Updated: Apr 6, 2020
First time cooking a turkey? Here are my 10 Tips for roasting the perfect bird!
1. READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE BEFORE COOKING
This rule really applies for every recipe in cooking, but yes, make sure you read your recipe all the way to the end before you start cooking (and before going to the store to buy your ingredients).
Some recipes have several variations, and if you don’t read all the way to the end you may not find out about them until it’s too late.
Make sure that you understand the process and have clarity about the ingredients and the amounts you need to avoid extra trips to the store, missing ingredients, and interruptions during the cooking process.
Sometimes you end up spending more money and wasting time because you didn’t understand the process or didn’t read all the way to the end of the recipe. It might take a few more minutes, but in the end, it’s worth it. So, read it!
2. BUY THE TURKEY AHEAD OF TIME
Time makes a huge difference in the culinary world. For turkey purchases, there are three reasons to purchase at least a week ahead of cooking time: it is often less expensive, you will avoid stress and you will have ample time to season and marinade properly.
Usually, it is cheaper to buy a turkey a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I know people who buy their turkey months before the dinner and keep it in their freezers. Most of my cook-friends purchase theirs about a week before the dinner.
If you couldn’t buy your turkey ahead of time and are in a rush, Don’t panic! Check out my last post with the recipe of Joha’s Perfect turkey in 24 hours! (Step by step with pictures)
3. INJECT THAT BIRD!
Whatever you like - wine or butter - injecting the turkey and letting it rest in those juices makes a huge difference!
When injecting, the technique that has worked best for me is injecting small portions of the liquid in many parts throughout the turkey.
Also, don’t neglect the boney parts of the turkey, like the wings. Just be careful not to puncture through to the other side, to avoid the marinade pouring out.
4. PAY ATTENTION
“Cooking is like driving”, just pay attention! Don’t get distracted by watching the viral video of the dancing cow or the latest IG post … Try to stay focused on what you are doing, that will also alleviate stress and avoid culinary disasters.
When putting the turkey in the oven, set your alarm for the next step, so you don’t lose track of time.
If you are paying attention, you can adjust the temperature of your oven and have your turkey completed in perfect time for your dinner.
5. BE GENEROUS WITH SEASONING
This is something that I have struggled with in the past, and more so when I started cooking for groups of people. I have learned that when it comes to meats, don’t be afraid to add what may seem like a large amount of salt and other seasonings when the recipe calls for it. A whole turkey is a lot of meat and if you are like me, adding the amount you think is fine, and adding a little more, will be ok!
If your turkey ends up with less salt than what you wanted, don’t worry! Just put salt-shakers on the table and voila! Problem solved.
If your turkey ends up too salty, you can balance with the side dishes.
Either way, here is the recipe of my Sweet Cranberry Sauce. It’s super easy to make and perfect to pair with turkey!
6. BASTING EVERY 30-45 MINUTES
In my experience, basting the turkey every 30-45 minutes made the turkey meat super juicy and tender, and got it to a beautiful dark golden color! (You can see in the photos of my last post!)
Take all those flavorful juices at the bottom of your pan and baste your turkey with them often. Get those juices everywhere - all the joints, the wings, the legs, inside the cavity, the top and the sides.
Set your alarm to make sure that you don’t skip your intermittent basting times, this is very important to avoid dry turkey.
7. ROTATE THE TURKEY IN THE OVEN
The first time I made a turkey, many years ago, it was extremely dry. I felt that the meat was not uniformly cooked – it wasn’t so bad for my first time, but it wasn’t great.
One day, after seeing a chef roasting birds in an oven, I learned this simple and super logical trick of rotating the turkey in the oven. I tried it and, it really makes all the difference!
The back of the oven is usually hotter than the front, because every time you open the oven door, heat escapes, but the back of the oven tends to stay hotter.
So, every time you open the oven for basting, carefully rotate the turkey, so it gets a uniform color and near-equal exposure to the hottest parts of the oven.
If you do this, you will really see the difference!
8. ALUMINUM FOIL IS YOUR FRIEND
I am a fan of using aluminum foil for almost everything in the oven, because it helps meats to keep the moisture while roasting and, at the same time, prevents it from burning.
Remember: Moisture equals tenderness, the more moisture the turkey has, the more tender it will be.
You may find yourself in the same predicament many people find themselves in - the turkey looks ready, but it hasn’t reached the right temperature yet. Don’t panic, grab some aluminum foil and carefully cover the darker areas where it has already turned the desired color you want. With the foil covering those parts, it won’t burn, while all uncovered areas continue to darken.
Next time you open the oven to baste, take off the aluminum foil while basting, put it back again before closing the oven.