9 Mistakes That Could Sabotage Your Thanksgiving Turkey
Believe us, we know how intimidating Thanksgiving dinner can be. Between opening your home to your entire extended family and getting the timing right on all those Thanksgiving side dishes, there's a lot to consider. But there's nothing more daunting than the main event: That pesky turkey.
Before you go into full-on panic mode, we've rounded up a few of the most common turkey mistakes that plague millions of Americans each Thanksgiving. Stay ahead of the game — don't make these turkey cooking mistakes this Thanksgiving.
1. You put a cold turkey in the oven.
If you've thawed your turkey in the fridge, you don't want to put it straight from the fridge into the oven. Roasting a cold turkey can result in a dry, unevenly cooked turkey. So yes, after all your patience thawing that bird, there's still more temperature adjustments to be made.
Once your turkey has thawed, leave it on the counter for about an hour so that it warms up closer to room temperature before roasting. A thawed turkey is perfectly safe left on the countertop for an hour.
2. You don't season all parts of the turkey.
If you're not brining, you're going to want to season your turkey well. Just sprinkling some seasoning on the outside isn't going to give you the savory meat you're looking for.
Make sure to season both outside and inside of the cavity. Doing so will season the meat from the inside out. Learn how to season a turkey to perfection.
3. You're not using a roasting rack.
If you think the roasting rack is just another unnecessary step in the turkey cooking process, think again. Without a roasting rack, the bottom of your bird will be dry and overcooked. It might even burn and fill your kitchen with smoke — and that's no way to impress your in-laws.
Consider investing in a roasting rack to keep the bottom of your turkey from steaming and sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can also create your own DIY roasting rack by using a bed celery and carrots, or rolling aluminum foil into logs and placing the turkey on top.
4. You open the oven door too much.
Just like a watched pot never boils, a watched turkey never cooks... because you keep opening the oven door. Every time you open the oven door to check on your turkey or baste it, you're letting heat out. Although you might not think much heat escapes during those few seconds you had the door open, it can take the oven several minutes to get back up to temperature.
Rather than basting, which requires you to open your oven door every half hour, try brining or dry rubbing your turkey. If it gives you peace of mind to get a look at your turkey while it's cooking, use the oven light instead of opening the oven door.
5. You cook your stuffing inside the turkey.
Thanksgiving traditionalists will be disappointed to learn that stuffing a turkey (in other words, cooking your stuffing inside the raw turkey) is widely frowned upon by food-safety experts. In order to get the stuffing cooked, it requires you to cook the turkey even longer. So your options are basically cooked turkey and undercooked, contaminated stuffing or cooked stuffing and overcooked turkey.
Cook stuffing outside of your turkey. Read these tips and tricks for how to make stuffing for beginners. If you still prefer to cook your stuffing inside the cavity, use a food thermometer to check that it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F before your pull it out of the oven.
6. The oven is too hot.
If the skin on your turkey is burning while the meat is still undercooked, it's probably because you've started out with the temperature too high. There's a better way to get a crispy golden skin!
Cook the turkey at a slower pace, normally between 350 and 400 degrees F. Refer to this turkey cooking time guide for how long to cook a turkey.
7. You don't use a meat thermometer.
The small "pop-up thermometer" that comes with some turkeys can be faulty, often not popping up until your turkey is overcooked. Go ahead and toss it. Meat is perfectly safe to eat at 165 degrees F, and you don't want to wait any longer because otherwise you will end up with dry meat.
Use a meat thermometer (like this $11 Amazon bestseller) to check the internal temperature of your meat. Depending on the size of your turkey, you should begin checking the temperature every 15 minutes, starting at the 2.5 to 3-hour mark. The turkey will continue cooking once you take it out of the oven, so you can even remove it once the thermometer reads 160 degrees F.
8. You're putting the thermometer in the wrong spot.
Another flaw of the pop-up thermometer that comes with many turkeys is it's often inserted into the breast of the bird. This won't give you the most accurate reading of when your turkey is done, because unlike the light meat of the breast, dark meat takes the longest to cook.
Insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, where the crease meets the breast. Once this spot has reached the desired temperature of 165 degrees F, you know your turkey is ready.
9. You're not letting the turkey cool.
As patient as you have been throughout this whole process, there's still more waiting to be done. Carving your turkey immediately after removing it from the oven will cause the juices to pour out all over your cutting board, leaving you with a dry turkey.
Allow the turkey to sit for at least 15 minutes before you cut into it. This will give the juices time to settle into the meat, giving you the tender and juicy result you're going for. Be sure to read our tips on how to carve a turkey.