9 Ways to Ruin a Thanksgiving Turkey

Avoid these Turkey Day cooking disasters.

Lisa Cericola
Thanksgiving turkey plated
Thanksgiving only comes once a year, which is why there can be so much anxiety about cooking a turkey. Don’t panic. Cooking a turkey is really not as difficult as it may seem—think of it like a very big chicken (you’ve probably roasted a chicken before!), and don’t make these common mistakes.
Mistake: Buying a too-big bird
The first step in making and serving a great turkey starts at the supermarket. You’ll need about one to one and a half pounds of meat per person, so do the math with your guest list and calculate what size turkey to buy. Most turkeys are around 10 to 12 pounds for a reason—anything larger than that tends to cook unevenly. If you’re hosting a very large crowd for Thanksgiving, consider buying two smaller birds and roasting them at the same time.
Mistake: Not defrosting in time
There’s not much you can do with a rock-hard frozen turkey. Make sure you have at least one day for it to defrost in your refrigerator. You can thaw your turkey up to three days in advance.
Mistake: Not seasoning it enough
A turkey is a large bird and it needs a lot of seasoning. You can either brine it overnight in a saltwater solution to flavor and tenderize the meat. (Just be sure to rinse it thoroughly with cold water to prevent an overly salty turkey.) Or you can rub the turkey all over with salt before roasting. Be sure to get the salt on and under the skin—and add some fresh or dried herbs for extra flavor.
Mistake: Not tying the legs
A little piece of kitchen twine is more important than you might think. Tying a turkey’s legs together creates a more compact shape, which helps the bird cook more evenly.
Mistake: Roasting it upside down
Your oven’s preheated and the turkey is ready to roast. When you put your turkey in the roasting pan, make sure it is breast-side up. This will make sure the skin gets nice and crispy. To prevent the white meat from drying out, you can flip the turkey over halfway through the cooking process, or tent the top of your turkey with greased aluminum foil.
Mistake: Opening the oven door
It’s tempting, but don’t open the oven door to peek at your turkey while it is roasting. You don’t want heat to escape and lower the oven temperature.
Mistake: Not taking the turkey’s temperature
Your turkey might look golden brown and delicious on the outside but the only way to know for sure if it’s cooked through is by using a thermometer. And you should check two places: the breasts should be 150˚F and the legs should be 165˚F.
Mistake: Carving it too soon
Just like a chicken, a piece of steak, or any other protein, you need to let a turkey rest before you slice it. About 20 minutes (for a standard-sized bird) is enough time for the juices to redistribute inside the turkey, rather than running out onto your cutting board.
Mistake: Carving it at the table
Too much pressure! Show off your whole, beautiful turkey to your guests, then whisk it away to the kitchen to carve it up in privacy. Need a turkey carving refresher? Check out this video.