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Turkey is a food staple for many thanksgiving dinners, but many people struggle with knowing which oven rack they should put the turkey on when they cook it. This is an expensive piece of meat, so cooking it properly is important. So, which rack in the oven should you put the turkey on?
The turkey should be put on the lowest rack in the oven while it is cooking. The top of the turkey should be in the middle of the oven so it can cook evenly without the top becoming burned or dry. It should be placed on the bottom rack whether in a convection or a conventional oven.
Now that you know which oven rack you should put a turkey on while you cook it, you may be wondering why it should be placed on the bottom oven rack. This bird is prone to drying out, so cooking it properly can result in a juicier and more flavorful final product.
Which Oven Rack Should I Cook the Turkey On?
A turkey should be cooked on the lowest rack in the oven that you will place it in. You should put the turkey on the bottom rack of your oven because the top of the turkey should be around the middle of the oven. This will ensure that the entire turkey can cook evenly (Source).
Where you place the lowest oven rack will vary depending on the size of the turkey you are going to cook. If you are cooking a large turkey, you will have to place the oven rack in the lowest position possible. However, if you are cooking a slightly smaller turkey, you may need to place the oven rack a few positions above the lowest one. Just make sure that the oven rack stays in the lowest third part of your oven while you are cooking a turkey.
Middle Oven Rack
If you are cooking a small turkey, you can place it on the middle oven rack setting, but it is still better to put it on the lower oven rack setting and not on the middle one. If you cook the turkey on the middle oven rack and the top of the turkey is around the middle of the oven, then it will cook evenly and you can place it on the middle oven rack.
Top Oven Rack
If you can avoid it, do not cook your turkey on the top oven rack, even if it is a very small turkey. Your turkey will likely not fit into the oven if you do try to cook it on the top oven rack, but even if you do manage to fit it in, the top of the turkey will likely burn because it is too close to the coils and the fan.
If you cook the turkey on an oven rack that is close to the heat coils and does not protect the turkey from the direct heat in some way, then the top will likely burn. This will also cause the meat underneath the burned part to be drier than the rest of the turkey.
If you put the turkey on the top oven rack, the middle of the turkey will not cook as quickly as it would if the turkey was placed on the middle or lower oven rack, so you will have to keep the turkey in the oven for a longer period than you expect. This will cause most of the meat to become dry, even if you take preventive measures during the cooking process. However, you can’t serve turkey to people when it has not been fully cooked without giving them food poisoning, so you will have no choice but to keep the turkey in the oven until it is fully cooked.
If in the past you have had issues with your turkey becoming dry or burned, try putting it on a lower oven rack this year, especially if you have put the turkey on the top oven rack and not the bottom oven rack.
Why Does The Oven Rack Make a Difference?
The oven rack that you cook the turkey on matters because the heat inside of the oven needs to circulate well to evenly and thoroughly cook the meat without drying it out. When cooking a large bird, it is very important that you put it on the lower oven rack. However, the placement of the oven rack is slightly less important when you are cooking a smaller bird, as it does not take as long to fully cook.
If you cook the turkey on the lowest oven rack, the heat will circulate well and ensure that the bottom of the meat will be crispy as well as the top because both are exposed to an even amount of heat and the oven has room to circulate the hot air. The middle of the turkey will be close to a heat source, so it will likely cook in the time you expect it to and you will be able to take the bird out of the oven before any of the meat dries if you cook the turkey on the lowest oven rack.
If you use the middle oven rack to cook a turkey, the middle of it will cook properly before the meat has time to dry out, but the top may be slightly crispier than it should be because it is closer to a heat source. If you do cook a turkey on the middle oven rack, make sure that the container it is being cooked in is not very thick or deep. Containers like this will prevent the middle of the turkey from cooking as quickly as you expect it to, and you will have to leave it in the oven for a longer period. This may cause some of the meat to dry out, which nobody wants (Source).
If you put the turkey on the top oven rack while you cook it, then it will cook unevenly. The top of the bird will likely burn, and it will take a long time for the meat to fully cook because the hot air inside of the oven is not able to circulate well because of the meat’s placement.
Should the Oven Rack Placement Change Depending on the Oven Type?
The oven rack placement that you cook a turkey on does not change depending on convection or a conventional oven. Both oven types need hot air to circulate in order to fully cook the food inside, especially if the item is as large as turkeys typically are.
The placement of the oven racks should not change if you use a conventional or a convection oven, according to an employee at Ambrose catering. Although convection and conventional ovens are very different in the ways that they heat the food inside, the placement of the oven rack that a turkey is placed on while it is cooking should not change, no matter what type of oven it is in.
Convection and conventional ovens both rely on hot air in order to cook the food items inside, although convection ovens circulate the air frequently and consistently. You also want the top of the turkey to be near the middle of the oven when it is cooking in both types of ovens because you do not want the top of the turkey to become burned, and the middle of the turkey needs to be near a heat source to cook thoroughly.
Convection ovens tend to cook things at lower temperatures, but they typically cook the food faster than conventional ovens do. Convection ovens use fans to circulate hot air and they work very well because heat rises. Then as the hot air falls, it cools slightly and is reheated by the oven’s heating system (Source).
In a conventional oven, the heating elements are more important than the fan system, but hot air still circulates because of the rise and fall that happens as the air becomes heated and cooled. It is very important that when you cook a turkey, it is on the lowest oven rack while it cooks. The heat needs time to penetrate the pan that the turkey is in, and if the top of the turkey is too close to the top of the oven, it will burn or become dried out.
What Temperature Should I Cook the Turkey at?
You should cook a turkey at 325°F-350°F. If you are using a convection oven and not a conventional oven, cook your turkey at 325°F and not 350°F because the convection oven will cook your turkey slightly faster than a conventional oven will. If you are using a conventional oven rather than a convection oven, then you should cook your turkey at 350°F. Check out this meat thermometer from ChefsTemp and get $10 off. You will get accurate temperature readings in 2-3 seconds.
If you are cooking a slightly smaller turkey, set your oven to 325°F rather than 350°F because it will cook a lot faster than a large one, and you do not want it to dry out, especially if you are cooking it for other people to enjoy.
If you are cooking a large bird, set your oven to 350°F because your oven needs to fully cook the entire turkey before it dries out, which will happen if it is in the oven for too long.
When you cook a turkey, make sure that it reaches 170°F before you remove it from the oven. If you remove it from the oven before it reaches 170°F, then it is undercooked and the middle of the meat will be raw. If people eat raw turkey, then they will get food poisoning and become sick, which is not good, especially if you are cooking for a lot of people.
Alternate Turkey Cooking Methods
Grilling a Turkey
If you do not want to cook a turkey in the oven, then you can also grill it. When grilling a turkey, make sure that the grill reaches 350°F before you place the turkey inside of the grill. You can use a chicken spit to grill the turkey, and it will cook very evenly if you do so, but you can also use other traditional grilling containers to hold the turkey while it is cooking.
If you have used an oven to cook a turkey in the past, but it has cooked unevenly, then grilling is a great alternative method because it evenly cooks the turkey and it accomplishes it more quickly than an oven does.
If you are limited on the amount of time you have to cook a turkey, then grilling is a great turkey cooking method. On average, it takes about 11 to 13 minutes per pound to cook a turkey, while ovens typically take 13-15 minutes per pound to cook a turkey.
If you do choose to grill a turkey, then you could also smoke the turkey while it cooks, which will add a lot of flavor to it. This is an extra flavor that you would not be able to add while cooking the turkey in the oven! However, if you do choose to smoke your turkey, do not lift the lid frequently to baste or add marinade to the turkey to prevent it from drying out. This will cause the smoke to escape and will make it take longer for the turkey to absorb the flavor of the smoke.
Frying a Turkey
If you need to cook a turkey quickly, and really like it to have a crispy and flavorful skin, you can fry your turkey instead of cooking it in the oven. On average, it takes 4-5 minutes per pound for a turkey to become fully cooked when it is being fried.
Frying a turkey is a great way to add flavor and extra crispiness to the turkey, especially if you use a flavored oil like coconut oil. When frying a turkey, make sure that the oil reaches and stays at a temperature of 325°F. The temperature will likely drop when you put the turkey in the oil, but it will become hotter quickly if you keep it on the heat.
When you are frying a turkey, make sure that you take precautions and stay safe. Make sure that heat can escape from the top of the pot filled with oil, and do not leave the cooking turkey unsupervised if something goes wrong.