Roasting a whole turkey can be difficult. One important thing to remember is that despite the special occasion and the size, the process itself isn't much different than roasting a chicken! Make your Thanksgiving memorable for the right reasons this year by avoiding these common turkey-cooking pitfalls.
*Pomegranate Brined Turkey from Food Republic, Photo by Gabi Porter*
You didn't let your Turkey thaw safely or enough. If you're buying a frozen bird, one of the easiest things to do is forget how long it takes to properly thaw it out. For every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey, your bird will need 24 hours in the fridge to thaw. (Note: Thawing the turkey in the fridge is the safest method! Letting a Turkey thaw at room temperature is the perfect way to encourage the growth of harmful bacteria). Skipping this crucial step will result in a turkey that's still raw on the inside while the outside overcooks.
You cook the Turkey at too high a temperature. The ideal temperature to cook your bird is approximately 400°F, giving about 13 minutes of time for each pound. (A 15lb turkey should take about 3 hours and 25 minutes to cook!) To crisp the skin, you're welcome to give your bird 15 to 20 minutes at 475°F to 500°F, but the rest of the time it's roasting, reduce the heat to 400°F and keep the oven closed as much as possible! Feel free to baste the bird every 45 minutes or so, but keep in mind that every time you open the oven door, heat is escaping and that can increase your overall cooking time.
You stuff a raw Turkey with warm stuffing (or any stuffing). It's fairly common knowledge now that you should avoid cooking your Thanksgiving stuffing inside the actual turkey, since doing so increases the likelihood of cross contamination and makes throws off proper cooking times for both dishes. However, if you decide to stuff your turkey anyway, make that both the stuffing an the turkey are cold, you only stuff the turkey just prior to roasting, and your stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. This will reduce the risk of harmful bacteria and help make sure your Thanksgiving stays happy!
You don't use a meat thermometer (or you don't use it properly). The best way of knowing whether your turkey is cooked to juicy perfection is with a meat thermometer. Once the internal temperature of your bird reaches 165°F, it's time to take it out of the oven, since the residual heat will continue to cook the turkey to the perfect temperature on its own. Remember, too, to check the turkey's temperature in 3 spots: the inner parts of the thighs and wings, and the thickest part of the breast. (Be sure to keep your thermometer away from fat and bone as these heat differently than meat does and can interfere with readings!)
You cook the turkey too early or too late. Knowing the proper timing of your turkey is an important part of nailing the perfect Thanksgiving centerpiece. Again, if you cook your turkey at 400°F, you want to give it 13 minutes in the oven for every pound. You'll also want to take into account the 15-20 minutes you'll need to let your turkey rest prior to carving into it for the juiciest, most succulent cuts of turkey possible! Opening your oven a lot or cooking multiple things in the oven at once will also change your overall cooking time and are important factors to timing the meal!