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.
Aluminum foil will help the turkey to keep the moisture while roasting without burning or overcooking the top.
9. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS
For a newbie turkey maker, all the new tools you “need” may seem overwhelming. You may ask yourself if all those sophisticated instruments are even necessary.
My short answer is no. It is highly recommended to use some, and there are others that you can substitute with tools you probably already have.
Based on my experience, here what you need and how to substitute others:
- Meat thermometer:
This is one of the tools that are basic and incredibly useful in your kitchen, not only for a Thanksgiving turkey, but for any other meat you may want to roast in the oven.
To start, it doesn’t have to be an expensive one, nor super fancy and digital… just get a simple, basic meat thermometer. I have seen some decent ones for less than $10 (USD).
This instrument helps you know, without slicing the turkey, when those thick parts of the turkey are ready, or when they have passed the point of readiness and are starting to dry up.
In my opinion, it is worth it to buy one. In the long run, this will be a great addition to your kitchen and if used right, it will potentially prevent you from serving uncooked meats to your family. If you can’t buy one, ask your aunty or your friend that “cooks all the time” if they will allow you to use theirs for a day.
The first time I roasted a turkey, I didn’t have an injector. So, using a long toothpick, I very carefully poked the turkey everywhere I could and basted the turkey many times with the juice mix … it didn’t work.
When it was cooked, my turkey’s flavor was mainly concentrated in the skin and the outside. While the skin and meat near the surface were flavorful and nice, the meat in the center was bland, and some parts were dry. It wasn’t until I got an injector, that I noticed the enormous difference in the juiciness and flavor.
Try to get a meat injector, and as I have said before, it doesn’t need to be anything expensive or overly-sophisticated.
Please do not try to use a medical syringe. The syringe of a meat injector is wider and made to carry the juices and spices into the meat.
- Turkey roaster pan:
If you can get a roaster pan with a rack, do it! The basic idea of the turkey roaster pan is that the turkey is elevated to allow the heat to go over the turkey and cook it uniformly.
If you are not able to get one, there are some techniques to help the turkey to stay above the bottom of the pan. In the past, I have used a bed of vegetables (like long sticks of celery placed on the bottom of the pan) and it worked well enough.
If you have, or can get a baster, that’s great! It makes the process easier, but honestly, my mom and aunties use a big spoon and that works just as well.
So, don’t worry if you cannot get a baster, it can be substituted with a big spoon!
10. DON’T FREAK OUT!
Going one step at the time will help you to calm down if you have that fear of cooking turkey that many have.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at the time.
It may sound super challenging, but if you divide the tasks in small steps, it is absolutely possible that by the end of the day, you realized you were stressing out more than you should’ve.
I have found that going step-by-step helps me not get crazy and feel overwhelmed. Read my turkey recipe! I describe the process as simply and smoothly as possible, with pictures for each step.
Play some music, relax, and concentrate on the process! Apply these 10 tips, and you will go from beginner turkey maker to pro in no time! And let us know about your experience, or if you have any other tips you would like to share!