Cooking a Turkey: Our Best Tips

When cooked properly, there's nothing better than a juicy, golden brown Thanksgiving turkey. Avoid the common turkey-cooking mistakes (dry meat, undercooking, messy carving) with these helpful tips.

Buy a fresh turkey

They're not all that more expensive than frozen, and the flavor and texture are superior.



If you must defrost, do it right

Always thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. Allow a full 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey (that means a 25-pounder will take about five days).



Buy enough turkey

To be sure you have plenty of turkey for leftovers and seconds, buy about one pound of turkey per person.


Use high-quality utensils

Avoid flimsy foil pans -- invest in a high-quality roasting pan and roasting rack. A good carving set is a must too for cooking a turkey. Don't forget a meat thermometer (preferably instant-read) and a bulb baster. And use an oven thermometer -- many a holiday roasting disaster could have been avoided if the cook knew that the oven was 50 degrees low.


Follow the stuffing rules

It's perfectly safe to stuff a bird as long as you follow three simple, commonsense rules. First: Make the stuffing just before roasting the bird (to save time, chop the vegetables and cook any sausage the night before, but heat them up before tossing with the bread cubes). Second: Cook the turkey until the stuffing registers 165°F on a thermometer. If the bird is very big and the stuffing isn't cooking quickly enough, scoop it out into a casserole and bake it separately. Third: Remove the leftover stuffing from the turkey carcass and refrigerate it separately.

Basting is better

Basting gives your bird color, crisps the skin and helps hold in juices. Rub the bird with a few tablespoons of softened butter and pour 2 cups of turkey broth, chicken broth or water into your roasting pan. Baste every 30 minutes or so. Do it quickly, because the oven temperature will reduce every time you open the oven door.



Avoid dry turkey

The turkey white meat is lean, and is done when it reaches 170°F. Yet the dark meat isn't really cooked until it reaches 180 to 185°F. To protect the white meat, cover the breast area tightly with a large piece of aluminum foil, leaving the wings and the rest of the turkey exposed. Steam will collect under the foil and add moisture to the meat. When you baste, baste under the foil and replace it. During the last hour of cooking the turkey, remove the foil so the skin can brown.


Don't trust the pop-up thermometer

Those little gadgets sometimes get "glued" shut by the drippings. To check the temperature, insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh (not touching a bone). The desired temperature is 180 to 185°F. The temperature of the turkey will rise 5 to 10° as it stands before carving, so don't overcook it.


Use this carving secret

Let the turkey stand for 20 to 40 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to retract back into the meat, and you'll get a much juicier bird. The bird will not cool off during this standing period.


Be flexible with your roasting times

There are many variables to roasting a turkey, so roasting estimates are rarely right on the money. Err on the side of having the bird done early -- it will take a long time to cool off completely.


For more holiday tips and recipes, visit Holidaily!

WATCH: How to Truss a Turkey

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