Top 10 Tips: How to Cook a Turkey
Serve your best bird yet — and make the turkey the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table — with our tried-and-true top 10 turkey tips.
Whether you're planning on experimenting with new flavors or keeping it simple, our top 10 turkey tips will help you cook your best bird yet.
1. Choose the Right Bird
Heritage turkeys will provide leaner, leggier and more flavorful meat, with a little bit of a higher price tag for the old-fashioned breed. If organic is important to you, choose a bird raised by organic standards. For a traditional fresh or frozen turkey, be choosy in looking for the healthiest-looking option in the correct weight range. Fresh is not always better than frozen; many frozen turkeys are simply snap-frozen just after butchering.
2. Buy the Right Amount
Too much turkey will cost you extra roasting time, whereas too little will leave you no leftovers. Assume 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of turkey per guest, and then add a few pounds to account for bones.
3. Add Vegetables
Create a layer of carrots, onions and celery on the bottom of the roasting pan to add natural sweetness to the bird and the gravy. Having the turkey raised from the pan will give it more exposure to the hot air, ensuring it will brown evenly all over.
4. Brine, Brine, Brine
This is a foolproof way to boost flavor. A combination of water, sugar, salt and flavorings, a brine will ensure that your meat is moist and juicy. Use a recipe to make sure you get correct proportions, so you don't end up with a turkey that's too salty or sweet.
5. Cook Your Stuffing Out of the Bird
We know everyone loves the look and tradition of a turkey full of stuffing, but consider baking the stuffing alongside the bird instead. When cooked inside the turkey, stuffing can be exposed to harmful bacteria. Roasting stuffing out of the turkey will give it some serious crisp on top; just drizzle on some cooked turkey juices for that cooked-in-the-bird flavor. Try stuffing your turkey with herbs and vegetables instead to add flavor.
6. Truss Your Turkey
Tying up your turkey not only helps it cook evenly and locks in juices, it also makes your bird (and you) look extra professional. If you don't want to tackle the whole thing, simply tuck the wings under the body and tie the legs with butcher's twine.
7. Rub Down Your Turkey Beforehand
For moist meat and crisp skin, dry your turkey well, then slather the skin with butter or oil before roasting. Feel free to go one step further by tucking pats of butter underneath the turkey skin.
8. You Don't Need to Baste!
Turkey takes long enough to roast as is; constantly opening the oven to baste will only lower your oven temperature and add more cook time. Moistness can be similarly achieved by brining your bird the night before or using the slather-with-butter-or-oil method.
9. Take the Turkey's Temperature
A meat thermometer will prove indispensable on Thanksgiving. Don't try to guess whether the turkey is fully cooked: just insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone, and look for 165 degrees F. The temperature will rise about 10 degrees more while the turkey is resting.
10. Rest the Turkey
We know it looks delicious when it comes out of the oven, but trust us: your turkey needs to rest, loosely tented with foil, for a minimum of 20 minutes before you dig in. Your turkey will continue cooking after it has left the oven; resting will make sure the meat retains its juices.