Whether you’re cooking a small whole Cornish Hen, a whole Chicken, maybe even a Duck, or your Thanksgiving Turkey, EVERY time you cook a whole bird, you should always remember these 3 tips.
Tip 1: Meat Thermometers
Meat Thermometers are your best friends. However, I do not personally recommend that you purchase traditional ones.
I know, blasphemy! The reasoning, though is that most of them are a metal rod and a giant circle. Inside the circle is the dial and a piece of paper or similar item with the temperature gauge printed on them. Over that is a dome to keep it from getting ruined- except that in my experience it does not. When they get too hot, condensation likes to build up inside the dome and this can lead to it not only being hard for you to read, but also messing up both the reading and the printing.
Instead, i suggest investing in a good digital meat thermometer. They often have an on / off button, a way to replace the battery if it goes bad, and buttons that let you cycle between Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures. Some of the really good ones even have the ability to allow you to select the type of meat that you are cooking, and will let you know what the correct cooking temperature is and when the internal temperature is at the right spot for that type of meat.
Be careful, however, because unlike some traditional styles these cannot be left in the meat while it is in the oven. Instead they are a “pull it out, insert, wait for temp to level, take out, put meat back in oven” type of thermometer. Furthermore a lot of them are not safe to fully submerge in water to clean. They have their downs for sure, but they’re still the best you can get in my opinion, and worth the investment for a good one.
Tip 2: Breast down, not the other way around
Most people, when they cook whole poultry, have a habit of cooking them with the legs down. While you might get away with it for smaller whole birds that take far less time to cook (like Cornish Hens), this is one of the biggest mistakes you can probably make with a larger Chicken, Duck, Turkey, or other relatively medium or large sized foul.
When you cook them legs down the juice runs from the breast to the bottom of the pan, effectively draining the breast area and leading to dry meat- especially with a bird that you cook longer than 3 hours. However, cooking it legs up with the breast in the bottom of the pan instead will keep the juices to the breast area and dry out your meat less, leading to an all around juicier bird.
Tip 3: Pretend you are in a horror movie
It may seem counterintuitive to stab your bird like you are in a slasher flick, considering the more holes you put in it, the more juices will escape- running the chance of leaving you with a dry chunk of meat instead of a moist, tender piece. Basting a bird with the skin attached, however, is not going to do you much good if you do not give the basting liquids a way to get into the meat in the first place.
This does not mean that you really must hack and dash the bird, however. But before you even start anything else on a whole bird, you should always scour the skin in a diamond grid pattern; be careful not to break through the final layer and into the meat itself, though, as that comes later. Afterwards, adding a few well placed slits into the meet with a smaller knife gives the juices a way to get in when you baste it. If you go overboard, however, it can certainly be a disaster since unfortunately all that basting juice you poor over it is just going to run right back down into the pan and not do a thing.
Great instructions for the process can be found here. Even though this is for a duck specifically and includes all the roasting instructions, I highly suggest this for all whole medium-large oven roasted foul.