Turkey isn't just a Thanksgiving Day tradition. It's popular at Christmas too, with 22 million consumed, according to the National Turkey Federation. Ask friends for their best turkey tips and you'll get an earful of advice on brining, basting, glazing and grilling, even deep-frying. But does anybody tell you where it can all go wrong with the turkey changing from being much anticipated to maligned? Here are three common mistakes cooks make and what to do instead.
Not allowing enough time for thawing. Sure, it's safe to roast a frozen turkey, but you have to increase cooking time by about 50 percent and you can't grill or smoke it, and don't even think about deep frying or microwaving a frozen bird, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And then there's the matter of taste. "The bird is very lean to start with and I don't care if you put a sweater or coat on this turkey, cooking it that much longer means the exterior of the bird will be very dried out," says Chef Brendan Walsh, dean of culinary education at the Culinary Institute of America.
Tip: Plan ahead. Allow 24 hours of refrigerator thaw time per four pounds of frozen turkey—a 16-pound bird should thaw in four days. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place it breast side down in a shallow roasting pan. This lets the juices flow into the breast meat.
Overcooking. Use a meat thermometer and roast a whole turkey until its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, checking the thickest part of the breast and innermost part of the thigh and wing.
Tip: Don't rely on the pop-up thermometer. It's calibrated to pop at 170 degrees F to 185 degrees F, depending on the weight, and chefs have told us that's past ideal. Need a reliable meat thermometer? Take a look at the top-rated Polder THM-360, $30, a leave-in model, or the instant-read Taylor Weekend Warrior 806 for $16, two standouts from our tests of meat thermometers.
A rush to carve. Let the turkey rest at least 15 minutes and up to 25 if it's over 25 pounds. You want to allow enough time for the internal juices to be absorbed back into the bird, making it moister, and so the sliced turkey looks more attractive.
Tip: Using the wrong knife or a dull knife can result in a butchered bird. If you need new knives consider two impressive sets from our kitchen knife tests, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Professional "S", $315, or the more economical Ginsu Chikara, $75.