I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a “chef,” but cooking that ideal golden turkey is at the top of my Thanksgiving list. Every year I try harder than I did the last to get that perfect bird on my table. I want my kids to have memories of a savory turkey, homemade stuffing and pecan pie after they’ve taken off for college. So I comprised a list of 10 things that I have learned not to do when cooking that turkey on Thanksgiving Day!
1. Not thawing a frozen turkey
This is one lesson that sticks with me! The magical time to eat is at noon and my turkey is still cooking at 2:00! A 20 pound frozen turkey can take as much as 5 days to thaw out in the refrigerator. If you buy a frozen turkey the week of Thanksgiving, consider leaving it in the refrigerator to thaw slowly. Or purchase a fresh turkey if time is running out!
2. Forgetting about the little package inside the turkey
Yes, I’ve cooked the turkey with the neck and other “goodies” left inside. Open that turkey up and feel inside before preparing to cook the turkey. If you don’t, the quality of the turkey can be affected and your giblet gravy will be missing “giblets.”
3. Placing a turkey in the oven straight from the fridge
There’s nothing worse than a dry turkey on Thanksgiving. That’s why I let my turkey sit out of the fridge for an hour before I place it in the oven. Doing this will make the turkey juicier because it will be able to cook more evenly.
4. Pat the turkey dry before baking
The flavor of a turkey is affected by how much moisture is left on the skin. Pat the turkey dry on the inside and outside before baking so you end up with a crispy skin and loads of flavor!
5. Cooking the turkey at the same temperature
Start your oven off hot at 475 degrees for the first 30 minutes. This allows the skin to become crisp, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 for the remainder of the cooking time. This is the recommended temperature for all size turkeys; however, size will dictate the length of time to cook the turkey. Check the turkey packaging recommendations for per pound cooking time.
6. Stuffing the turkey
Fight the urge to stuff your turkey! It will cook more evenly if don’t fill your turkey. Instead, it’s best to prepare your stuffing in a separate dish so that your turkey can cook thoroughly. As an alternative, you can add a few carrots or celery to the turkey cavity but don’t overfill.
7. To tie or not to tie?
We’ve all seen the picture of the gorgeous golden turkey on the front of a magazine with the legs tied tightly. It gives the turkey a crispy, clean look—but guess what? If you tie those legs up, the legs cook slower and the breast portion cooks faster! So it’s best to leave those legs untied for an evenly cooked bird.
8. Guessing your cook time instead of using a timer
Yes, a timer is my best friend in the kitchen. If your Thanksgiving is like mine, it’s hectic! Invest in an inexpensive timer and save yourself a lot of headache by not guessing how long the turkey has cooked. Some turkeys come with a pop-up timer, but many of them are set to pop-up at 180 degrees. Your turkey is actually done between 160-170 degrees so it’s best if you keep track yourself.
9. Opening the oven door to smell the aroma
I am a fanatic about making sure my bird is done, so I love to open the oven and watch it cook. Unfortunately, this is a habit I’ve been forced to break. Every time you open the oven, the temperature fluctuates and the chances of your turkey drying out increases. Set the timer, check when you think the turkey should be done, and then add additional time if needed. The only reason you should open the door is to baste the turkey. To get the best flavor, baste the turkey with its own juices or with butter.
10. Don’t slice the turkey immediately after removing from oven
Juice redistribution sounds like an interesting concept, but that’s exactly what happens when you let the turkey sit for about 20 minutes after you pull it out of the oven. When the juices are allowed to slowly become redistributed, your turkey becomes moist, juicy and easy to slice! Practice patience, and your turkey will be all that you ever could’ve imagined!