After years of hosting, cooking, and writing about Thanksgiving dinner, I have a confession to make: I have never used a roasting pan to cook my turkey. I don’t even own a roasting pan big enough to cook a turkey, nor a roasting rack to set it on. I roast my birds on a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and the bird has never suffered. In fact, the bird is the better for it.
Roasting pans are quite deep. When you set a turkey down inside one, the sides come up around the lower parts of the body, blocking the flow of heat and air. You still get the crispy skin on top of the bird, but the skin on the bottom is flaccid, pale, and wobbly. According to Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com, when cooking a bird (be it a chicken or a turkey), trussing and roasting pans are two of the main sources for blobby bird skin:
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I am always surprised at how many chefs tell you to truss the legs. You want the dark meat to cook more than the white meat. If you truss the legs, you’re basically pulling it in so that it becomes a part of the thermal mass of the body, and the legs aren’t going to cook as much, and you’ll get way overcooked breasts. If you let the legs fly, you’re going to get better air circulation around them and they will heat faster and cook more. Even Thomas Keller—all these guys—they’re always trussing the bird, and they put it in these roasting pans. You have to lift it up above the pan so the warm air can flow underneath it and cook the underside. I never cook a bird in a roasting pan. I cook it on a rack above a roasting pan, but not in a roasting pan.
He even has a diagram illustrating the issue, which he was kind enough to share with me over email:
Luckily, this problem has a very easy solution: Just get a wire rack. Get a wire rack and set it over a rimmed baking sheet. Lifting the bird up and away from the skin-shielding sides or the pan will allow for plenty of air flow, maximizing your bounty of crispy, golden skin.
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