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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.