4 Common Thanksgiving Turkey Mistakes Home Cooks Make—Plus, How to Avoid Them
There's a lot of pressure on the cook in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey—and if that cook happens to be you this year, don't panic. Take our advice and avoid making these four mistakes when roasting your turkey. If you do, you'll pull off a great-looking (and tasting) holiday meal.
An Unevenly Cooked Bird
Due to its large mass and bony structure, not defrosting the turkey all the way will result in the bird being still frozen in places that you may not even know about. This means it will take way longer for those areas to cook through to the safe temperature of 165°F, leading the more exposed areas to overcook and dry out.
Luckily, there's a simple fix to this common problem. Just make sure you set aside ample time for thawing—the general rule of thumb is one full day for every 4 pounds of turkey. If you are a day behind schedule, submerging the turkey in a wet brine can help speed things up and ensure the bird is completely thawed before it goes into the oven. Letting the turkey sit out on the counter for an hour or so before roasting will also encourage more even cooking.
Soggy, Pale Skin
Putting a wet turkey in the oven is most likely the culprit of turkey skin that looks flabby and unappetizing. For a burnished bird with crisp skin that will rival any Norman Rockwell painting, make sure you pat the turkey thoroughly dry with multiple paper towels before seasoning it and brushing it with butter or oil.
A Bland-Tasting Bird
If you decide to forgo a brine this year, know that you're losing that built-in insurance policy for flavorful meat that is well-seasoned throughout. What's more, an un-brined turkey with just a pinch or two of salt on top of the skin will end up tasting plain and downright bland.
The fix is simple and straightforward: Make sure you brine the turkey if you can, or see if you can purchase a pre-seasoned turkey at the butcher shop. If not, then don't be shy about thoroughly seasoning the plain turkey with salt and pepper both outside and inside the cavity. While you're at it, go ahead and infuse the meat with other mouthwatering flavors by stuffing the cavity with cloves of garlic, rosemary sprigs, lemon wedges, and Parmesan cheese rinds.
Trusting the Pop-Up Turkey Timer
While we appreciate the intention, those little red timers that pop up to signal when the turkey is done cooking are flat out lying—the turkey was likely done way before then! Or worse, the timer will pop up too early and the turkey will be undercooked. There's no method to the madness with these devices; the first and only thing you need to do when you see a pop-up timer on your turkey is to remove it and toss it in the trash.