8 Ways You'll Probably Ruin Your Turkey This Thanksgiving

Food & Party 12

roasted turkeyT-minus four days until Thanksgiving! Are you ready? Everything prepped? You've read all 567 "how to roast a turkey" posts bookmarked in your browser? Super, you are so on your way. Now let me tell you about what's going to go wrong.

I should know. I've ruined my share of turkeys. All of these "dont's" are from my own experience. But you don't have to make the same mistakes I've made. You can make some all of your own. Oh I jest! Seriously, though, I think I've figured out just about every way you can do wrong by a turkey. Have a look and see if any of these sound familiar.

1. Don't buy a bigger turkey than you actually need. I did this with my first turkey. All I knew was that I was cooking for my mom, my siblings, and my in-laws. So I bought the biggest turkey I could find because that's just what you do, right? Totally unnecessary 30-pound monster turkey, coming right up! Thunk. I roasted it forever so none of it would be fully cooked and it totally dried out. So. Two things: the bigger your turkey is, the harder it is to roast evenly, and you only need 1 pound per person. I would have been fine with an 8-pounder.

2. I mean it, even if you're cooking for lots of people. The second time I roasted a 30-pound turkey was when I actually was cooking for about 30 people. This time I undercooked it. We kind of improvised, carving off the cooked parts and then putting the rest in the oven to roast a little longer. I would have been better off roasting two smaller turkeys.

3. Don't be in denial about what the thermometer says. See above with the raw turkey. "What? That bird's been in the oven forever! The thermometer must be wrong!" No, the thermometer does not lie.

4. Don't drink and roast. If you have good friends, they will be mixing up whiskey sours and Manhattans while you're cooking, thinking this will make cooking "more fun!" But NO, IT WILL NOT. Because you will have nothing in your belly but booze, and when something goes wrong (see above re: 30-pound turkey), you will CRY LIKE A LITTLE GIRL. And that will give your guests indigestion.

5. Don't underestimate the power of butter. You're worried about drying out the breast, right? Butter. Stuff it between the skin and the flesh. Lots of it. More ... more ... more ... like a pound. There is no such thing as too much butter. Now cover it loosely with foil. Okay, breast will be fine.

6. Don't brine a salt-injected bird. All the world is yammering on about how brining will turn your bird into tender, juicy, golden morsels of wonder that will make angels cry. But not so fast! A lot of turkeys get injected with a saltwater solution, which means if you brine that bird, your turkey will be mushy and over-salted. Check the ingredients list. I know it seems like it should say "Ingredients: turkey," but check it anyway.

7. Don't act like the future of world civilization depends on your producing The Perfect Turkey. That's too much pressure. Just do your best, smile, and have a glass of wine with your meal (with, not before), and follow Julia Child's advice ...

8. Don't apologize for your turkey. Even if it's undercooked, or dry, or salty (what did I tell you about brining?). It's rarely as bad as you think it is, and it makes your guests uncomfortable. Just laugh and say, "Oh well!" Remember your sense of humor.

Is this your first time roasting a turkey or are you a roasting pro? What turkey mistakes have you made?


Image via VirtualErn/Flickr

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Not a fan of turkey and not making one.

Peajewel Peajewel

I used to carve it right away.  It took several years to find out that you need to let it sit for about 20 minutes to let the juices soak in.  My husband is also a bit partial to cooking it in a trash can. He loves it because the meet is falling off the bone (literally) when you take the trash can off.  I am not a fan of the smoked flavor it ends up with.

frysh... fryshannon34

I have made turkey twice now and havent had a ny problems

Eques... EquestrianMom

I don't roast it, I got a big roaster pan, and basically I just slow cook it in the big roaster, like a crock pot. No basting, no worries! It sits in a hot tub of it's own yummy juices (sometimes I add veggies and stock) for six or more hours, I test its temp a few times through out the day, by dinner, super tender, extra yummy, crispy skinned turkey! Works every year. Even on the big turkeys, we used to have a gaint thanksgiving w lots of family, I'd do two 20lb turkeys and a big ham in three roasters. YUM! 

 Ham is great w fresh cranberries, pinapple, and cloves sprinled on and around it. Very juicy! 

Luisa Perkins

Excellent post, as always.

I butterfly and brine my pastured heritage turkey, then stuff butter under the skin, then air dry it in the fridge overnight (for crispy skin), then roast the breast on a flat rack over a huge pan of homemade stuffing while roasting the legs separately. I have two small ovens and am cooking for 22--so my 23-pound bird should be just right. 

Michelle Hysell

if you cook the bird breast down, the juices from the dark meat will run into the dark meat in effect making the bird self basting without all the fat of the butter

aj23 aj23

We deep fry our turkey. The only major mishap was the first year when it wasnt thawed all the way and we out frozen turkey in hot oil and it exploded.

bether89 bether89

I have cooked several turykeys and most with good results.

Bmat Bmat

I wondered about brining a prebasted turkey- thank you for the timely information.

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