The turkey is the crux of the Thanksgiving Day meal. You can have the best mashed potatoes and gravy this side of the universe, but if your turkey is a sawdust nightmare, your day could end up being much less successful than you’d hoped. To help you make the juiciest, most show-stopping turkey you can, here are 5 mistake many beginning cooks make on the big day and how you can prevent them.
Thawing the turkey at room temperature
Thawing a turkey at room temperature takes many hours and provides the perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive. Instead, you should 1) let your turkey thaw in the fridge, 2) keep it under cold, running water (or in changed ice baths), or 3) just cook it frozen! It might take longer, but it’s much safer.
Over-stuffing the turkey
Stuffing a turkey before it’s cooked is a bad idea in general because it opens up huge risks for cross-contamination and increases the likelihood of an improperly cooked bird. Over-stuffing is especially bad because of the increased likelihood of getting raw, under-cooked dressing soaked in potentially-contaminated turkey juices! Not a good situation to be in. It’s better to cook the turkey and stuffing separately and combine them later, if you wish.
Crowding the oven
The bulk of the time the bird spends in the oven should be spent alone. The more things you pop into the oven, the slower your bird will cook. Over-crowding the oven will require you to keep your bird in the oven for longer, increasing the likelihood of a very dry, very unsatisfying turkey.
Checking the bird too frequently
Every time you open the oven door, even if it’s just to take a quick peek, you’re letting a huge amount of heat escape out of the oven and increasing the amount of time you’ll need to cook your bird. The outside will become drier and drier the longer you cook it, so it’s essential that you try to be frugal with your door openings.
Carving the turkey right out of the oven
If you’re timing your dinner perfectly, your turkey should actually be done at least half an hour before you’re ready to eat it. The turkey needs time for all of the juices to redistribute through its meat! Cutting it (or puncturing it in any way) before it’s had at least 15-20 minutes to sit is a fast way to lose a ton of your bird’s juiciness.