Turkey Not Producing Drippings? (Save Your Gravy!)

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A well cooked bird needs to be moist, tender and release plenty of juices at the bottom of the pan. If a turkey isn’t producing any drippings after cooking it’s usually a sign of something gone wrong.

In most cases, this happens because the turkey meat is too dry. However, there are a few other reasons that could also lead to the same result.

Fortunately, you can correct these mistakes and put an end to your Thanksgiving nightmares by following a few simple guidelines.

Let’s dig in.

Why is my turkey not producing any drippings?

There’s nothing worse than serving a dry turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Seeing all those hours spent preparing your bird go to waste is simply soul crushing.

Unfortunately, this could happen even if you’ve racked up a few years of turkey making under your belt.

I’ve personally gone through this hell a few times until I finally figured out why my turkey didn’t have any drippings.

Turkey meat is extremely lean and contains only 5% of fat. Due to this, it can’t produce any drippings on its own and needs to be covered in generous amounts of fats. For a good amount of drippings, you’ll generally need one cup of compound butter for a 12 pound turkey.

In addition, you’ll also want to drizzle some olive oil in the butter.

This will prevent it from burning and allow it to melt at the bottom of your pan.

I also like adding six slices of fresh bacon over my turkey as an additional source of fat for my drippings.

However, even if you leave them out you’ll still get plenty of juices for your gravy.

Having said that, you can still end up without any drippings if your turkey isn’t thawed properly.

Partially thawed turkeys produce less drippings because the butter or fat can’t reach a high enough temperature to melt.

This is often overlooked since turkeys are quite big and require a lot of time to fully thaw.

USDA claims it takes one day to fully thaw 4 – 5 pounds of turkey meat in the refrigerator. This means a standard 12 pound turkey will need three full days to be completely thawed.

And if we have to be honest, most of us don’t plan that far ahead.

Fortunately, you can drastically reduce this time by thawing your turkey in cold water.

You’ll just need to make sure the water is kept at a temperature of 40°F (4.4°C) and change it once every 30 minutes.

Using this method, you’ll be able to thaw the same 12 pound turkey for roughly 6 hours.

Regardless of the method you choose, it’s always important to fully thaw your turkey if you want to get the most drippings out of it.

Find out more thawing techniques: How to Defrost Pork Shoulder Properly?

Another way to increase the amount of turkey drippings is to cover the bottom of your pan with vegetables. This will prevent the drippings from evaporating and burning.

Using one roughly cut onion along with a few carrots and some celery is usually enough to keep those precious juices from escaping.

How to make turkey gravy without drippings?

You can still make a great turkey gravy even if you don’t have any pan drippings.

You’ll just need a few simple ingredients that you probably already have at hand.

Here’s everything you’ll need to make turkey gravy without turkey drippings:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups turkey stock
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Bread flour may also work if you don’t have all-purpose flour at hand.

In order to make the gravy, you’ll first need to make a roux. Here’s a step-by-step process to follow:

  1. Prepare equal parts flour and butter to make the roux.
  2. Simply melt the butter over low heat then gradually add in the flour.
  3. Whisk the flour until it’s completely incorporated into the butter and there are no lumps. You have your roux ready.
  4. When the roux starts to bubble and turns slightly brown, add the turkey stock and continue whisking.
  5. Season the gravy with the spices, then bring it to a boil and simmer on low heat for 8 minutes or until you reach your desired consistency.

And voila! You have a delicious turkey gravy made without using any drippings whatsoever.

It’s worth noting that you can use both canned and homemade stock for this gravy.

I personally prefer to take advantage of the neck and gizzards I have and make my own stock with some added vegetables.

I’ve found that this gives my gravy a much more natural and rich taste than simply using the canned variety.

How to get the most juice out of a turkey?

If your turkey always ends up dry, then there are a few tricks you can try to get the most juice out of it.

Use foil

For starters, you can loosely tent your turkey with foil and cook it at 325°F (~160°C) until the thickest part of the breast reaches 150°F or 65.5°C.

This will create a nice moist environment that will preserve most of the juices and increase the amount of drippings.

However, the aluminum foil will also prevent the turkey from crisping, so you’ll need to take it off and roast for another 20 to 45 minutes at 450°F (~230°C).

After the turkey’s done, you should let it rest for at least 45 minutes so the meat can reabsorb all of the juices.

And for the cooks out there who don’t have a thermometer to measure internal temperature: How to tell a turkey is ready without a cooking thermometer?

“Oven bag” method

Another way to add more juice to your turkey is to cook it using the increasingly popular oven bag method.

This method is similar to the aluminum foil method, but it retains significantly more moisture than it.

The way it works is quite simple.

All you need to do is place the turkey inside the oven bag, tie the end of the bag with kitchen twine and cut six ventilation slits on top.

Afterwards, you cook the turkey for two hours in an oven preheated to 325°F/160°C. Once the breasts reach an internal temperature of 150°F/65.5°C you remove the bag and roast the turkey at 450°F/230°C until it becomes crisp.

The only thing you need to remember is to transfer the drippings out of the pan after you remove the bag.

If you leave the drippings in the pan, the bottom of the turkey won’t brown as much.

This is because the steam from the juices will prevent the meat from getting crisp.

It’s essentially the same reason why you shouldn’t put water in your turkey pan.

Use dry brine

Lastly, you can make your turkey more juicy by using a dry brine.

To make the brine you’ll need to combine half a cup of kosher salt with one teaspoon of baking powder.

The salt in the dry brine will draw out the moisture from the meat and dissolve in it, while the baking powder will keep the skin crisp.

Once the salt dissolves, it will get reabsorbed by the turkey juices and start breaking down the muscle proteins.

This will make the turkey meat delightfully tender and succulent.

Unfortunately, the dry brine doesn’t lend the turkey much flavor so I like to inject it with a mixture of butter and stock.

To make the mixture, you’ll need to combine one cup of turkey stock with one cup of lightly melted butter.

This will infuse the deeper parts of the meat with a rich taste and make your turkey even more juicy.

It’s worth noting that some turkeys are already brined or injected with fats so you should check their label before using this method.

My short recap

Turkey drippings are a precious source of fat and one of the key ingredients in gravy. Since turkey meat doesn’t contain much fat, most of the drippings come from the butter we use to season a turkey.

So if your turkey doesn’t have any drippings, then you’re most likely using less butter than it’s necessary.

Fortunately, you can easily fix this by adding more butter and covering the bottom of your pan with vegetables.

And for even better results, you can cook your turkey using an oven bag or loosely covering it with foil.

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