Thanksgiving Turkey – Tips to Cook the Perfect Turkey

Obviously turkey is most people’s choice for a Thanksgiving Main Course. Making a turkey is not as scary as you might think. We thought it would be fun for each of us to give you our special tips for how we make our Thanksgiving turkey and give you our favorite turkey disaster.

Denise’s Thanksgiving Turkey

Let me first start by saying that when I made my first turkey 15 years ago, things didn’t go exactly as planned. My sister had taught me how to make one about a month before and I thought I would be able to do it with no problem. Ha! We were having 6 people for Thanksgiving dinner that year. I had prepped and cooked all the side dishes and desserts in advance so the only big thing I had to worry about on Thanksgiving Day was the turkey.

I leisurely woke up that morning and pulled the turkey out of the refrigerator after I had my coffee. I opened it up to clean and that’s when the #*@& hit the fan. My turkey was still half frozen. I had followed the directions on the package about how long it needed to defrost in the refrigerator but it obviously didn’t work. I called my sister in an absolute panic. She told me I had no choice but to put the turkey in the bathtub and run lukewarm water over it until it defrosted. Seriously? My first turkey and it was a mess before it was even cooked! Anyway, I did what she said at it worked.

After the turkey was defrosted, I cleaned and prepped it while my husband thoroughly scrubbed the tub! I popped it in the oven, poured a big glass of wine and hoped for the best. We ate later than I had planned that year, but the turkey turned out delicious. If I had known then to always “expect the unexpected” I’m sure I wouldn’t have freaked out as much as a I did. Oh well, with age comes wisdom.

Denise’s Tips for How to Cook the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

1. Buy a fresh turkey – Don’t laugh, but I always buy a fresh turkey. I think you now know why! I buy Honeysuckle White because that’s what my grandfather said was the best. Although he’s been gone for a while, buying the turkey every year makes me think of him and it puts a smile on my face. I’m all about family traditions if you haven’t noticed!

2. Butter! – After I clean the turkey (it’s just like cleaning a chicken, only bigger), I gently put pats of butter underneath the skin. It takes about a stick of butter but it’s so worth it. This is what keeps my turkey so moist and juicy. Careful not to tear the skin (remove your rings).

3. Flavor – I fill the cavity with sage, carrots, celery and onion. Does it add flavor?? I don’t know…but my mom did it that way. I very generously rub the outside of the turkey with kosher salt (this also helps to keep it moist). I add some pepper and ground sage.

4. Trust the pop-up – I cook the turkey according to directions. About  two hours before the turkey is done, I turn the oven light on so I, or anyone else I allow in my kitchen can easily see when the pop up timer rises. When it pops, the turkey is done and it’s time to let it rest. Notice that at no time did I say that I open the oven to check on the turkey. Keep it shut. The pop up timer on a Honeysuckle White has never failed me. If you don’t trust it, put a meat thermometer in the thigh when you put the turkey in the oven so you can watch the internal temperature without having to open the oven.

After you have let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes, carve him up! It’s dinner time!

Here is my favorite roasting pan if you are in the market for one! It’s nothing fancy and cheap. Again…it hasn’t failed me yet!

Melissa’s Thanksgiving Turkey

My turkey disaster is really not my own. Not that I haven’t had the undefrosted turkey or turkey too big for the roasting pan or the turkey so dry it was more like jerkey stories, it’s just none of them are that ‘funny’.

However, when I was a kid, there was one Thanksgiving (it might have been Christmas, can’t really remember), but it was the first ‘holiday’ after my parents were divorced and my mom ended up with a horrendous case of the flu! She was our cook and of course had everything done in advance, except the turkey! My sister was older than I so she was getting the barking orders on what to do. First thing, ‘take the turkey out of the fridge and clean it.’ So, that’s what my sister did. She removed it from the packaging, got the scrub brush and some soap and ‘cleaned’ the turkey. She had no idea that cleaning it really referred to getting the bag of internal nastiness out of the cavity of the turkey. Suffice it to say, although our turkey was clean on the outside, the inside was a bit of a mess.

Live and learn!

Melissa’s Tips for How to Cook the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

1. Buy a big, quality turkey – I buy Butterball Frozen turkey. I don’t buy into the ‘fresh’ mumbo jumbo Denise was spewing above. Fresh is not always better, and in this instance, I think frozen is. If I was shooting my own, I’d obviously go the fresh route. Maybe Denise just doesn’t want to have another defrost fiasco?! (Note from Denise: That’s days of putting a turkey in the tub are over. I start my Thanksgiving morning knowing that my Mr. Turkey is just waiting on me, he’s ready to go!)
thanksgiving turkey
I also go ‘big’ because it is great for leftovers and if I’m going through the trouble of roasting a whole turkey, I want it to last. Just make sure you have a big enough pan (been there done that). This is the one I use.

2. Flavor – I do a bit of the same as Denise here. Salt and pepper generously on the outside and on the inside too!! Sometimes I do the butter, it just depends on who I am serving (not everyone likes this method). I also add onions, carrots to the inside cavity as it creates steam on the inside for moisture, flavors the drippings for the gravy and provides flavor to the bird itself. I add some stock and butter to the bottom of the pan for basting as I baste the turkey every 20 minutes or so with the pan juices.

3. Never trust the pop-up – I remove that bastardly thing as soon as I open my turkey. I think it pops too late and the breast is overdone. The issue with cooking a whole ‘bird’ of any sort is the white meat cooks faster than the dark meat so by the time the dark meat is done, the white meat can be overdone. (Note from the Denise: That’s because you buy Butterball and I buy Honeysuckle White!!)

Ways to combat this are (1) cook your turkey upside down for the first hour or so and then turn it over. This will help keep the moisture in the breast and slow its cooking a bit. (2) Once the skin is browned on top, cover the breast and wings with foil, allowing the thighs and legs to remain exposed.  I have converted to using method #2 in more recent years and it does the trick. I combine this with starting the turkey on a higher temp (375) and then lowering to (325) at this point. Promptly remove when instant read thermometer in the thigh reaches 165 and let it rest for at least 30 minutes if not longer before you touch it!

4. Carve it right – I think this is the most critical thing I’ve learned about cooking a turkey in all these years! No more carving individual slices of the breast meat while the breast is on the turkey. Instead, Remove the ENTIRE breast, and cut thick slices all the way through with the breast sideways. This allows (1) each slice to have a bit of skin, (2) cuts properly against the grain for maximum tenderness, and (3) each slice gets a little bit of the tenderloin hidden deep inside the breast. Oh yea!! It’s succulent!

We hope your turkey, whether it is your first or your 50th is amazing! Remember, even if it is not perfect, that’s not what this is all about. Try to relax and enjoy the time with your family and friends.

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