Thanksgiving Turkey Primer

Follow the following tips to make sure you don't ruin the main event.

Patricia S. York
Dry Brined-Herb Roasted Turkey Recipe
Photo: Hector Sanchez

Turkeys often get a bad rap, accused of being tasteless, dry, or undercooked. But preparing a flavorful and juicy bird that the whole family will enjoy is a simple matter of having the right tools, a good recipe, and doing some advance planning. If it’s your turn to cook the bird this Thanksgiving, follow this guideline to guarantee a culinary victory. Take a look at our top-rated turkey recipes for inspiration.

Tools you will need: Use a high-sided roasting pan with a V-rack. It holds the turkey upright and allows hot air to flow around it. Kitchen string for tying the legs is optional, but an instant-read thermometer is essential. Rule of thumb: roast a turkey at 325° to 350°, until the thickest parts of the leg and breast register 165°.

Buy the best: Freshness and size are key. Plan on one to one and a half pounds per person. This will give you plenty for leftovers. Look for the word natural on the label, which means the turkey has been minimally processed. For the freshest flavor, buy turkey that has been flash frozen after butchering.

Allow time for defrosting: If you purchase a frozen turkey, it’s important from a safety standpoint to thaw it properly before cooking. Allow two to three days for a 10-to15-pound bird to thaw. Leave the turkey in its original wrapper, place it in a pan to catch any juices, and set the pan in the back (the coldest part) of your refrigerator until it’s thawed. Short on time? Submerge your turkey in cold water (breast-side down) and change the water every 30 minutes. It should take about thirty minutes per pound to completely thaw the turkey. Never thaw your turkey on the counter at room temperature.

Smoked Self-Basting Turkey Recipe
Photo: Hector Sanchez

Did it overcook? You thought you followed the recipe precisely, but find the turkey is overcooked and dry. Don’t resort to take-out just yet. Here are a few ways you can salvage the holiday feast.

Highlight the dark meat: A whole turkey does not cook uniformly, which is one reason it is often overcooked. While the white meat may be dry, the legs and thighs may still be juicy and flavorful. Arrange the platter so these pieces will be eaten first.

Use the flavorful pan drippings: Make a delicious gravy out of the pan drippings and pour over slices of meat. A tasty gravy can do a lot to enhance even the driest piece of turkey. If you don't have a family gravy recipe on hand, try one of our Holiday gravy recipes and start a new tradition.

The sides are really the stars: Let’s face it, most people use a slice of turkey as a base to pile on potatoes, dressing, and cranberry sauce, right? Bring all those mouth-watering side dishes to the front of the buffet, and leave the dry turkey towards the end. Try a few of our favorite Thanksgiving side dishes this year.

Is it underdone? Does your turkey look crisp and golden on the outside, but is still raw on the inside? If there is still a good bit of time before dinner, make a tent over the turkey with foil, crimping the edges around the pan to seal in the heat. This will protect the skin from browning any further while the bird continues to cook. However, if time is of the essence, cut the bird and cook it in pieces.