Top Turkey Tips

November 25, 2014

Whether this year will be your first time cooking a turkey or you're just rethinking your cooking strategy, cooking one can seem overwhelming. But you don't need to feel like a turkey when you do it—the experts are here to ease any last-minute jitters:

The Pros Propose

Size Matters

  • If you don't need to feed the entire extended family, Andrea Nguyen suggests: "Go for a small one (11 to 13 pounds)—they're easier to manage and taste better. Should this be your inaugural bird, ask others to pitch in with side dishes so you can devote time to your masterpiece." 

Skip Out on Expensive Roasting Pans

  • If your current stash of cookware doesn't quite match up with your Pinterest-worthy dream pieces, The Modernist Cuisine Team assures us that it will be okay: "You don’t need an expensive roasting pan to achieve a perfectly baked turkey. An inexpensive, V-shaped roasting rack will allow air to circulate around the turkey, which helps elevate its flavors and make sure it gets evenly browned."

Plan for Resting Time and Keep it Warm

  • Merrill Stubbs recommends planning for 20 to 30 minutes of rest before carving.
  • Michael Ruhlman makes sure his serving dish for the turkey is warm, and also ladles hot broth over it, saying: "You can cover this with foil and keep it warm in the turned-off oven, or on the stove top, while you ready the rest of the meal."

Staub Roaster

Thickening Your Gravy

  • The Modernist Cuisine Team lets us in on a secret: "Wondra is an incredible thickener—we love using it to crunch up wings and thicken sauces, including Thanksgiving gravy. Dust Wondra over a flavorful liquid; use 4 to 5 grams of Wondra for every 100 grams of liquid. Whisk to distribute the starch evenly, simmer, and then remove from heat."  

Think Outside the Box (or Bird)

  • After trying to be an all-American turkey lover for years, Andrea Nguyen's mom declared them too dry: "From that moment on, my family was liberated to enjoy juicy roast chickens and game hens stuffed with Mom's incredible dressing of sticky rice, chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, herbs, and Cognac. We felt free to create our own holiday tradition, which is why we came to the U.S. in the first place."

Tell us: How do you tackle your turkey? 

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Have you missed any of our Thanksgiving roundup of Burning Questions? Catch up now:

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Zensister
  • walkie74
  • AntoniaJames
  • Pamela_in_Tokyo
  • EmilyC
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Zensister November 17, 2015
I usually lard mine with salt pork, but one of my guests this year can't eat pork, so I'm going for a smaller bird with herb butter under the skin. But I always panic when the bird comes out, and despite the thermometer reading, always looks bloody in the cavity. Is that normal? I usually assume it's not cooked somewhere and throw it back in.
walkie74 November 25, 2014
I'm trying the Judy Bird method this year, so we'll see what happens. Seasoned salt and pepper--that's it!
AntoniaJames November 25, 2014
Really like Ruhlman's suggestion. Find it quite intriguing that Wondra is a "secret" as the product was developed specifically for use in gravy decades ago and has been used consistently by millions of cooks since then. Perhaps this just reflects how out of touch with cooking basics several generations of Americans have become. ;o) P.S. Interesting discussion on the Hotline about Wondra:
Pamela_in_Tokyo November 4, 2014
For more than 25 years I have been doing a 18-20 lb turkey on a covered BBQ. It is stuffed with a juicy stuffing and it is always moist and tender. I let it rest almost an hour covered with foil. Often we have up to 30 guests, but there are still left overs. Everyone fights over the turkey, it is so good and smoky tasting. I start cooking it about 10:00 and we eat about 6:00 in the evening. The temp. is rather low and slow. Just perfect. I add no coals partway through. Somehow the few I add last. I use one of those kamado ceramic barbecues.
AntoniaJames November 25, 2014
Sounds delicious, Pamela! Never tried that, but you certainly have convinced me that I should. ;o)
EmilyC November 25, 2014
We are also big fans of cooking turkey on a kamodo grill (we have a Big Green Egg). It frees up the oven and the subtle smoke is really nice with turkey. This year we're doing an apple cider brine, then rubbing the bird generously with duck fat and herbs under the skin. We're using alder wood for the smoke. Hopefully it's a success!