7 Thanksgiving Turkey Mistakes You're Making—Plus Simple Solutions

A Thanksgiving turkey can be a centerpiece worth celebrating—just avoid these mistakes.

Cooking a perfectly moist, tender, and evenly browned roasted turkey takes years of technique to master. We tapped Chef Yankel Polak of ButcherBox for the top tips that'll transform your simple bird into a real showstopper—and help avoid a dry, dinner disaster.

Sidestep these snafus for your best Thanksgiving dinner yet.

Not Defrosting in Time

Turkeys can take more than an hour per pound to defrost, so make room in your fridge early. "I'll put mine in the fridge on Sunday night, and it should be fully defrosted but Wednesday. This gives me sufficient time to brine it overnight before cooking on Thanksgiving Day," says Polak.

Cooking a Wet Turkey

Moisture is the enemy of crispy. Pat the surface dry with a paper towel before rubbing the turkey with butter or oil and seasoning. This way, you can cook the turkey at one temperature throughout for some nice browning, without risking it overcooking or drying out.

Not Salting or Brining Ahead of Time

This is a key step to having a moist, juicy bird. Turkeys are naturally lean, which makes them all too easy to overcook—or at least to overcook the breast while the legs and thighs reach the right temperature. Pre-salting a turkey will help prevent this by allowing the turkey to retain its natural juices (through dry brining) or adding additional salty moisture (through a wet brine). Try and get this step done at least a day in advance for a wet brine and three to four days ahead for a dry brine.

Roasting Your Bird Without Fat

Basting is among the most important steps when it comes to roasting a turkey. First, as the bird heats up, the juices will flow towards the surface, and often out and into the pan. Basting is a way of redistributing these juices back into the turkey.

Another reason to baste? If you get into the habit of basting every 30 minutes or so, you end up learning about how the turkey cooks and what it looks like over time. This means you will be prepared for next year.

Cramping the Turkey

Turkeys need airflow for even cooking. Thus, the more room around the bridge in the pan, the better. We beg of you: Don't stuff your bird into a little pan. Most turkey roasters have a raised and removable rack. This is helpful, but room around the sides is important, too.

Pre-Stuffing the Bird

"Stuffing cooked in a turkey is the best kind of stuffing," Polak says. "I've been stuffing turkeys with a heady bread stuffing for years, but the truth is it really slows the cooking process down." Since the center of the turkey is full, it can take several hours longer to finish cooking, meaning risking all the exposed areas to overcooking and drying out (or worse, exposing your guests to harmful bacteria from undercooked meat).

So, if you do want to stuff your turkey, Polak recommends covering the bird with foil for most of the cooking time to keep it moist and tender and uncovering it toward the end for crispy skin.

Carving Your Turkey Before It Rests

Did you know that you can leave your turkey uncovered on the counter for an hour and when you slice it, it will still be steaming? That's because it will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. Letting it rest in the pan is essential to a juicy turkey. This is the final chance to let any escaped juices fully redistribute.

If you will be waiting more than an hour to eat after the bird is done, tent it with foil after 30 minutes—that's enough time for some steam to escape so you won't lose the crispy skin you worked so hard for.

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