You’ve heard how quick and easy it is to roast turkey pieces instead of a whole turkey, and the turkey is juicier too. Now learn how to do it!
Eating the big Thanksgiving turkey each year is something to look forward to. But the process of thawing, brining, and cooking that whole turkey might be more of a dreaded process. I have all of the instructions for how to roast a turkey over here for you, but, I have an easier, kind of brilliant idea for you instead, if you’d like.
Roasting turkey in parts! Turkey pieces cooked separately turn out even more delicious, and they are definitely easier to manage.
Why Roast Turkey In Parts
Cooking turkey pieces instead of a whole turkey will ensure that every piece is perfectly cooked. Although there won’t be the dramatic moment of carving a turkey at the table, the reward of perfectly juicy and moist turkey is well worth it.
There’s also no basting needed for this method or worrying about the skin burning, so once the pieces are in the oven, they’re pretty much hands-off.
The turkey pieces offer more surface area, too, for the hot oven air to circulate around, resulting in crispier skin.
The other advantage to cooking turkey in pieces is that you can cook more of the pieces everyone loves, and less of the ones they don’t. So, if your friends and family love drumsticks and thighs more than turkey breasts, you can purchase multiple drumsticks and thighs and skip the breasts. And, you don’t have to carve the turkey right before serving it, although if that’s a tradition in your home, I totally get it.
Where To Get Turkey Pieces
There are a few options when it comes to finding turkey pieces. You can certainly break down a turkey just like you would a whole chicken, by cutting it into pieces. Cutting through a turkey breast bone can be challenging though, so you can ask your local butcher or grocery store butcher to cut up the turkey for you.
Or, my favorite method, is to simply buy turkey pieces from the meat section of the grocery store. You’ll find turkey pieces sold either with the frozen turkeys or next to where the chicken is sold.
Separate Dark And White Meat
Separating the dark meat from the white meat is essential for perfectly cooked turkey because they require different cooking times. With the whole turkey, the breast can dry out, even if brined, while waiting for the dark meat to come up to temperature. Cooking pieces eliminates this because each piece can be removed from the oven when it’s ready.
The turkey pieces cook in two phases. Lower and slower until they’re just about at the right temperature, and then they go back into a very hot oven for a short amount of time to finish cooking and to brown and crisp the skin. This method gives you the ultimate control over the internal temperature of the turkey pieces.
How To Cook Turkey Pieces Perfectly
Ideally, you’ll need two sheet pans fitted with wire racks. If you don’t have wire racks that fit in the sheet pans, the turkey parts can go directly onto the sheet pans.
First, preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the breasts and wings on one of the sheet pans, and then place the legs and thighs on the other. Smear them all with softened butter and season with salt and anything else you’d like. Or, use this amazing compound butter for turkey recipe.
Place both pans in the oven, side-by-side if possible. If they won’t fit side-by-side, place each on a different rack, switching positions about an hour into baking.
Bake the turkey pieces until the breast registers 150°F when an instant-read thermometer is placed in the thickest part. It will take about 2 hours for the breast to reach this temperature, depending on the size.
I like to use a digital thermometer that keeps track of the temperature of the turkey while it’s in the oven, and sounds an alert or alarm when it reaches the desired temp. This way, if I get distracted with side dishes or talking with company, the alarm will let me know when it’s time to take the pan out of the oven.
Remove the pan with the breasts and wings from the oven and set this aside.
Continue baking the thighs and legs for 30 minutes more or until the thighs register 165°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove pan with thighs and legs from oven, let this rest 30 minutes. This is a great time to finish off your side dishes and to make your gravy.
If you’re making gravy, you can get the drippings from both pans at this time. Transfer the turkey pieces to a plate or tray. Add some stock or water to the pans, swirl them around, scrape up any little tasty bits stuck to the pan, and then pour all of the liquid into a bowl or gravy separator. There’s really good and thorough info about how to make a delicious gravy using drippings like this over here.
After the 30-minute rest time, increase the oven temperature to 500°F. Return the pan with breasts and wings to the oven. Bake this for 10 minutes or until the skin is brown and crispy. Remove the pan from the oven then put the pan with thighs and legs into the oven. Bake this for 10 minutes as well, or until the skin is brown and crispy. While the legs and thighs brown, carve the breast. Then, remove the pan from the oven, and serve the turkey pieces and sliced breast meat immediately.
Pros Of Cooking Turkey Pieces
Turkey pieces cook faster. Turkey pieces cook in about half the time a whole turkey cooks, so you can use your oven for other things and eat sooner.
Turkey pieces are easier to cook perfectly. It’s easy to overcook a whole turkey because the legs and breasts are done at different times, but because they’re connected, the breast can often become overcooked and dry, while the dark meat remains undercooked. When roasting turkey pieces, the thighs, legs, wings, or breast can all cook in their own time. If one needs more or less time, the pieces can all go in and out of the oven as needed until they’re perfectly cooked.
Turkey pieces are easier to brine. Brining a whole turkey is an absolute pain. It’s big and slippery, and it can be a challenge to keep it cold for the length of time needed. If you use turkey pieces, they take up less space, and they don’t need to be in the brine for as long. If you’re considering brining your turkey parts, here is the best and easiest turkey brine recipe around, and here is info about how to brine turkey parts. If you’d rather dry brine your turkey parts, here’s a really great turkey dry brine recipe. Note though, that if you don’t usually brine your turkey at all, I think you’re going to find roasting turkey parts yields such better results than roasting a whole turkey that you can probably skip that step.
Everyone gets more of their favorite pieces. With turkey pieces, you can purchase more of a specific cut, so if everyone in your family loves dark meat, you can skip buying a turkey breast and stock up on turkey thighs and legs.
There’s no carving involved. I’m not sure about your family, but in mine, no one has mastered the art of carving a turkey. It’s not an honor, it’s more like an unwanted chore. Turkey pieces eliminate those anxious feelings about carving it wrong. You have to slice the breast meat, but that’s it!
There’s more crispy skin! I’ve save the best for last. Because the pieces are detached, there’s more surface area, and more skin exposed to the heat. The result is more of crispy skin, which really is the best part of roast turkey, right?
Cons Of Cooking Turkey Pieces
You need to monitor the temperature and doneness. Since the breasts and wings don’t need as long in the oven as the thighs and legs, there is some checking and moving things in and out of the oven. It does result in every piece being cooked to perfection though.
There’s no beautiful, whole turkey to present. If you look forward to seeing that whole roasted turkey on the dinner table, this could be disappointing. But I still think these perfectly cooked turkey pieces look pretty amazing.
Podcast Episode: Roasting Turkey Pieces
Listen to learn how to make this recipe, along with some great tips from Christine:Print
I listed the specifics of the turkey pieces that I cooked, but you can use any assortment of pieces that you’d like.
- 2 (2 and 1/2 lb.) bone-in, skin-on turkey breasts
- 2 (1 lb.) bone-in, skin-on turkey legs
- 2 (1 and 1/2 lb.) bone-in, skin-on turkey thighs
- 2 (1 lb.) bone-in, skin-on turkey wings
- 1/4 cup butter, softened*
- 2 tsp. salt
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Place breasts and wings on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack, skin-side-up. Place legs and thighs on a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack. Rub the tops with the butter and season with the salt.
- Place pans in oven. Bake until breast registers 150°F. when an instant-read thermometer is placed in the thickest part, about 2 hours. Remove pan with the breasts and wings from the oven; set aside.
- Continue baking thighs and legs 30 minutes more or until thighs register 165°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove pan with thighs and legs from oven, let rest 30 minutes.
- Increase oven temperature to 500°F. Return pan with breasts and wings to oven. Bake 10 minutes or until skin is brown and crispy. Remove pan from oven, let stand.
- Return pan with thighs and legs to oven. Bake 10 minutes or until skin is brown and crispy. Slice the turkey breast while the legs and thighs brown. Remove pan from oven. Serve turkey pieces and sliced breast meat immediately.
*Instead of the butter and salt, use this delicious turkey compound butter, and make extra to dollop onto turkey slices once it’s all carved up as well.