cheesecloth in oil combined with melted butter. Salt / pepper and season the bird. Cover top with cheesecloth. Carefully and slowly remove cheesecloth when bird is done. I don’t measure the amount of oil and butter but you don’t want it to be soaking wet. I read this in a very old cookbook where the recipe starts out as slaughter, gut and defeather the bird, etc. Happy cooking!

    • Yes you can. I have used Reynolds turkey bags for years.inside box is instruction on both sides of paper for roasting with and without stuffing . It list cooking times by weight of turkey. Easy to understand directions. So much faster with bag. Bag is safe and turkey browns beautiful , stuffing & bird delicious.

  • My mother used to cook the turkey in a bag and the bottom always came out like mush. I’ve always cooked my turkeys slowly and basted them every 1/2 hr . . . mine were always moist and skin crispy and brown. I’m by myself and a senior so have decided not to make a whole turkey again, but would like to suggest that if you cook it with the breast down, why not put it on a rack that will keep it out of the grease that drips from the skin? I have two metal stands that I pushed into the bottom of my chickens etc. to keep them from getting mushy. Many pans come with their own roasting racks.

    • Place a rack in the roaster and the bagged turkey on the rack. Make sure that the bag is loose under the turkey so the juices will pool under the rack and away from the turkey. The turkey may still rest on top of the juices, but not much or any more than without the bag.

      • Yes! I always use a rack and in my opinion it’s a must. I also like to cook my turkey breast down for an hour or so and that provides more browning for the back and more natural drippings making their way downward to the breast. But above all, definitely use a rack.

  • I like this tip, and I’ll give it a try (mostly to eliminate basting). To be honest though, I never have the dry turkey problem, here’s why: I always brine my birds!

  • We also use a bag when cooking our turkey in the oven. We season the bird and then put some large pieces of onion and celery in the cavity. Next we add a bottle of Brute (dry) champagne. The alcohol evaporates while the turkey is cooking. Instead of stuffing we make dressing that bakes in a pan while the finished turkey rests and is then carved. The turkey is very moist and we can use some of the drippings to make the gravy. Simple and delicious.

  • I use a roasting pan, stuff my turkey, then put butter all over the turkey and the spices I use and fill the pan 1/4 with water and put the lid on then after a while I take the lid off and let the turkey brown. The whole turkey is very moist and even leftovers stay as moist and don’t dry out.

    • Hi Dianne,
      I am a senior, too, I do things the easy way a lot more often than in “days of yore.” I do not cook a whole turkey, I just cook a turkey breast. My husband is gluten intolerant, and the G.F. stuffing mixes are OK but not great, so we skip the stuffing, although we used to love it. When I start cooking the breast, I put melted butter on the outside, along with salt, pepper, and onion powder, and cover it, tightly with aluminum foil at 325. When the turkey gets to 140 degrees I remove the foil and baste it with the juices every ten minutes until the turkey reaches 165. I remove it from the oven and re-cover it with new foil, allow it to sit for 15 minutes before slicing it. The turkey breast has never been dry.
      As for the side dishes, I buy already mashed potatoes. Bob Evans sells great already mashed potatoes, with onion or plain. Evans, also, offers sweet potatoes, and McCormick’s offers gluten-free turkey gravy and all of these short cuts are delicious. I purchase frozen green veggies and we both love peas, but the beans, broccoli are great, too. Often fresh broccoli is available all year long and that just takes a short time n the microwave, as we both like it crisp. It does not stay hot long due to the little flowerets dissipating the heat, but so what. For those who hate broccoli, try putting some mayonnaise on it. I use Hellman’s and no other.
      Sincerely,
      A lazy old lady

  • I cook it breast down if I am carving it before it goes to the table as it doesn’t look picture pretty but it is always moist. My mum used “put the Lord Mayor in chains” – links of tiny sausage draped over the breast part way through cooking. would baste the turkey while it browned.

    • June, that is how I roast my turkey – breast down. Many years ago, I worked with a woman whose husband was a chef – that is how he did their turkeys. It isn’t picture perfect, but it is really moist. Yesterday I did a turkey breast, and put pats of butter under the skin, then basted it towards the last hour of cooking with chicken broth. It turned out very moist.

  • I use the brown in bag method as well and it always comes out moist and browned. I prepare it the day prior to Thanksgiving and store it in 2 throw away pans in its own juices and completely covered in broth. I reheat it on my outdoor grill for about an hour, day of, which frees up my oven. It’s moist and delicious and no one is none the wiser. Best of all, my stress level is non-existent!

  • Can you put the stuffing inside when using a bag? And also does the skin turn brown? I think the stuffing is one of the best parts of the meal. It’s just not the same if you bake it on the side.

  • I love using the dry salt brine “Judy Bird” recipe that is published typically this time of year. The recipe, based on famed chef Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco (and an alum of Chez Panisse). The recipe was traditionally used to make Zuni Cafe’s famed roast chickens but Russ Parsons publishes it (it’s on Food52’s website) because it’s technique produces a moist bird with tasty turkey skin, which many people also love. Basically, Rodgers used a salt-brined over a minimum of 24 hours, makes turkey not only come out moist and flavorful, but with a crispy skin, which is what I like about turkey…moist, favorable white meat, silky dark meat and a turkey skin that can’t be beat. It’s such a good recipe, I make more than one turkey so that I can use one for soup and other turkey leftovers. The meat stays that moist and delicious and freezes fabulously. So, I’ll have turkey left over for when I’ve moved on to ham and other meats for Christmas/December holidays. Google it and try it out.

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