Everything Thanksgiving: Get all our Thanksgiving recipes, how-to’s and more!
Thanksgiving only comes once a year, which means there aren’t many chances to practice cooking up a Thanksgiving turkey ― and that often spells disaster. But if you study up and learn about the basics of cooking a turkey, you can totally pull it off.
We’re here to warn you of all the possible pitfalls ― so do your homework, and you won’t have to worry about committing one of the many mistakes that have become all too common.
Below, we’re presenting all the ways a turkey can go wrong in your kitchen and how to these mistakes can be easily avoided. It’s really easy once you know what you’re doing, we promise.
Read up, and you’ll be fine come the big day.
*Note: The USDA recommends all turkeys be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit for optimum safety. You’ll notice below that we often suggest removing the bird from the oven when it reaches 160, but that’s because the bird’s temperature will continue to rise to 165 (or above) after you remove it from the oven. Just make sure it ultimately reaches 165.
Problem: It’s hard to know when the turkey is done.
Solution: It’s time to get yourself a trusty instant-read thermometer and take the turkey’s temperature. Just insert a meat thermometer into the area where the thigh and breast meet — it should register 160 degrees F when it’s removed from the oven, and 165 degrees F after it has rested. If you’ve stuffed the bird, take the temperature of the stuffing (160 to 165 degrees F also). You can also make an incision where the thigh and breast meet — if the juices run clear, not red, then the bird is done. Whatever you do, don’t rely on those plastic pop-up timers that are stuck in the bird — all they do is let you know your bird is dry and overcooked (most of them don’t pop up until the temperature reaches 180 degrees F!). One great gadget for perfect turkey-cooking is a probe-style thermometer, which you can leave in the bird, leading out a wire to a display that will signal once the bird is done.
Problem: The turkey is dry and flavorless.
Problem: The turkey looks pale and flabby.
Solution: A beautifully browned bird is impressive and tastes pretty amazing. If you’re having trouble getting a golden brown skin, there are a few things you can do. Before you put the bird in the oven, rub the skin with soft butter or olive oil — lots of it. This will help the skin brown better and it will make it taste good. Also, don’t forget to baste the bird. Another unique method that helps produce a brown skin is the cheesecloth method. Basically dip the cheesecloth in your basting liquid and drape it over the bird. During roasting, baste the bird as usual — the cheesecloth will turn almost black. Remove it once the turkey is done and you will be left with the most glorious crackling skin in a shade of mahogany.
Problem: The turkey is burning.
Problem: The turkey is still frozen.
Problem: There aren’t enough pan drippings to make gravy.
Problem: The turkey is cooked unevenly.
Richard Theis / EyeEm via Getty Images
Problem: The turkey is undercooked.
Problem: The turkey falls apart when I carving it.
Problem: Not sure what to do with the innards.
Problem: To stuff or not to stuff?