How to Cook Your First Turkey

November 21, 2015

We know exactly how this happens. In a fit of sugar-induced confidence at the tail end of Halloween, you call all your friends, relatives and in-laws and graciously offer to host them all for Thanksgiving. No, no, it's no trouble, you say, waving away their concerns and offers of cooking advice. You've totally got this.

Then, after you hang up the phone, you realize, maybe you don't "have this" as much as you thought. After all, everyone is about to book tickets to your house, and well, Hollie D took to the Hotline and said just what we'd be thinking: "So, this is my first year hosting Thanksgiving​. This is also my first time cooking a turkey. I'm not nervous about hosting, or the sides, but I am nervous about this turkey. I would love tips and tricks to make me feel at ease! I need your gobbler help!"

Photo by Bobbi Lin

As Cav puts it, "As you're no doubt aware, this time of year the web, magazines and TV are chock full of turkey cooking advice. Too much. Wet brine, dry brine, oil rub, mayonnaise rub, butter rub, slow roast, crisp in pan, grill, smoke, deep fry, stuff, never stuff, half stuff, baste or not, salt, spice, spatchcock, truss, cover in bacon, fill with oysters, cast iron, stainless steel, order a pizza, it's all too much." Not to worry though, as always, Food52ers came forward with smart advice and words of encouragement:

  • Both JulieS and Garlic Fiend recommend not using a disposable roasting pan and instead, investing in a real one. Especially since spilled drippings could cause a grease fire, which leads to a rather charred and blackened turkey (if someone doesn't douse it with a fire extinguisher first).

  • If you want to do a wet brine, but your fridge is too small to accommodate a large bird, Marcena has a solution: by putting the turkey and brine in a gigantic zip-top bag inside of​ a cooler with ice, you won't run out of space for all the other foods you'll have to stash away before dinner is served.

  • Cav and cv suggest turning to the well-tested standouts, like the J. Kenji López-Alt's Simple Roast Turkey with Gravy, because, as Cav mentions, he's "done all the experimentation, and cooked many turkeys" so that you don't have to.

  • Finally, nearly everyone agrees; go by what your thermometer says, and not just the recipe's prescribed cooking time to avoid overcooking your bird​.

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Taylor Rondestvedt

Written by: Taylor Rondestvedt

Is never without a loaf of rye bread and currently stocks 5 different butters in her kitchen.