Turkey 911

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! Also, if you have a great recipe, I would love that. Thank you guys.

Hollie D
  • Posted by: Hollie D
  • November 17, 2015


Dina November 24, 2015
My best advice is that if you mess something up terribly - like under or over cooking the bird - remember that you are among friends, and don't be embarrassed or worry! If it's bad enough that your guests notice, just sit yourself down at the table with a glass of wine and announce to everyone that you'd like them to tell a story about a time when they messed up to make you feel better.

One year for Christmas, I wanted to try my hand at cornish game hens. Except, I waaaaay overcrowded the pan and they cooked very unevenly, and I honestly served raw poultry to my entire family. We cleared the table, threw the hens back in the oven, washed the dishes and thankfully had enough sides leftover to replace what had already gone onto plates and had to be thrown out. I was so embarrassed and mad at myself that I hid out in the kitchen for a solid 20 minutes.

Then, I realized I was with family, and that the best way to handle it was to get over myself, walk back out into the dining room, and crack a joke. I said, "OK, now somebody has to tell me a time when they almost killed their guests," and my cousin's wife told us a story about the time her uncle brought chicken salad to a picnic, except that had been sitting in the trunk of his car, un-refrigerated, all day, so several people got food poisoning. Then we all had a good laugh about how at least I didn't do that, and the legend of Cadillac chicken was born.
MMH November 18, 2015
i forgot to mention one more thing - dont be affraid to serve room temp vegetable side dishes. I roast all sorts of veggies when the oven is free and serve them at room temp.
MMH November 18, 2015
we have done both wet brine and dry. but to respond the the idea that you need fridge space to wet brine, we have used a fabulous method. i adore lynn rosetto kasper and turkey confidential and cant cook without her on thanksgiving day. we have used her wet brine method many times - put the turkey and brine in a gigantic zip loc bag in a cooler with ice surrounding the bag. when you are ready to cook, dump the brine down the sink. you havent wasted fridge space & you have a beautifully brined turkey.

the first time we did it, we roasted 2 - one brined and 1 without. my 6 year old passed out ballots in the "blind" brine test and the brined turkey won hands down!

lynn is a genius!

i am also a fan of butterflying the turkey. if you are nervous, it's the perfect method - roasts more quickly and evenly and even better on the grill. Enjoy!
scruz November 18, 2015
the reason i started using the steno pad was because i was never in my own kitchen. i always called it d's moving kitchen because i needed to bring some of my favorite non stick pans, baking dishes, microwavable bowls, carving and chef knives, mandolin, herbs and then do much of the shopping at home or do it at m-i-l's fancy shmancy market. i needed to be very organized and even had a list of the equipment to bring. i was cooking for a bunch of non cookers (except m-i-l who is now 97+) and wanted to make nice memories for her kids. and because of it and feeding more than the two of us, i got to do standing prime rib, crown pork roast and even a capon, which i would recommend to everyone and am considering doing one this year.
scruz November 18, 2015
i am so happy that for the first time in decades, i have no plans for thanksgiving dinner nor am i expected to cook it for the family. but, what i always did when i was facing each holiday dinner (this includes the christmas eve sit down) was i would have a steno pad. each page or two would be a recipe for each main or side that i was preparing. since i used this for many years i have recipes for lots of sides and mains! but, i would do all of the research in advance, combine recipes or put side comments in about additional ingredients that might be good and on one page i would do the "timing" for each dish/main starting with the sit down to dinner time at top. i would include the time to carve, the time for the meat to rest, when to put in this side or that one, when to microwave, etc. this way, i wouldn't need to think about the timing or the sequence of say, sweating onion, crisping up bacon, warming up rolls. it was all out on paper. it really helped me out a lot. so cheers, and have a great thanksgiving dinner. but trust me, the above advice really works.
AntoniaJames November 18, 2015
That's great advice scruz. That's what I do, though I use removable Circa pages / notebooks / agenda pages (a week across two pages) and clear pocket sleeves, not a steno pad.

And for reasons I don't quite know, perhaps having something to do with NOT using a steno pad, I haven't consistently kept my notes from year to year. That is such a good idea. ;o)
ChefJune November 17, 2015
Honest and true: I have never had a failure with this Turkey: https://food52.com/recipes/19479-creole-roast-turkey and it is always moist and juicy - even the breast. It always gets rave reviews. Have fun!
Leith D. November 17, 2015
I highly recommend the dry-brined Judy bird, which gives you a moist turkey with great flavor. Cover the turkey with butter soaked cheesecloth and your guests will be impressed!
Garlic F. November 17, 2015
Use a real roasting pan, not one of those disposables. I don't have the luxury fridge space to brine the turkey, so I just dry rub generously, inside and out and under the skin, roast at 325 until done. Don't over cook it. Use a meat thermometer. Since it'll be your first turkey, I suggest no stuffing, since that will introduce another complication.

Another idea is to roast just a breast in the crockpot if you don't have a large party. More difficult to dry out the turkey in a crock

Good luck and regardless of the end result, I think everyone will love it because they did not have to cook the turkey! :)
702551 November 17, 2015
I agree that a first-timer would be wise to stick with a tried-and-true simple recipe from a reputable source. Both the Russ Parsons' "Judy Bird" recipes as well as Kenji Lopez-Alt's recipe at Serious Eats have been carefully researched after much trial and error, sometimes over years.



and the complementary Serious Eats page on brining:


In both recipes, one key is dry-brining the bird well in advance. Like me, both authors are critical of the wet brining method for poultry. You can read about their reasons in the separate recipes.

The most common turkey mistake Thanksgiving cooks make is overcooking the bird. Use a meat thermometer, that's the most reliable measuring tool. Do *NOT* go simply by the clock.

Good luck.
sexyLAMBCHOPx November 17, 2015
If it was my first time I would try Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (a.k.a. The Judy Bird) Recipe on this site. Read the commentS and follow the directions and you should be A.O.K.
Cav November 17, 2015
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, spatch cock, truss, cover in bacon, fill with oysters, cast iron, stainless steel, order a pizza it's all too much.

To cut out the white noise the first thing I would do is think of a chef I trust and see what they say about it. And if their flavours look good, pick that recipe. However, most people (including chefs) don't roast whole turkeys very often. So I'd look to the obsessive science minded types for further advice on technique. Which would mean Harold McGee, a long time resource and inspiration for Blumenthal and Myhrvold, and Kenji Lopez.Alt of the Serious Eats website. They've done all the experimentation, and cooked many turkeys to come to their conclusions.

My own personal is to salt well, let dry in fridge for couple of days, smear butter and herbs under skin, half an onion in the cavity (more tradition than effective), let it sit for awhile with a pack of frozen peas chilling down the breast and roast low at 350 until done. Have stuffing and sides already cooked and ready to be reheated. Attempt to remain steady enough to do the reheating when the bird is resting. I know that the breast is still likely to be dry and spatchcocking or dividing the bird would prevent that, but who doesn't want the glistening golden bird emerging triumphantly from the oven? Plus, there's gravy for that breast.

And to always paraquote Fergus Henderson: "Do not be afraid of the food. It will know and it will misbehave"
inpatskitchen November 17, 2015
This turkey recipe is perfect for a first timer....it's quick cooking, only requires one basting and is soooo easy!
JulieS November 17, 2015
Not to make you more nervous, but my piece of advice would be to not do what my Mother-in-law did last year. She used the disposable pan that the turkey came in to roast it and so much liquid/fat rendered off that it started to fill the pan pretty significantly. When she went to pull out the rack to baste it, the liquid sloshed out and caused a grease fire that went all the way up to the ceiling! Quite scary and half a blackened turkey. We put it out by turning off the heat source and closing the door after my husband was ready to spray it with the fire extinguisher and was told "Don't you dare!" Moral of the story is, use a heavy duty roasting pan and keep an eye on how much liquid accumulates. Good luck, you will do great!
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