Top Turkey Conundrums

November 26, 2013

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it every day leading up to Thanksgiving, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to help you host the least stressful Thanksgiving yet. No promises on the crazy relatives.

Today: Tame your last-minute turkey anxiety. Tomorrow we've got tips for what to do if you forget to thaw your turkey. (Or stay stress-free and take it out of the freezer right now!)

Top Turkey Conundrums, from Food52

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Whether you are a first-timer, or are rethinking your bird strategy, cooking a turkey can be overwhelming. Why should cooking a turkey be so daunting compared to roasting a chicken? Turkeys needn't inspire such anxiety! Whether you have questions regarding cooking time, browning, or carving  -- we want you to have this information at the ready before you're elbow deep pulling out the giblets. Our community members have shared valuable tips and tricks on the Hotline over the years to help ease last-minute jitters:

Live by the Numbers

  • SeaJambon goes with the formula of cooking the bird at 325 degrees and planning on 20 minutes per pound.
  • Monita advises starting the turkey at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, and then lowering the temperature to 325 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time.
  • ChefOno reminds us that roasting times depend on a number of factors, so timing based on minutes per pound are just guidelines. The turkey's internal temperature is what really matters: "The targets after resting are 165 degrees for breast and 175 degrees for the thigh. If you're using a calibrated instant-read thermometer, you can pull the bird at 160 degrees. If you're using a "meat" thermometer, pull it at 165 degrees."

Get a Golden Glow

  • Sdebrango cranks the oven up to 450 degrees for the last 30 minutes to help the turkey brown.
  • To avoid a blackened top and pale crevices, francesca and pierino suggest trussing the wings close to the body and basting the bird frequently.
  • Alternatively, francesca recommends covering your bird with aluminum foil for the majority of its cooking time.
  • Even if you end up with crispy wing tips -- be assured that some people, like creamtea, lust after these.

Plan for Resting Time

  • Merrill recommends planning for 20 to 30 minutes of rest before carving. 
  • To keep it warm during that time, boulangere wraps her turkey in beach towel. 

Have a Carving Game Plan

  • Stop what you're doing right now and watch the Russ Parsons carving video.
  • Kristen gives us a pep talk: "Don't stress! You just have to dive in! Really get in there and feel around for joints and bones and pull things apart to see better." She also assures us that carving can be an anti-social activity. If you have stage fright, carve alone in the kitchen and appear in front of your guests with a beautifully presented platter -- they don't need to see how it got there.
  • Sfmiller separates the whole bird into manageable pieces with a flexible boning knife. If you hit bone, simply reposition; the wings and legs should come off first. The ball joint should come free without using your knife; if it doesn't, cut around the ball joint, not through, and pull until it comes free. 
  • When addressing the breast, meganvt01 removes it entirely and slices across the breast in thick (1/2 to 3/4 inch) slices -- she finds it dries out less. Pierino points out that cutting across the grain in this manner also ensures a little bit of crispy skin with each slice.

How do you tackle your turkey? Continue the conversation in the comments below!

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

Photo by James Ransom

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1 Comment

Marshacb October 30, 2014
The most enlightening turkey roasting tip I've learned came from Tom Hirschfeld at, who puts the roasted bird, wrapped in foil, in an insulated thermos "cool" (hot) box immediately after taking it out of the oven. It can rest in there for up to an hour and still be piping hot, leaving plenty of time for cooking sides. All the stress of having everything done at the same time and planning hours ahead of time exactly when my guests will be ready for eating are now a mute point. Best tip ever!