Here's How to Cook a Turkey Like a Pro and Win at Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is the culinary holiday, so getting it right is non-negotiable. While you might have the pies, potatoes and sides on lock, the turkey is a whole other story. But armed with these simple tips, you'll be racking up the compliments left and right.
1. Defrost fully. You likely nabbed your bird a few weeks back, meaning it's been chilling (literally) in the freezer ever since. While you can technically roast a frozen bird, to make things easier on yourself it's best to plan ahead. To safely thaw your turkey in the fridge, place it on a pan or rimmed dish to catch any drips— contaminating the rest of your Thanksgiving eats is totally not an option — and leave it there to defrost for six or so hours per pound.
2. Dry brine. To avoid having a dry, bland turkey, brining is the way to go. But we're not talking about your average salt-and-aromatic solution, which can be tricky — not to mention messy — to implement with a big old bird. A dry brine delivers all the flavor and moisture you'd expect from a wet brine, but it's a whole lot easier to handle. Simply pat the bird dry, then rub with salt and a selection of your favorite seasonings a couple days or hours before roasting. For a major punch of flavor, separate the skin from the breast and rub directly on the meat as well. Leave the turkey uncovered to help dry out the skin, which will yield crispy, crazy delicious golden brown skin later.
3. Butter (or oil) it up. Basting no doubt helps prevent the turkey from drying out, but opening the oven door also allows heat to escape, therefore extending cooking time. Brushing your bird with oil or butter before roasting will lock in moisture and add to that delicious crispy skin effect. And if you feel so inclined (and you totally should), add a little butter under the skin.
4. Keep the stuffing on the side. By cooking stuffing inside the turkey, you're guaranteed some serious flavor, but you'll be adding extra time onto the timer too. Leaving a turkey unstuffed means faster cooking time and more even cooking — which is always a good thing. Your stuffing will also have the opportunity to crisp up if baked (read: become even more delicious).
5. Skip the trussing. If you don't planning on stuffing the turkey, trussing isn't totally necessary. Letting your bird hang loose allows air to circulate hot air around the legs and thighs, which not only speeds up cooking, but also ensures that both white and dark meat will done at the same time.
6. Add aromatics. Adding a bundle of herbs to the cavity is a given, but you'll want to build flavor in the pan too. Cover the bottom of the pan with stock, wine, cider, beer or broth to catch all those delicious drippings and then add your choice of herbs, garlic, onions, carrots and any other vegetable (or fruit!) that tickles your fancy.
7. Have a good thermometer on hand. The easiest (and safest) way to check your turkey for doneness is with a thermometer. Avoiding the bone, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Once the turkey hits 165 degrees, you're good to go. Not sure how long to keep it in the oven? Check out the USDA's timetables here.
8. Let it rest. To allow the juices to fully distribute throughout the bird, let the turkey rest for 30 minutes after taking it out of the oven. It'll also give you plenty of time to finish up any last minute sides and get everyone to the table.
9. Keep it in the kitchen. Your handiwork should certainly be admired, but to save on space and cut down on mess, carve the turkey in the kitchen. To keep up with appearances display your prize bird on a pretty platter.
Feature image by Bobby Lin via Food52