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The turkey is the most important part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. It is at the center of the meal and the family table. Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey can be a seriously stressful task. One small error can mean disaster, and you and your family will have to deal with a dry, overcooked bird for the holiday. If you are nervous about hosting this Thanksgiving, you’ve come to the right place! These Ingenious Turkey Cooking Hacks will help you put a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey on the table this holiday with minimal fuss! For more helpful Thanksgiving tips and tricks to help your Turkey Day run smoothly, check out Thanksgiving Hacks, 10 Free + Low Cost Thanksgiving Supplies, and Early Thanksgiving Prep Ideas.
Turkey Cooking Hacks for a Seamless Turkey Day
EXPECTING A LOT OF GUESTS?
If you’re expecting a lot of guests this year, your first instinct may be to buy the largest turkey you can find. A better idea is to buy two smaller birds. Large turkeys take a lot longer to cook and tend to dry out easily and cook unevenly. You can cook two smaller birds side by side at the same time, or cook one bird the day before for two perfectly cooked birds. Need help knowing which turkey to buy? Check out this article.
PROPERLY THAW YOUR TURKEY
If you buy a frozen turkey, you want to make sure to remove it from the freezer in time, so it’s ready for the oven on Turkey Day. The best way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. Leave the bird in its original packaging and store it breast up on the bottom shelf of your fridge, which is the coldest, safest area for thawing. Turkey thaws in the refrigerator at a rate of 4 pounds per day, so a 16 pound turkey would take around 4 days to be fully thawed and ready for cooking. You definitely want to plan ahead to ensure you’re not stressing about the turkey thawing in time.
Did you forget to plan ahead? Check out this article, which details other methods to thaw a frozen turkey more quickly while still following proper food handling guidelines to keep you and your guests safe.
Dry brining your turkey before roasting is a brilliant method to ensure a moist, tender, and flavorful bird with an irresistible crispy skin! This Maple Orange Dry Brine Recipe is perfect for Thanksgiving with loads of traditional fall flavors. The only issue with dry brining is, since this method draws moisture back into the bird, you may not get enough pan drippings to make a lot of gravy. To remedy this problem, add 1-2 cups of chicken or turkey broth to the pan before cooking your turkey, or check out this Make Ahead Gravy Recipe.
From Primally Inspired
WET BRINING HACK
Wet brining is a messy job. Make it so much easier by brining your turkey in a clean garbage bag in your cooler. This also frees up precious refrigerator space! See the Two-Hour Turkey recipe below for wonderful wet brining instructions from Cook’s Illustrated.
YOUR TURKEY MAY ALREADY BE BRINED
Butterball turkeys “contain up to 8% of a solution of water, salt, spices, and natural flavor.” This means that Butterball has essentially already brined the bird for you to add flavor and ensure a longer shelf life. This is done with Kosher turkeys, as well, so don’t brine a turkey that has already been injected with salt.
PREP THE TURKEY
This article claims icing down turkey breast before cooking results in a moister bird! We will definitely be trying this incredibly easy hack this year!
If you don’t brine your turkey, you need to season it well with salt and pepper both inside the cavity and all over the top of the bird to ensure optimal flavor.
DON’T STUFF YOUR TURKEY
Stuffing cooked in the turkey is nice and flavorful, but that stuffing comes at a price. Cooking your stuffing in the bird will more than likely cause your turkey to be overcooked and dried out. This is because you have to cook the turkey longer to ensure your stuffing is fully cooked to prevent cross contamination and food borne illness. Cook your stuffing (stuffing not cooked in the bird is actually called dressing) separately in a casserole dish with the other sides while the turkey is resting, or bake your dressing in muffin cups for more crispy edges.
TRUSS YOUR TURKEY
It’s important to truss your turkey before roasting because tying it in place this way will ensure your bird is roasted evenly so that the whole bird is juicy and properly cooked. Trussing also helps your turkey look prettier, giving it that classic, round roasted turkey look, and it helps the stuffing stay inside the bird if you stuff your turkey.
To properly truss your bird, you’ll need some kitchen twine, which should be readily available at your grocery store, butcher shop, or online here. I like to rinse and pat the turkey dry before trussing. Then, I let the turkey warm to room temperature for about 30 minutes. This also allows the skin to dry further, ensuring a nice, crispy skin. I also prefer to season the cavity with salt before tying, since it’s harder to access the cavity after. Check out this video to learn how to properly truss your turkey.
USE A ROASTING RACK
If you don’t use a roasting rack, the meat on the bottom of your turkey will come out dry and overcooked. To prevent this, you need to place your bird on a roasting rack inside your roasting pan. This Cuisinart Roasting Pan is worth the investment and can be used for loads of recipes all year long. Don’t want to buy a roasting rack this year? Check out some DIY options below.
DIY ROASTING RACK
Don’t have a roasting rack? That’s no problem with this easy hack! Just about everyone has foil, especially on Turkey Day. Check out the simple tutorial at the link below. If you prefer not to use up your foil, you can also roast your turkey on a bed of vegetables like onions, celery, and carrots cut into large chunks, which will also add flavor to your pan drippings and gravy.
CHANGE THE OVEN TEMPERATURE
Unless you follow one of the recipes below, follow this cooking procedure for a moist bird with that flavorful, crispy skin you love. Start cooking your turkey at 475 degree Fahrenheit for the first 30 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 350 degrees to finish cooking the turkey. Starting the bird at a higher temperature will quickly render fat from the turkey, resulting in the super crispy, golden skin you want.
You may think basting the turkey will make the meat nice and moist and the skin crispy, but that’s not really the case. In fact, you’re actually doing more harm than good by basting because every time you open the oven door, your oven loses heat. This means your turkey will take longer to cook, which will cause the meat to dry out. Plus, the pan drippings used in basting aren’t only made up of good, flavorful fat. Drippings actually consist of a mixture of fat and liquid that may make your turkey skin soggy and will certainly prevent the skin from becoming as crispy and delicious as it could be.
So what should you do? Cover the skin liberally in butter to lock in moisture before baking. Then, leave the bird alone, and let it cook. Just be sure to keep an eye on your turkey while it cooks to make sure it doesn’t burn. You can also use one of the amazing cooking methods below!
SLOW ROAST YOUR TURKEY WHILE YOU SLEEP!
Now, this is a strange idea, but The Splendid Table insists that slow roasting your turkey overnight is the easiest way to cook a perfect, moist, delicious turkey every time. Plus, you won’t have to wake up super early on Thanksgiving to get the turkey in the oven on time, and this method frees oven space for other dishes like yams and green bean casserole. The only downside to this method seems to be that you can’t cook your stuffing in the bird. If you don’t mind cooking your stuffing separately, give this turkey cooking method a try!
From The Splendid Table
WRAP IN CHEESECLOTH
Wrap your turkey in a butter and herb soaked cheesecloth the entire time it bakes for perfect skin and flavorful meat and pan drippings for an out-of-this-world gravy.
From Half Baked Harvest
WRAP IN BACON
Bacon is another turkey cooking method that protects the skin. The bacon creates a barrier of salt, fat, and moisture that keeps the turkey moist and seasons with yummy bacon flavor as it cooks.
From The Kitchn
This is actually a Cook’s Illustrated recipe reprinted on the Lifehacker website. This recipe yields a fully cooked, juicy bird with crispy skin in just two hours! The recipe calls for placing the turkey in a liquid brine for 6-12 hours, and you can’t stuff the bird because the stuffing won’t be finished in two hours (in order to fully cook stuffing, you almost always end up overcooking the bird).
Covering your turkey with cheesecloth or bacon will prevent burning, but if you don’t want to follow this method, here’s another hack to ensure turkey perfection. If you check on your turkey and notice the skin is getting too brown, don’t reduce the oven temperature. Just loosely cover the top of the turkey with foil. This method blocks direct heat on the skin without trapping extra heat, thus preventing an overcooked and dried out turkey. Genius!
COOK TO TEMP
Sure, the package on your turkey provides those helpful roasting times, but ovens vary so these times aren’t set in stone. You really want to check the temperature of your bird to ensure your turkey is done cooking while preventing overcooking. The U.S. government recommends cooking to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, but check out this article that states cooking your turkey to 150 degrees will yield a far juicier bird and is perfectly safe for consumption.
Also, make sure you are using a real meat thermometer, not the pop-up thermometer that comes with the turkey. Pop-up thermometers are wildly inaccurate, and many are set to pop up at 180 degrees Fahrenheit, which is way too long to cook a turkey.
HOW TO CHECK THE TEMPERATURE
I use this Instant-Read Digital Electronic Thermometer to check turkey temperature. This thermometer is super quick and accurate and can be used year-round for just about anything – even candy! The best way to check turkey temp is to insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Since the meatiest part of the legs is the slowest part of the turkey to fully cook, you can be sure that if this area is done, the rest of the turkey will be done, too.
CHICKEN BROTH FOR DRY TURKEY
Even the best cook can dry out a turkey – it’s so easy to do! If this happens to you, don’t worry. Simply pour chicken broth over the turkey to moisten and add flavor to overcooked meat. You can also do this to warm turkey pieces that have cooled to room temperature.
COOK WHITE + DARK MEATS SEPARATELY
If you’re really nervous about roasting a whole turkey, check out this video that shows you how to cut up a turkey, or just buy turkey breasts and legs. Then, cook the white and dark meats separately with recipes like Garlic Herb Butter Roasted Turkey Breasts and White Wine Braised Turkey Legs.
If you’d like to avoid the oven altogether, check out Juicy Slow Cooker Turkey Breast with a “killer gravy” recipe and Slow Cooker Turkey Leg with Honey Glaze and Garlic!
LET YOUR TURKEY REST
Sure, you’ll be hungry and super excited to cut into that turkey as soon as it comes out of the oven, but you really need to resist that urge. Let your turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Doing so will result in a much juicier, tastier bird, since cutting meat immediately after cooking results in tons of lost moisture and juicy goodness. I recommend allowing your turkey to rest while you heat your side dishes in the oven – a large bird should stay warm for up to an hour after it’s removed from the oven. Just don’t “tent” your turkey (cover your turkey loosely) with foil while it’s resting. This will cause the skin to get soggy.
Check out this video to see if you’ve been carving your Thanksgiving turkey the right way.
ENJOY TURKEY LEFTOVERS
The best way to reheat turkey leftovers is to slice the turkey and simmer it in a skillet with gravy and some broth or water.
Hosting the holidays can be super stressful. These Ingenious Turkey Cooking Hacks will help you get Thanksgiving dinner on the table without a hitch!
I would love to hear from you!
Do you host Thanksgiving dinner? Please let me know in the comments below what you think of these helpful Turkey Cooking Hacks and if you’ll be using any of these tips, tricks, and recipes this year!
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