There’s one first step that’s rarely on recipes for making the Thanksgiving turkey, but we’re here to let you in on the secret. Start by taking a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Okay. Now you can get started.
Roasting a great turkey is more about strategy than it is about being an amazing cook. Making sure you have the right equipment, have figured out where to get the turkey from, defrost it in time, and have a game plan for turkey day are as important as anything.
These 7 tips will help you make the perfect turkey on Thanksgiving:
- Check your equipment: The quintessential Thanksgiving turkey is roasted in a roasting pan and set on a rack. If you’ve got HexClad’s roasting pan, then you are set for the classic turkey. Of course, you don’t need to cook a classic roasted turkey. You can make braised turkey legs, bake a turkey breast roulade, or forgo the thing entirely. The key is to make sure you have the right tools before the day is close. The same goes for the right knife. HexClad’s carving set (with its long, flat-bladed knife and two-pronged fork) comes in handy for a traditional roast bird, but if you’re doing an alternative preparation, a sharp chef’s knife is more than up to the task.
- Consider the bird early: If you’re going to do a big roasted bird, figure out where you’ll source it from at least 2 weeks in advance. If you want to get your turkey from a specialty purveyor, you may need to order a month in advance. If you’re buy the turkey from the grocery store, you can wait until a week in advance.
- If your turkey is frozen, thaw it with plenty of time: A 12- to 15-pound turkey can take up to four days to defrost. Give it a shelf of its own in the refrigerator and let it defrost slowly.
- To brine or not to brine?: For years, a wet brine was considered the gold standard for the Thanksgiving turkey, but it dilutes the flavor of the meat. A dry brine will infuse the meat with flavor (and happens to be easier to do, too). If you’re planning to use a dry brine, plan to do it up to 1 day in advance. Serious Eats’ guide to dry-brining a turkey for Thanksgiving will help you approach the process stress-free. Place the bird on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet so the air can circulate around the meat. Or, make use of your roasting pan and the inset rack, but make sure to wash it well before roasting the turkey.
- Skip the stuff: Don’t worry, we’re not saying to forgo the stuffing entirely, but the age-old tradition of filling the turkey with stuffing led to a few too many cases of salmonella poisoning. This is because the turkey is done cooking before the stuffing is, meaning you’re either cooking the turkey to hell and gone or undercooking the stuffing. Instead, make your favorite stuffing recipe and bake it in a casserole dish.
- Make a game day plan: There’s a reason that the same advice gets said over and over: time the turkey! Work backwards from the time you’re planning to serve the main meal, including at least 30 minutes for resting the meat before carving. Use Real Simple’s chart to figure out how long it will take to cook your turkey, depending on its weight.
- Carve with confidence: Anchor the bird on your carving board, get out your carving set, and start by removing the thighs. Then, cut along each backbone to remove each breast. Slice the meat into pieces, and assemble it on a plate. Perhaps its worth saying that even if you totally butcher the turkey, hacking off slices willy nilly, it will be okay. After all the work you put into infusing the meat with flavor and defrosting it properly, forgive yourself for not following some perfect carving plan.
Once the meal is done, don’t throw out the bones! You can make an excellent stock from the turkey bones, and the extra meat should be refrigerated in food storage containers for leftovers.