Great Debate: To Baste or Not to Baste?

By Jeff Westover

(Author bias: I’ve never basted our turkey. After he is stuffed we give him a light rub down with vegetable oil to give him that overall toasty look and then lightly cover him in foil. That foil stays on until the last hour and then it is removed. The habit of opening the oven to squirt the bird in his own juices seems to be a little cruel to the bird and a good waste of some serious football time).

While at the grocery store buying my Thanskgiving provisions I heard a man and his wife discussing a display of very high-tech looking turkey basters. He wanted to buy one and she thought it was a monumental waste of time and money. She would never use “that thing” on her turkey. The disgust in her voice was clear.

He couldn’t believe it. Though well into their 50s and thus probably married for decades he obviously never spent a moment in the kitchen watching how she prepared the turkey. “My mother always basted the turkey,” he stupidly said. (Any man still invoking the name of his mother while in his 50s isn’t learning life’s lessons).

For the sake of argument, we turn to experts online. After hours of research we came to this conclusion: it is a mystery and a great debate.

Butterball, the folks with the busiest 800 number one day a year and seller of one of the most popular brands of turkeys, says: “No. Basting throughout the roasting process is unnecessary. Pouring juices over a turkey’s surface while it roasts will not make the meat juicier. The liquid penetrates only about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch beneath the skin and most of the juice will run off into the pan.”

But, the folks at thekitchn.com say this: “The main point of basting is to ensure moist and tender meat. It’s usually done with a broth-based mixture made separately or simply with the pan drippings themselves. Either way, the fat melts into the skin and the meat closest to the surface, preventing it from drying out in the oven’s dry heat and adding flavor. At the same time, the liquid in the basting mixture evaporates and keeps the surface slightly cooler. This helps the meat cook evenly.”

I place my vote firmly in the baste-less camp. As a kid, I enjoyed the task of basting the bird. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that my mother only let me do it because it prevented her from having to bend over in front of a hot oven. That also tells me she didn’t believe in it either and that it was something done just out of tradition.

As an adult I discovered the no-basting rule quite by accident. I just forgot to do it. I put the turkey in the oven and forgot about it until hours later, my day consumed with parades, football and game playing. I worried as I pulled the turkey out of the over that it would be a dry as a July cough. Imagine my surprise when the turkey was as moist as ever.

Then it dawned on me: there isn’t another thing in the world I use a turkey baster for. I don’t baste roasts or casseroles or burritos or anything else we put into the oven. And with that ray of revelation my turkey baster left the kitchen never to return.

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