In the first post of our series leading up to Thanksgiving, we broke down mistakes in planning and preparation before you start cooking. After properly planning, you’re ready to jump into the kitchen and today, it’s all about the turkey.
Read on for ways to avoid the most major mistakes you can make while cooking your Thanksgiving turkey.
Mistake 1: Underestimating thaw time
Not leaving enough time to properly thaw your turkey is easily the most common Thanksgiving mistake of all, and can derail your entire holiday. Always thaw your turkey in the refrigerator and as a general rule, allow one day of defrosting time for every four pounds. So, if the average Thanksgiving turkey is between 12 and 15 pounds, plan out three to four days of thawing time. Place the frozen turkey on a sheet pan or platter to catch any drips while the bird defrosts, and if it helps, set a reminder on your phone the Monday before Thanksgiving to start the process!
Mistake 2: Forgetting the meat thermometer
Rather than estimating, guarantee the internal temperature of your bird with a reliable, quality meat thermometer. Not only is guessing whether the turkey is done risky, it can be dangerous if you serve undercooked meat to your loved ones. So how hot is hot enough? According to the USDA, a Thanksgiving turkey should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat. However, don’t forget that turkey’s internal temp will continue to rise about 10 degrees after you pull it from the oven. So, removing it at about 155-160 degrees to rest will get the bird to the perfect temperature.
Mistake 3: Basting, stuffing and keeping the turkey whole
These are really three separate decisions when it comes to cooking a turkey, so let’s run through them separately, shall we?
While whipping out the turkey baster may seem habitual at this point, the benefits of basting are a myth. Contrary to popular belief, basting won’t actually make your turkey any juicier! The process may add color to the bird, but opening and closing the over door over and over to periodically baste the turkey will significantly impact cooking time without making any difference in flavor. Who knew?
When it comes to stuffing, never stuff a turkey with anything you plan to eat. Inside the bird, stuffing can’t reach the temperature it needs to reach without overcooking the turkey too. Instead, cook stuffing in a casserole dish in the oven and fill the turkey with fragrant ingredients like onion quarters, full garlic cloves or lemon halves.
Lastly, a Thanksgiving turkey hardly needs to stay whole. Professional chefs everywhere swear by a technique known as spatchcocking, instead. To do so, carefully slice out the backbone and flatten the bird–with its skin side facing up–to roast in a pan. Spatchcocking helps a turkey cook more evenly and faster than leaving the bird untouched!