- Roasting a turkey breast is a great option for a smaller crowd
- Start the oven hot to crisp the skin, then reduce to normal temperature
- Rubbing butter under the skin adds flavor and fat to usually bland white meat
If you're hosting a smaller Thanksgiving gathering this year, it may seem pointless to cook a whole turkey. We suggest roasting a turkey breast; unlike a whole bird, where you need to worry about cooking dark and white meat correctly, the breast has only one kind of meat. Cooking just the breast is a great way to make sure there's still turkey on the table without an excess of leftovers (or an excess of work).
America's Test Kitchen: Roasted turkey
The challenge, however, is that white meat turkey can be bland and is easily overcooked. Roasting a turkey breast in a moderate oven is the best way to ensure that it doesn't dry out for two reasons. First, the window of time when the turkey is at the correct internal temperature of 160 degrees is greater when the oven is set to 325 degrees versus 425 degrees. Second, the meat just under the skin is less likely to overcook in a moderate oven. In a hot oven, the meat just under the skin overcooks by the time the center of the breast comes up to temperature. In a cooler oven, this effect is lessened.
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Of course, roasting a turkey in a 325-degree oven leaves the skin soft and pale. Our solution is simple: Start the turkey in 425-degree oven to render fat in the skin and accelerate the crisping and browning process, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees after just 30 minutes. The turkey can then spend another hour in the oven, slowly reaching the desired internal temperature of 160 degrees.
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