Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, so you really don't want to screw it up. Here, Bon Appétit Deputy Food Editor Janet McCracken runs us through the home cook's most common mistakes when it comes to the big bird. Here's what you should avoid:
1. Not Getting a Good Bird
When it comes to anything you're cooking, the quality of the ingredients determines how tasty the final product will be. Order ahead to get a heritage bird. But no matter what kind of turkey you're roasting, make sure you're preparing it the right way. Find out how to prepare the kind of turkey you're making before you pick out a recipe.
2. Not Giving It Enough Time to Thaw
Since many birds come frozen, it's important to allow enough time for yours to thaw safely. In the fridge, your turkey will thaw at a rate of 4 pounds per day (do some light math to determine when you should start the defrost). If you don't defrost it thoroughly, the outside of the turkey will cook and the inside will remain raw. Ick.
3. Stuffing the Bird with Stuffing
It's a potential health hazard, because the stuffing may not have been able to reach 165 degrees (the temperature at which harmful bacteria dies). Plus, your stuffing will be mushy and won't have the crisp, browned crust that develops when it's baked separately in the oven.
4. Forgetting to Season ... Inside and Out
What you should stuff your turkey with is aromatics. Things like herbs, lemons, onions, fennel, and celery add flavor to the meat and smell great while in the oven. Just make sure you stuff your bird loosely—an overstuffed bird won't cook evenly. And don't forget to season the inside AND the outside of your turkey with salt and pepper.
5. Forgetting the Meat Thermometer
Most people overcook turkey because they overestimate its cooking time. To avoid this deadly Thanksgiving sin, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh when the bird is nearly done (don't hit the bone). When the thermometer reads 165, take it out!
6. Putting a Wet Bird in the Oven
Make sure to pat the skin as dry as you can before seasoning so that it gets crispy and golden-brown.
7. Roasting at Too High a Temperature
We understand wanting crispy skin, but if you keep your oven's temperature too high, the skin will burn and the meat will be undercooked. We suggest starting hot to crisp the skin, about 475-500 degrees, for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to about 400 and roast until cooked through. —Janet McCracken