There’s a lot that can go wrong on Thanksgiving Day, whether you’re cooking your first turkey or your 20th. The key is in planning for what could go wrong before it actually has a chance to.
Check out these 20 ingenious turkey-cooking tips to save your Thanksgiving from disaster (so that you don’t have to #ThanksgivingFail tweet about it).
Your kitchen is unprepared for cooking an entire feast…
1. Make a slow cooker turkey.
If you’re doing a smaller Thanksgiving dinner or just don’t have the oven space to roast a bird, then you can make slow cooker turkey.
2. Break your turkey down before you cook it.
Separating the turkey into smaller pieces means you need to cook only what you think you’ll eat, and it saves vertical space in your oven so you can cook on more than one rack at a time. It also allows you to separate the white from the dark meat, so everything cooks evenly.
3. Get a precooked turkey breast.
Use a precooked turkey breast, and whip up something on the stovetop, like this turkey mole. That’ll free up your oven for side dishes and, of course, pie.
4. Make a roasting rack with aluminum foil.
You forgot to get a roasting rack or just can’t find it anywhere and are terrified your bird will burn on the bottom. No worries: You can whip up a makeshift roasting rack with nothing but foil.
5. Cook while you sleep.
Slow-roast your turkey overnight so your oven is free in the morning. It takes some planning ahead, but you’ll be happy your oven is free on the big day.
6. Grill it.
Shake things up, and grill your turkey outside over low heat while you finish up the side dishes and decorating. Better yet, assign any relatives who won’t get out of your hair to grill duty so you can focus on the rest of your meal prep.
Your meat always cooks unevenly…
7. Spatchcock it. Yes, that’s a real word.
Spatchcocking refers to butterflying the turkey. By removing its backbone, cracking the breastbone and laying the bird out flat, it can be roasted at a higher temperature for a shorter duration for some seriously juicy meat and a ton of crispy skin. Since it’s being heated from all directions, it will also cook more evenly, so you don’t have to worry about eating dry breast meat and nearly raw thighs ever again.
8. Ice the turkey breast before cooking.
Icing the turkey breast for even 15 minutes can help it remain juicy. It will start cooking at a lower temperature than the dark meat, meaning the two will come to the perfect temperature at the same time.
9. Use a probe thermometer.
What’s the first thing you should throw out when you get your turkey? The red pop-up thermometer that comes with it. These thermometers are set to pop at 180 to 185 degrees F, when in fact you should actually take your turkey out of the oven when it reaches 160 degrees F (it will rise to 165 degrees F as it rests). For best results, use a digital probe thermometer, which will help you get an accurate idea of how close your turkey is to being done.
10. Get it to room temp.
Bringing the turkey to room temperature for 1 hour before it goes into the oven helps ensure the whole bird cooks evenly from the inside out.
Your turkey is always dry…
11. Brine it.
Make sure your turkey is the juiciest around by giving it a soak in a salty brine. The brine plumps the meat and flavors the turkey so it stays moist while it cooks.
12. Don’t have a container big enough for your turkey? Use a plastic bag.
Large plastic storage bags, like those from Ziploc, or specialty bags made for brining can both be used if you don’t have a bucket large enough for your turkey.
13. Or use your refrigerator crisper drawer.
Brining something smaller, like a turkey breast or legs? Use the crisper drawer in your refrigerator as the brining vessel. Just make sure to clean and sanitize it very well before you use it for veggies again.
14. Dry brine your turkey as it thaws.
Save time by using a spiced salt rub on your turkey, then tucking it in a well-sealed bag and letting it thaw in the fridge for three days before Thanksgiving.
15. Stuff it… but not with stuffing.
Stuff the turkey loosely with juicy produce, like a quartered apple and onion or halved lemons and garlic. They’ll steam while cooking, keeping the interior of the turkey nice and moist.
But don’t stuff your turkey with traditional stuffing. It packs too densely and makes the entire bird take longer to cook, resulting in dry meat.
16. Quit basting.
Opening the oven door for frequent basting causes the temperature to drop, which means it takes longer for your bird to cook through. This results in dry meat. Instead, lightly coat the skin with oil or melted butter before it goes in the oven to ensure it gets that crispy, burnished glow you want.
17. Give it a rest.
A lot of people know you need to let something like a thick steak rest before cutting into it, and the same wisdom applies to turkey. Let the turkey rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving so the juices have time to redistribute and don’t just spill out all over the cutting board, leaving you with dry, unappetizing meat.
You’re sick of a flavorless bird…
18. Get under the skin.
You sprinkle salt, seasoning and herbs on the turkey, but none of the flavor seems to stick. Try getting under its skin, literally. Gently spread a compound butter and chopped herbs underneath the turkey’s skin so the aromatics and fat have contact with the meat itself during cooking.
19. Toast your spices.
Be honest: How long ago did you buy that paprika? What about your thyme? Try toasting the spices you’ll use on your bird or in your brine in a skillet until fragrant. It will help release their flavorful essential oils and revive them. Or better yet, use fresh herbs.
20. Use more fresh herbs and aromatics than you think you need.
Add herbs and salt beneath the turkey skin; loosely stuff the turkey with lemon, garlic, fresh sage, thyme or rosemary; and make sure you salt the cavity of the bird too. As the turkey cooks, the aromatics inside it steam, permeating the meat with flavor and seasoning it from the inside out. Aromatics help add complexity to your drippings too, which leads to stellar gravy.
What are your top tips for the perfect turkey?