How Often Should You Baste Turkey (And With What?)

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The secret to a delicious turkey is all in the basting technique. But how often should you baste it? We’ve got the answer for you! 

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you will discover:

  • How often you should baste the turkey
  • Turkey basting tips and tricks
  • And much more!
a turkey baster on a white background

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How Often Should You Baste the Turkey?

Basting is an essential process used to help keep turkey meat moist as it cooks. It also ensures that you won’t have overcooked breast meat when you pull the turkey out of the oven.

But too much of a good thing is also bad, as opening the oven too frequently to baste the turkey can cause it to cool down. Meaning your turkey will have to spend much longer in the oven than originally anticipated. 

For best results, you should only baste your turkey every 45 to 60 minutes. This is a happy medium that will produce crispy skin and succulent meat but also won’t lengthen the amount of time your turkey needs to spend in the oven. 

Have more questions about basting your bird? We’ve got the answers in this article, keep reading to learn more. 

Why Should You Baste Your Turkey?

On a holiday, you’ve got a lot going on. Besides just the turkey in the oven, you are likely preparing a whole host of additional dishes as well as setting up your dining room. So do you really need to dedicate time to basting your turkey?

Absolutely. Basting is an essential process when it comes to making the perfect thanksgiving turkey. Without it, your turkey breasts could be done long before the rest of the bird is, causing them to become dry and chewy. 

Not to mention that basting is the process that caramelizes the turkey skin, giving it that photo-finish golden look. There is nothing better than biting into the crispy turkey skin, and behind it is a bite of succulent, juicy meat!

If this sounds amazing to you, then know that you should definitely plan to baste your turkey this year. 

carving a turkey

Are You Required to Baste a Turkey?

Taste and preference aside, know that it is not a requirement to baste your turkey. This is especially true when you are smoking your turkey rather than baking it. 

Smoked turkeys do best when cooked directly on the grate. Therefore there isn’t really a way to catch the juices for the purpose of spreading them back over the bird. (But there are other ways to baste a smoked turkey, more on this later!)

Even if you are cooking your turkey in the oven, you can still skip the basting process, just know that you will need to stick close by and ensure you remove your turkey from the oven right when it approaches 165°F. Without basting, it is much easier to overcook your turkey. 

What Should You Baste a Turkey With?

Traditional basting involves putting a turkey’s own juices back over it as it cooks. This doesn’t mean you just have to use the turkey juices, however, as there are several other ingredients that can be delicious when basted on a turkey. 

You can melt some butter to baste your turkey or use a little olive oil. You can even make a combination of the two. Some people additionally choose to add lemon and herbs to their basting mixture.

It is also an option to experiment with anything you think would taste good with turkey, such as beer, whiskey, brown sugar, or maybe even apple cider. 

Since whatever mixture you come up with is coming from somewhere that isn’t the turkey, this makes a homemade baste ideal for using with smoked turkeys, where collecting the juices for basting may not be an option.

thanksgiving turkey resting in a pan

What You Need to Baste a Turkey

You might think that you need some fancy equipment for turkey basting, but the reality is, that you should use whatever materials you feel comfortable with. Below is a list of items you can use to baste a turkey, we recommend just picking one or two. 

  • Ladle
  • Brush
  • Basting Brush
  • Baster
  • Spoon

The next thing you need is some basting liquid. If you don’t want to make anything special, the turkey’s own juices will work just fine. Otherwise, make a mixture of the ingredients below.

  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemon
  • Poultry Seasoning
  • Thyme
  • Garlic
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Brown Sugar

Again, you don’t need to use all of these. We recommend choosing a base (either butter or olive oil) and adding lemon with a bit of poultry seasoning for an easy and quick basting mixture.

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How to Baste a Turkey

Got your tools and your basting mixture ready to go? Here’s how you baste a turkey.

Step 1: Put on an Oven Mit

The turkey pan will be hot, so before you do anything else, grab an oven mitt.

Step 2: Remove the Turkey from the Oven

Remove the turkey from the oven and set it on the counter. 

Step 3: Grab your Baste

Quickly use either a baster to suck up the juices from down below or place your bowl of basting mixture next to the turkey.

Step 4: Baste

Squirt or brush the mixture of your choice onto the turkey breast area, allowing the juices to run down the front and sides of the turkey. Repeat 5-10 times. 

Step 5: Replace the Turkey

Put the turkey back in the oven to continue cooking. Repeat the basting process each hour. 

Editor’s Note: The instructions are the same if you are using a smoker for your turkey, but if you do decide to baste your smoked turkey, ensure it is cooked in a pan or on tinfoil and not directly on the rack for easy removal and basting. 

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Tips for Basting a Turkey

Struggling to get your turkey basting liquid and process just right? Here are our tips for getting the job done! 

Don’t Baste With the Door Open

While basting is important, so too is keeping the oven or smoker warm for your turkey. For best results, remove your turkey from the heat source for basting, closing the door of the heat source while you do so. 

This will keep the oven/smoker nice and warm so your turkey can get right back to cooking as soon as the basting process is done! 

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

Many people swear by using non-traditional basting ingredients like beer and apple cider to baste their turkey. Because basting the turkey isn’t absolutely required, this means you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment a little because you can’t mess it up!

Spend a few days in advance researching what might go nicely on your turkey. Maybe even try something new for basting each holiday!

Combine Brining with Basting

Many people suggest brining it as an alternative to basting, but we think the turkey is most succulent when you do both! Brine the turkey for a few hours prior to putting it in the smoker or oven, then create a butter-based brine to apply as it cooks. You’ll be shocked at how tasty it is! 

Related >> Can You Cook a Partially Frozen Turkey?

Pros and Cons of Basting Your Turkey

Like anything else in life, there are both pros and cons to brining your turkey, and we’ve broken them down for you below so you can get an idea of which is better for you. 

Pros:

  • Excellent flavor
  • Ability to customize your turkey’s flavor
  • Crispy skin
  • Golden look

Cons:

  • Takes lots of work and checking in on the turkey
  • Must be repeated
  • May let some heat out of the oven, causing the turkey to need to be cooked longer

As you can see, the basting process isn’t for everyone. But if you aren’t a fan of turkey, basting may change things around for you as it really can transform the flavor of the meat. 

Final Thoughts on Basting a Turkey

Overall, while basting a turkey isn’t required, it really can be an easy way to make your bird delicious. There are several different methods and types of bastes you can make for your bird, but no matter what you decide, make an effort to baste your bird about once every 60 minutes.

Ensure that you close the oven door during this period so as not to let too much of the heat out, and don’t be afraid to experiment a little. After all, you never know when you might find that new perfect baste! 

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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