How to Cook a Turkey Leg & Breast

Girl devours turkey leg

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People used to eat turkey only at Thanksgiving but now the dish has become an important protein source in the modern diet. Turkey consumption rose 109 percent between 1970 and 2009, according to the National Turkey Federation. Americans ate an average of 17 lbs. of turkey per person in 2009. You don’t have to cook an entire bird to enjoy the flavor and nutrition in turkey’s light and dark meat — you can save time and reduce waste by cooking only a turkey leg and breast.

Remove the turkey leg and breast from your refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to cook it. Pat the poultry dry with a paper towel or clean hand towel. Place the meat in a covered casserole to protect it. Cooking cold turkey will burn the skin and dry the breast and leg meat out.

Cut a piece of cheesecloth large enough to cover both pieces of meat in your roasting pan. Put a half stick of butter in a medium sized container and melt the butter in your microwave. Remove the container from the microwave, placing the container onto the warm oven to keep the butter melted. Place the cheesecloth in the melted butter to soak.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit while you season the turkey leg and breast. Rub the meat with butter. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, along with other dried herbs and spices complimentary to turkey, such as sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary. For optimal flavor, add dry spices in the early part of cooking and reserve fresh herbs until the dish is almost done.

Place the turkey breast and leg in a shallow roasting pan. Put one or two pats of butter in the roasting pan to keep the bottom of the meat from drying out. Place the pan in the oven and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover the turkey breast and leg with the butter-soaked cheesecloth and return the dish to the oven. Roast the turkey for another one to one and a half hours, depending on the size of the breast and leg, basting the meat every 20 minutes. Add fresh herbs in the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Check the internal temperature of both the turkey breast and turkey leg with a meat thermometer. Place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, taking care to avoid touching the thermometer to any bones, especially in the turkey leg. Cook turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the UDSA.

Remove the turkey leg and breast from your oven and place away from heat. Allow the meat to rest for three minutes before serving to allow the poultry to achieve its final internal temperature and finish cooking.