Why You Should Never Make Your Thanksgiving Turkey in a Bag

When cooking turkey in a bag, think plastic. Paper grocery bags can be toxic. Here's why.

It was during the 1950s that the idea of cooking a turkey in a paper grocery bag first became trendy, and the notion still occasionally makes a comeback every few years. But there are three words of caution anyone tempted to try cooking turkey in a bag needs to hear: Don’t do it.

In the endless quest for the life-changing bird that will make the chef a legend at future holiday dinners, many different cooking methods have been born—from grilling in the backyard to prepping it in the dishwasher (another don’t).

Science says no

According to experts, the brown-bag method ranks right up (down?) there with the dishwasher. Both the University of Illinois and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) agree—using a grocery bag is dangerous

Still, believers say cooking turkey in a bag guarantees a heavenly bird—juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, with crispy golden skin. Plus clean up woes get tossed with the bag.

Why you shouldn’t roast in a bag

But the reality, according to the USDA, is that there can be toxic fumes from the ink, glue and recycled materials in the bag. Plus, you can start a fire in your oven. Bad for the oven and bad for the turkey.

One “compromise”—and our friends at U of I will back us up here—is to toss the paper and try a turkey-size oven cooking bag, instead. While popping plastic in the oven may seem like an even worse idea than paper, oven bags are made of materials that are heatproof past the average temperatures used in ovens. Most oven bags you’ll find in the store are FDA approved (but always check) and they don’t contain BPA or other dangerous chemicals.

Turkey in a cooking bag in an oven; Shutterstock ID 1044221638; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeShutterstock/Stenko Vlad

A better bag

Brined birds—such as a fresh herb brined turkey or a marinated Thanksgiving turkey are often double bagged to contain the tasty liquid. The equally delicious lemon herb roasted turkey cooks up the magic in a single oven bag, however. Paper is not recommended for any of these recipes.

Not just for the birds

The idea of cooking with paper still has merit, though—as long as it’s the right kind. Orange tilapia retains its moisture because it is cooked in a parchment paper pouch. And simple but elegant citrus salmon en papillote gets its flavor (and its fancy name) from the parchment-paper cooking method.

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Cathryn Jakicic
Cathy Jakicic has written about everything from business and bacteria to beads and baking in her career —but she greatly prefers the last two. She is a baker and a crafter and loves to try new recipes for both.