7 turkey mistakes you might be making at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving turkey
Thanksgiving turkey (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, and in charge of cooking the festive bird, you’ll need to avoid these mistakes, so the main course doesn't turn out to be a...turkey. While cooking a delicious turkey may seem simple in theory, especially with one of the  best turkey fryers, there are certain cooking no-no’s that you might be making. 

These common mistakes can often make or break the overall taste and quality of your Thanksgiving turkey. After all, turkeys are huge birds, and prone to either undercooking or overcooking. This could result in dried out, inedible feasts or worse still, food poisoning if dangerously undercooked. Luckily, you can master your festive bird by simply avoiding certain pitfalls in the process. So if you want to impress your guests this Thanksgiving, don’t make these 7 turkey mistakes. 

1. Not letting the turkey thaw long enough 

Frozen turkey

Frozen turkey (Image credit: Shutterstock)

You might think that thawing the day before is sufficient time, but always allow your turkey to defrost completely before cooking. Thawing is a long process and if the bird is still frozen in certain parts, the recommended cooking times won't be long enough to cook it properly. Given the size of the bird, it’s advisable to start defrosting your frozen turkey slowly in the refrigerator a few days before. 

The general rule of thumb is about 4 pounds of turkey thaws each day in the refrigerator, but this depends on the weight of your bird. Always check the weight so you can determine approximately how long you’ll need to let it defrost well. Worse case, bacteria could still survive and you end up giving yourself and guests a spell of food poisoning! 

2. Cooking a moist turkey 

Uncooked turkey in basin

Uncooked turkey in basin (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Similarly, excess moisture will affect that delicious crispy skin that you want to achieve. Before cooking, pat the surface of the bird dry with a paper towel. Then you can start rubbing with butter, oil and seasoning. This way, you can cook the turkey evenly at one temperature, and have a crispier skin on the outside. In addition, dry the inside cavity of the turkey, as having a carefully dried turkey inside and out will result in more evenly cooked, flavorful meat in the long run.

3. You don’t season your turkey properly

A raw turkey with spices on top for seasoning

A raw turkey with spices on top for seasoning (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you want to impress your guests this Thanksgiving, you’ll need to know how to season a turkey well. Many people simply sprinkle a little seasoning on the outside, but this isn't going to give you the delicious results you're looking for. Always season both the outside and inside of the cavity. In addition, brining a turkey prior to cooking will add moisture, tenderness, and more flavor. 

4. Cranking up the heat  

A roast chicken on the lower shelf of an oven

Poultry in the oven (Image credit: Shutterstock)

You might think that the higher the temperature, the quicker your turkey will cook, however, this will do the opposite. A hot oven will essentially result in undercooked meat and overcooked skin. It’s advisable to cook the turkey at the ideal temperature between 450 degrees for the first 20-30 minutes, before reducing the heat to 350 degrees until the bird reaches 165 degrees. Not only will this ensure the turkey is cooked evenly, but will retain its juices and have a crisp, golden skin.  

5. Not using a meat thermometer (or correctly!) 

Meat thermometer

Meat thermometer (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When roasting a large turkey, it's important to check that it is cooked thoroughly to avoid it being undercooked. A common mistake is not checking the turkey with one of the best meat thermometers, or using it incorrectly. Simply use the meat thermometer in the thickest part, and take it out once it has reached 165 degrees F.  This is usually the turkey’s thigh, as the dark meat of the thigh takes the longest to cook. Before serving, always check that your turkey is well done for best results.  

6. Not letting your turkey rest before carving 

Cooked turkey resting

Cooked turkey resting (Image credit: Shutterstock)

You may be eager to present your delicious turkey at the dinner table, but always let it rest before carving. One common mistake is to start carving immediately after cooking, but always let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes. This is because it will continue to cook even after you've taken it out of the oven, so allowing it to rest in the pan will let the escaped juices fully distribute. Plus, you don't want to lose the delicious flavor or the golden, crispy skin that you want. 

7. Not carving your turkey correctly

Sliced turkey pieces

Sliced turkey pieces (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Now that your perfectly cooked turkey is ready to serve, you’ll need to know how to carve a turkey the right way. One common mistake is using a dull blade, which often results in uneven, torn skin, and unappealing cuts of turkey. Always use a sharp knife such as a chef’s or slicing knife, and if your blade is dull, you’ll need to know how to sharpen a knife to make the job easier. After all, you want to present a masterpiece at the dinner table, and not a mess! 

Before you start, you may want to know how to season a turkey to impress your guests, or even how to spatchcock a turkey for crisp results.  And if you are using a turkey fryer for the holidays, be sure you know how to use a turkey fryer safely. 

Also check out these 10 kitchen gadgets guaranteed to make your holidays less stressful and here's how to wrap a gift the right way this season.  

Cynthia Lawrence
Content Editor, Homes

As the Homes Content Editor, Cynthia Lawrence covers all things homes, interior decorating, and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 

Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.

With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!