Should You Cover Your Turkey With Foil While It Is Cooking?

aluminum foil in oven

Aluminum foil can be a brilliant tool in the kitchen. It keeps pans nice and tidy; it holds in steam while potatoes bake; it protects delicate pastry from burning. But can aluminum foil over a roasting turkey do anything?

Whether you’ve decided to brine the turkey first—wet or dry is the question—or skip the whole bird this year in favor of a turkey breast or even turkey legs, you still need to answer the most important question: Should you cover turkey with foil? 

You want your turkey to be moist—and not just the dark meat—and flavorful. The last thing you want is for hours of roasting it in the oven to result in a dry, lackluster turkey.

Learn if foil over turkey is helpful or not. Plus, find out if you should use aluminum foil at any other point in the turkey-cooking process.

 Simple Roasted Turkey

To Cover Or Not To Cover

The best way to ensure you wind up with a perfectly roasted turkey—juicy and flavorful no matter what part you dig into—is to both cover it and not cover it with foil. Confusing, right? 

While the answer may seem like a trick, there’s actually a logical explanation: Since most decent-sized turkeys will need to roast for hours, covering it with foil for most of the time it’s in the oven will prevent it from drying out. So, yes, you do want to cover the turkey with foil to give it a chance to roast without getting dry.

But then, towards the end of the cook time, remove the foil so the skin—the best part in this writer’s opinion—gets a chance to crisp up.

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Southern Living Simple Roasted Turkey covered in foil
FRED HARDY, FOOD STYLIST: MARGARET MONROE DICKEY, PROP STYLIST: HANNAH GREENWOOD

Does It Have To Be Foil?

The method of covering the turkey doesn’t matter so much. And if you are using a turkey roasting pan with a lid (not as common as they once were but still available), then there’s no need to cover the turkey with foil and the lid.

But if you are roasting the turkey, be it whole turkey, breast, or leg on a regular roasting pan, foil is a good option. Basically the foil works in the same way a lid works—by trapping steam so the turkey stays moist throughout the roasting process. Simply tent the foil so that it loosely covers the whole turkey. 

Some recipes suggest only covering the breast as this is the part prone to dryness, but it can’t hurt to make sure the rest of the turkey is tented with foil, too.

Another method of cooking the turkey with the aim of getting the most moist meat possible is covering it in a few layers of cheesecloth that’s been soaked in butter and a mix of fresh herbs, such as thyme and rosemary. Keep in mind that cheesecloth is more expensive than foil and isn’t as readily available in supermarkets. It can be messy too, but as far as achieving the same end goal—a juicy, moist bird—it works!

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The Resting Step

Once you’ve taken the turkey out of the oven, you’re not in the clear quite yet. James Hackney, executive chef at Wequassett Resort & Golf Club, says it’s “essential to cover the turkey with foil after it has finished cooking.”

This is true regardless of the method (so if you’ve gone the deep-fried route, pay attention!)  and regardless of whether you’ve covered it while cooking it. Hackney says the resting period should be at least 30 minutes.

“Resting a turkey is an important part of the process as it allows the meat to relax and the foil helps trap the heat, allowing for the juices to be reabsorbed,” says Hackney. “This makes the meat more tender, moist, and flavorful.” Hackney suggests using the resting time to get going on the gravy.