5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking a Turkey

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking a Turkey

Kelli Foster
Nov 18, 2014
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and it's time to make sure you have a plan in place for your turkey. Whether it's your first time cooking the whole meal, or whether you've been doing it for years, we want to make sure you have a perfectly cooked bird this Thanksgiving.

We've given you a lot of tips on all the things you should be doing when it comes to cooking a turkey. Today we're talking about what not to do. Here are five common mistakes when it comes to cooking turkey, plus our best tips on how to avoid them.

1. Not giving the turkey enough time to thaw

If you're using a frozen turkey, whatever you do, don't wait until the day before Thanksgiving to take it out of the freezer. Remember, frozen turkeys take at least three to four days to completely thaw.

Follow this tip: When it comes to thawing turkey, it's better to give yourself too much time than not enough. The best and most convenient way to thaw your turkey is in the refrigerator. As a rule of thumb it will need at least 24 hours for every five pounds. We've found that it often takes a little longer. So, if you have a 15-pound turkey, plan to transfer it to the refrigerator by the Sunday or Monday of Thanksgiving week. Using this method, the thawed turkey can also sit in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking.

Alternatively, for faster thawing, you can place the turkey in a cold water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes. Plan on six to eight hours for a 12 to 16 pound turkey, and eight to ten hours for a 16 to 20 pound turkey. One caveat with this method, though — you need to cook the turkey immediately, once it's thawed.

2. Turning the oven temperature too high

Crispy skin is one of the highlights of the turkey. But, there's no need to start the cooking at a high temperature. This will only lead to burnt skin and under-cooked meat.

Follow this tip: We suggest keeping the oven at a steady, moderate temperature to get perfectly cooked meat and crisp skin. Plus, there are plenty of other ways to get crispy skin, like dry brining.

3. Putting the turkey in the oven too early

If dinner is at three o'clock in the afternoon there's no reason to put your turkey in the oven at sunrise. Yes, turkey does take a long time to cook, but you don't want it to sit out for too long before serving.

Follow this tip: The rule of thumb for cooking turkey is 13 minutes per pound, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the size of your turkey, plan on cooking it for three to five hours. And, keep in mind what you'll want to let it rest for about 20 minutes before carving and serving.

4. Not using a meat thermometer

Meat thermometers are the most accurate way to determine when the turkey is fully cooked. Even if your bird comes with one of those pop-up timers, it's best not to rely on that alone.

Follow this tip: The most reliable way to check the doneness of turkey is with a meat thermometer. Turkey should be cooked until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, then removed from the oven. Test the temperature by inserting a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, without hitting the bone.

5. Throwing out the pan drippings

The drippings that are left in the bottom of the roasting pan after cooking the turkey, are liquid gold. Think of them as the flavor equivalent of winning the lottery. So, whatever you do, don't throw them away.

Follow this tip: The caramelized pan drippings are full of rich, concentrated flavor. Put these magical bits to work and use them as a base for your gravy! Not only is this gravy quick and easy to make (it takes literally, just minutes), it's far more delicious that anything you might make from a powdered mix or from a jar.

What are your best tips for cooking a turkey?

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