A tender, moist turkey with crispy, golden-brown skin is a fixture of any Thanksgiving table. Electric roasters take care of the turkey so there’s more room in the oven for the rest of the feast.
But a common complaint with these electric roasters is that the turkey comes out looking pale. Let us give you some tips on how to get a perfectly brown turkey every time.
The Chemistry (If you care)
Meat turns brown due to the Maillard reaction, which is the chemical reaction that causes food (meat, toast, coffee, etc.) to become flavorful with roasted and toasted notes.
These compounds are both flavorful and brown-colored. The Maillard reaction requires sugars and proteins and it also needs high temperatures and relatively low moisture levels.
For these reasons, it is harder to brown a bird in an electric roaster oven. The improved moisture retention in an electric roaster keeps meat juicy. But it also makes it harder for the Maillard reaction to occur!
Similarly, the lower cooking temperature prevents the meat from drying out but also impedes the production of Maillard browning compounds. There are a few things we can do to mitigate these factors.
Basting with Sugar and Protein
First, we can make sure the turkey is basted in a solution that contains sugars to help it get brown (we don’t need protein—the meat has plenty!).
Honey is a popular choice for basting turkey.
We can also apply some oil or fat, which confers a crispy texture. Butter with spices is a great choice for basting since butter contains both fats and lactose sugar.
High-to-Low Temperature Profile
Another trick is to crank up the electric roaster to 450F or even 500F (if possible) and roast the basted turkey very hot for the first half-hour.
You’ll catalyze those delicious brown Maillard reactions. Then, turn the roaster down to your standard cook temperature (probably around 350F) for the remainder of your cooking time to avoid burning and drying out the bird.
Low-to-High Temperature Profile
It also works to use a higher temperature at the end of the roasting time. However, simply turning up the temperature on the roasting oven doesn’t work well.
Because the skin of the turkey is very wet by this point, it requires the dry heat of a conventional oven to make it brown and crispy.
When you estimate your bird is about 30 minutes away from being done, pull it out of the roaster oven and pop it into a conventional oven that has been pre-heated to 450F or 500F.
Allow it to finish cooking to an internal temperature of at least 165F. While this does take up a little oven space, it is the best way to get a crispy skin texture in addition to golden color.
You may also want to consider brushing a bit of browning sauce onto your turkey. The reality is, due to the high moisture levels, shorter cook time, and lower heat, a turkey cooked in an electric roaster simply isn’t likely to get quite as brown as an oven-roasted bird even if you apply our other tricks.
Browning sauce, like this one, contains caramelized sugars and dark brown Maillard products plus a little salt and seasoning. Those are the same things you want to create on the skin of your turkey anyway, so by adding Browning sauce you’re just giving the chemistry a head start!
A little Browning sauce can go a long way. Mix 1 or 2 teaspoons of Browning sauce into oil or melted butter, then brush that onto your turkey.
Electric roasting ovens deliver a succulent, moist turkey without taking up precious oven space. With these tips, there’s no reason your turkey shouldn’t also turn out a beautiful golden brown. Now your oven is free to bake an extra pumpkin pie!