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This question is partially prompted by this question and the two "how to cook turkey" links therein. The question and the links seem to implicitly assume you cook your turkey on its back, with the breast upwards.

I rarely cook whole turkeys, but I quite frequently cook whole chickens and sometimes pheasant. As I really dislike dry breast meat I always cook them breast down, so the breast is sitting in the juices and so does not dry out. From the links it seems that getting the breast cooked may be an issue, but I think sitting in the juices that are close to 100 °C ensures the breast is cooked because of the higher heat transfer through liquids than the air. I tend to check it is cooked by looking for liquid blood and the only places I ever find it is around the joint capsules of the leg, principally the hip but sometimes the knee.

What are the considerations here? Why do most people cook turkeys at least breast up? What about smaller birds, how do people usually cook them? Does wild/farmed make a difference, game tending to be far leaner?

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  • I've not seen a definitive answer to that question; it's just easier to cook chicken breasts up.
    – Max
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 19:06
  • This is the thing, I find it easier to cook it breast down as that gives a larger window where the bird is cooked but not dry, without any basting. Easier in this case defined as minimum chance of failure.
    – User65535
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 19:29
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    Don’t forget optics. Many cooks who prepare a whole bird (often for a special occasion) want to showcase the picture-perfect, evenly roasted skin on a bird served (breast side up) on a platter. Roasting breast-down has the risk of tearing the skin or getting unwanted marks.
    – Stephie
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 20:48

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It's easier to cook a chicken or turkey with the back down for two major reasons:

  1. The back is flat, so the bird isn't going to tip one way or the other
  2. Having the breasts up means you can easily check the temperature of the breast and thigh, if it's breast down it's going to be challenging to get a temperature probe in

I don't see any advantage in cooking the turkey breast down, sitting in the juices won't really make the breast juicier, although it may appear that way. Dry meat is the result of overcooking, the best thing you can do is monitor the temperature closely and take it out as soon as the thickest part of the breast reaches 165°F / 73°C. I use a digital thermometer system with 3 probes for this, but any meat thermometer will do as long as it's in the right spot.

Things you can do to help get a better result:

  • Don't stuff the turkey: stuffing means a longer cooking time, which is the enemy of moist meat
  • Separate the legs and wings. In a large turkey the legs and wings will cook much faster than the rest of the bird, and dry out. Adding them later will help make sure they don't turn into twigs
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    An additional advantage of cooking a bird breast up is that they often have fatty deposits on the breast or abdomen (this is particularly true of water fowl, but also applies to land fowl to some extent). As the bird cooks, these fats render and drip through the meat, helping to keep things juicy. If you put the bird breast down, the fat just drips down into the pan. Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 1:50

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