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So you’ve found yourself in charge of the turkey this year. You know a turkey baster is a thing, but you have no idea when or how to use it. Don’t worry, we’ve got you — and that juicy, juicy bird — covered. Possibly in butter. Don’t panic! It will all make sense shortly.

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Photography by Megan Madden, Prop and food styling by Sara Schipani

Believe it or not, basting your turkey is not a forgone conclusion. Not everyone thinks it’s necessary. Here are the basting basics to help you decide.

Basting is periodically drizzling some liquid over roasting meat to moisten and flavor it during the long cooking time. You can baste turkey with melted butter or other fat, stock, or drippings from the roasting pan.

Kitchen mavens have been basting turkeys as long as holiday dinners have been a thing, but does that mean you should too? There’s no easy answer!

  • Culinary queen Martha Stewart says yes, get your baste on.
  • Cook’s Illustrated made a science project out of it and concluded that basting makes a negligible difference in juiciness.
  • Ever erudite, the New York Times Cooking section said don’t bother… unless you want to, then go ahead.

With a lack of expert consensus like this, you can’t go wrong. Just watch out for the word “basted” or “self-basted” on your bird’s label. Those turkey-lurkeys have already been injected or marinated with fat, broth, water, or seasonings, and they don’t need all that extra drizzling.

We get it: Your grandma basted her bird. Your dad basted his bird. Your Uncle John deep-fried his bird, and things went sideways. You’re determined to baste the turkey for the nostalgic feels.

Here’s what you need to do it right:

  • A cute apron and potholder. Optional: an embroidered handkerchief to wipe your adorably glistening brow.
  • A rack that fits inside the roasting pan. This keeps your turkey above the fray. You can also use a loose coil of aluminum foil or build a platform out of potatoes, carrots, and onions. Have fun with it!
  • Your basting tool of choice. It could be the traditional bulb baster, a brush, or a big spoon.
  • A timer. You need a reminder to keep basting that baby on schedule. Do yourself a favor and set up two timers — one for the total estimated cooking time and one to remind you to baste at 30-minute intervals.
  • A meat thermometer. No matter how you tend your turkey, it needs to be cooked to a safe internal temp (165°F) before you serve it. Basting means opening and closing the oven door, which creates a temperature roller coaster!

Time to get your head in the game, turkey fans! Turkey roasting takes time, finesse, attention, and confidence. Follow these steps to basting triumph and a turkey trophy you’ll be proud to eat for a week.

Game plan and prep

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Photography by Megan Madden, Prop and food styling by Sara Schipani

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, you should start with a fully thawed turkey and an oven temperature of at least 325°F. Follow their table below to ballpark how long your turkey will have to cook, but remember: It’s not done-done until it’s 165°F.

For an unstuffed turkey

Turkey weightCooking time
4–6 lb breast1 1/2–2 1/4 hr
6–8 lb breast2 1/4–3 1/4 hr
8–12 lb2 3/4–3 hr
12–14 lb3–3 3/4 hr
14–18 lb 3 3/4–4 1/4 hr
18–20 lb4 1/4–4 1/2 hr
20–24 lb4 1/2–5 hr

For a stuffed turkey

Turkey weightCooking time
8–12 lb3–3 1/2 hr
12–14 lb3 1/2–4 hr
14–18 lb4–4 1/4 hr
18–20 lb4 1/4–4 3/4 hr
20–24 lb4 3/4–5 1/4 hr

Wash and prep your bird according to your favorite recipe or that old stained index card your Granny kept in her kitchen drawer.

Don’t forget to build a little turkey stage in the roasting pan using a metal rack, foil, or veggies. This will come in handy later when you’re ready to spoon or baste the juices over the turkey.

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Get cooking!

Cover the turkey loosely with foil and put it in the preheated oven. This is going to take hours, so plan your day around periodically peering through the oven door and praying to the turkey gods.

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Photography by Megan Madden, Prop and food styling by Sara Schipani

If you’re planning to mix up your own basting concoction instead of using liquid from the roasting pan, this is a good time to whip it up.

Baste that bad boy

You have some options here. Do you want to be a busy bee and pop into the kitchen to baste every 30 minutes from start to finish? Go for it! How could that not be fun?

On the other hand, you may want a hint of the basting experience without the hours of oven air blasting you in the face. In that case, wait until the last hour of the total cooking time and scooch your little baster in there just a few times at the end. Opening the oven door less often will also mean less temperature fluctuation.

Either way, you can lovingly ladle liquid over the breast, brush it on with precise strokes, or squirt the juices around as creatively as you please.

Basting option #1: Squirt the juices with a basting bulb

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Photography by Megan Madden, Prop and food styling by Sara Schipani

Basting option #2: Brush with juices using a silicone basting brush

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Photography by Megan Madden, Prop and food styling by Sara Schipani

Basting option #3: Drizzle the juice strategically with a big spoon

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Photography by Megan Madden, Prop and food styling by Sara Schipani

For a beautifully basted bird, lift the cozy foil blanket off the turkey. Scoop and pour pan juices or your basting liquid of choice all over the top like you’re anointing it for another spell in the sauna. Meditate on all the succulent flavor you’re imbuing into this noble beast.

This is an agreement you’ve made to tend your turkey and help it reach its potential. Reset your timer and come back in 30 minutes.

As the turkey cooks, you may have more liquid in the pan than you need. Scoop out the extra to make gravy, drizzle over roasted vegetables, or moisten dressing. This golden liquid is the essence of turkey — use it accordingly.

You may have guessed that basting and roasting your turkey is only one way to achieve a delicious holiday dinner (remember Uncle John and the deep fryer?). Here are a few other ways to turn out a tempting turkey:

  • Don’t baste it. Seriously, you could go either way. Cover it with foil and let the steamy environment “baste” for you.
  • Brine it. Soaking the turkey in a salty solution (with other flavorings if you want) is said to be the secret to juicy meat.
  • Inject it. Try one of those pre-basted turkeys or get a giant syringe and inject the flavors you love directly into the meat before cooking.
  • Smoke it. This is probably not a beginner’s method, but if you’re a seasoned meat smoker, it’s a good option for turkey too.
  • Fry it. Again, not for beginners. Maybe not even for professionals. Read every article and cautionary tale before you drop a 20-pound bird into several gallons of boiling oil.

If you take nothing else away from this tutorial, remember this: Turkey must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165°F. No cooking method will make up for sending your guests home with a foodborne pathogen.

Basting a roasted turkey is one of several fun ways to cook a delicious holiday dinner to remember.

How to do it: Prep the turkey for the oven and estimate how long it will take to cook based on its weight. Baste either every 30 minutes or just in the last hour, using the pan juices or your own concoction of butter, herbs, and stock.

When the turkey is done, transform the leftover juice into gravy to flavor your sides. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.