Why Do you Tent a Turkey with Foil?

Dear Home Ec 101,

What is the point of tenting a turkey with aluminum foil? I’ve followed along with your Countdown to Turkey Day posts and I’ve seen you mention the technique a couple of times. I just don’t get the point.

Signed,

Turkey Talker

Heather says:

Heat is transferred by several methods when cooking: radiation, convection, and conduction.

The heat coming from the walls and heating element provides radiant heat. Some of these heat waves are reflected by the aluminum foil tent placed over the turkey. Blocking the radiant heat reduces the speed at which the turkey will brown through the Maillard reaction. The turkey will still cook through conduction -the heat coming from direct contact with the roasting pan or rack, and convection the heat in the air. The Maillard reaction needs high temperatures and low moisture to occur.

Tenting a turkey with aluminum foil is not the same as wrapping it tightly in foil. If you were to wrap the bird in foil, the turkey would steam -steaming as a technique is convection. Since steaming doesn’t create the right environment for Maillard reaction, you’d end up with a very pale bird indeed.

The point of tenting the turkey is to create greater control over the rate of browning. If the turkey is just about done, but still a little pale, just remove the tent for the last few minutes of cooking.

Remember, when it comes to cooking, it’s easier to add to than take away. Tent early in the cooking process to prevent over-browning, that can always be fixed. The process cannot be reversed.

I hope that helps!

Related post: How to Roast a Turkey

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Comments

  1. Well… There you have it!

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom on the topic!

  2. dearmommybrain says:

    I have used Alton Brown's recipe for roasting a turkey for years and it turns out perfect everytime! It's all about the Turkey Triangle, baby! (Instead of tenting the entire turkey, you fold a piece of foil into a triangle to cover only the breast for the last portion of cooking.) Here is the link (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html), but if you can track down the episode: Romancing the Bird, I highly recommend it!

  3. Amanda Starr says:

    I actually cook my turkey in a brown paper bag, sounds strange but always ends up golden brown and fall off the bone moist :)

    • There are paper cooking bags you can use. Grocery bags aren't meant for cooking and the glue isn't meant to be exposed to the high heat of an oven.
      I'm a fan of the method, just be careful of the tools you choose. :) That is a great tip, thank you.

  4. I had a very tasty but VERY brown turkey (looked burned) a couple of years ago. I'll definitely tent this year.