Problem: No matter how huge the turkey, you always have too much dark meat and never enough white.
Solution: Cook a small bird and an extra white-meat–only turkey breast. You can present the whole bird to your guests before carving, then add the additional sliced breast meat to the serving platter. “No one will know the difference,” say Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, authors of Talk With Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook ($28, amazon.com). Smith suggests cooking the breast until it’s just underdone (about 12 minutes per pound, or 36 minutes for a three-pound breast) the day before, then finishing it with about 25 minutes in the oven the day of.
Problem: You take the turkey out as soon as the button pops, but the bird is always overcooked.
Solution: “Throw away the pop-up timer that comes with the turkey,” says Clair. These timers typically go off somewhere between 190° and 200° F, producing meat that is beyond done. (Keep in mind that the turkey will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven.)
The best way to determine if a bird is cooked is by inserting an instant-read meat thermometer into a thigh; remove the turkey when the thermometer reaches 165° F. (Do not let the thermometer touch bone or you’ll get a falsely high reading.) Since white meat cooks faster than dark meat, you may need to cover the breast loosely with foil if it darkens too quickly. Watch this video on taking a turkey's temperature for the how-to.
If, despite all these efforts, you still end up with a dry and overdone turkey, place the sliced meat on a platter, drizzle it generously with warm chicken broth or gravy, and serve. If you have the opposite problem and are faced with a serious raw-meat crisis, Smith recommends zapping the underdone meat in the microwave on medium for one to two minutes (or longer if necessary).