30 Turkey Tips Everyone Should Know This Thanksgiving
We’re sharing Thanksgiving advice directly from Taste of Home readers and our Test Kitchen. Use our timeless turkey tips to cook a Thanksgiving turkey that will impress the whole family!
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Move the oven rack
Ideally, any food you’re baking or roasting should be in the center of the oven to ensure even cooking throughout. Position your oven rack so the center of the turkey is in the center of your oven. For a large bird, this may mean moving your oven rack down a notch. Don’t miss our full guide on how to cook a turkey, including a bunch of tips from our Test Kitchen.
Roast the turkey on a bed of vegetables
Here’s a tasty turkey tip! You can create a roasting rack out of carrots, celery and sliced onions. Arrange them in the bottom of the roasting pan, then place your turkey on top. The vegetables will allow heat to flow under the turkey for even cooking, and they’ll flavor the drippings for your Thanksgiving gravy, too.
Add glaze to help with browning
To get an even, rich, brown color over the whole turkey without overcooking, use a glaze. With a basting brush, dab molasses, honey or jam onto lighter areas to speed up browning.
Learn how to deep fry
It only takes three to four minutes of cook time per pound to deep fry a turkey. It also results in a bird that’s tender and juicy! Just be sure to follow the safety tips in our guide to making deep-fried turkey.
Cook stuffing separate from the turkey
There are strong opinions about whether stuffing should be cooked inside or outside the bird. The fact is, stuffing inside the turkey means it will take longer to finish cooking, and increases the likelihood that the turkey will be overcooked and stuffing will be undercooked. Follow our tip and cook the stuffing separately.
Try a new technique
Want all these turkey tips to really shine? Try learning how to spatchcock turkey this Thanksgiving. It exposes more of the meat inside the bird, allowing you to add even more herbs and seasonings so there will be more flavor in every bite.
Get all white meat
Not a fan of dark meat or turkey legs? Have all white meat by cooking a turkey breast instead. Order a whole, bone-in turkey breast from your butcher. It cooks through more quickly than a whole bird, and it’s a great option to feed a small number of people. We like this recipe for an herbed roast turkey breast.
Dry the bird
This is a tip that’s often overlooked, but it’s so important to get really crispy skin. Excess moisture on the surface of the turkey creates steam in the oven—and this means soggy skin. Use paper towels to pat dry the entire outside of the turkey before seasoning and roasting. You can also use a hairdryer for this turkey trick.
Roast legs first
Slide the turkey into the oven legs first. The reason? Oven temps are often warmer near the back. The thighs will get the higher heat they need, while the breast cooks in the lower heat by the door. This temperature difference is key for perfect texture and flavor.
Pin the skin
This turkey tip will keep the skin from shrinking back during cooking, exposing and drying out the meat. Use toothpicks to pin the skin to the meat underneath, or to pin the skin closed over the cavity. You can also use this trick to secure tears in the skin.
Brine your turkey
Brining turkey has gotten a lot more popular, with good reason! Let your turkey sit overnight in a brine of water, salt and seasonings to give turkey meat a big boost in favor. Not enough room in your fridge? Use a large beach cooler to hold your brining turkey. Take a look at our favorite turkey brine recipes.
Sharpen your knife
You spent so much time getting your turkey perfectly roasted. Don’t get held up at serving time by dull knives! Sharp knives make it easier to carve the turkey breast and separate legs, thighs and wings. Have your carving knife professionally sharpened or pick up your own knife sharpener.
Wrap it in bacon
Not only does this tip keep your turkey moist and flavorful, it gives you bacon on the side. Cover the turkey with strips of raw bacon, or with strips woven together. As the turkey roasts, the sizzling bacon continuously coats the meat in flavorful drippings that keep moisture in. It adds bacon flavor to the gravy, too.
Use a meat thermometer
Cooking charts are helpful for planning, but your best bet to know exactly when to pull that bird from the oven is a meat thermometer. Insert the tip into the thickest part of the thigh. When it reads 165° F, it’s good to go. Our Test Kitchen’s preferred tool is the ThermoWorks Thermapen MK4.
Choose sides that cook while the turkey rests
When the turkey comes out and has 20-30 minutes to rest, use your preheated oven to quickly bake a few sides. Great choices are roasted vegetables like carrots and sliced Brussels sprouts, quick dinner rolls, mac and cheese and green bean casserole. Save even more time with sides that take 30 minutes or less.
Cook turkey in an air fryer
Cooking a turkey breast this Thanksgiving—either for a small gathering or for extra meat? Learn how to cook an air fryer turkey breast. Season and oil your bone-in turkey breast and cook it in your air fryer until it registers 165° F, flipping it once during cooking.
Let the turkey rest
This Thanksgiving turkey tip accomplishes two things. First, it lets the turkey finish cooking the last few degrees without losing moisture in the oven. It also lets juices near the surface redistribute back into the meat, so they aren’t lost to the cutting board when you begin carving.
Try a dry brine
A dry brine gives your turkey the same advantages as a wet brine—juicy meat and lots of flavor—but without the mess of soaking your turkey in water. One to three days before cooking, rub your turkey all over with mixture of salt, sugar and seasonings, then refrigerate. The salt penetrates the meat to draw up and redistribute juices, making the turkey really moist and tasty.
Baste your turkey
This classic turkey tip helps keep the bird moist. Drippings from the roasting pan are spread over the cooking turkey, using a ladle, brush or a turkey baster. Limit the basting to just a few times, though—opening the oven door too often will make it take longer to cook your turkey.
Planning your first Thanksgiving? Our beginner’s guide to hosting Thanksgiving has absolutely everything you need to know.
Learn how to carve your turkey
It can be daunting to make the first cut into that beautiful turkey! Nows the time to learn how to carve a turkey—you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get every bit of meat off your bird.
Tent with aluminum foil
According to reader Margaret Dahlgren of Bird Island, Minnesota, “The best way to roast an unstuffed turkey is in a shallow roasting pan with a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over it. Roast at 325° for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. After roasting, let the turkey stand for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.” Here’s how to pick the best roasting pan for your kitchen.
Roast turkey the night before
Preparing a large meal like Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful. Susan McClure of Nimes, France, says, “Save the last-minute rush when you’re serving turkey and stuffing to a large group. Roast the turkey the day before, carve it and store the meat and stuffing separately in the refrigerator. Reheat the food with an improvised steamer. Place the turkey and stuffing in mesh baskets or metal colanders over saucepans filled with water or broth. Steam until warmed through.” You can also reheat turkey using the oven or microwave.
Add breakfast sausage
“This tradition dates to my great-grandmother. It makes the turkey very moist while adding subtle flavor,” says reader Wendy Lee Paffenroth of Pine Island, New York. Turn it into a ‘porcupine!’ Cut breakfast sausage links in half. Skewer links with plain wooden toothpicks and stick them in the turkey all over. Add an inch of water to the bottom of your roasting pan, cover bird with foil and place in oven. Roast as usual. About 1-1/2 hours before the meal, remove the sausages and serve them as appetizers. Continue roasting the bird, adding water as necessary, until it turns golden brown and tests done. This is one of the more creative ways to season a turkey.
Flip it over
Don’t let the turkey dry out! “For moister white meat, turn the turkey on its breast while roasting,” says reader Lorna Jacobsen of Arrowwood, Alberta. Don’t make these common mistakes when cooking turkey.
Use your slow cooker
“To get Thanksgiving dinner started quicker, I put the giblets in the slow cooker the night before, with enough water to cover, and simmer them overnight,” says Terri Faas of Lompoc, California. “The next morning, they’re ready to be chopped and added to the dressing mixture, as is the hot broth.” Check out more ways to prep Thanksgiving dinner in advance.
Fire up the grill
“In 1972, Mom had just put the turkey in the oven when the power went out. We had to get creative, so we used our charcoal grill to cook the turkey. The grill provided us with the most memorable Thanksgiving we’ve ever eaten,” says Dianne Nachtigal of Avoca, Wisconsin. Learn how to grill a turkey with our guide full of tips and tricks.
Season under the skin
Reader Mandi Wood of Eastanollee, Georgia, writes, “I think it’s wise to lift the turkey skin, rub the seasonings onto the meat and place fresh herbs along with it. Then, place the skin back down and coat it with butter. Rub more seasoning and fresh herbs on top of the butter-slathered skin. The butter adds a golden crispness.”
Add an onion
“My mother-in-law always put a quartered onion inside the turkey to add flavor. I do the same thing,” says reader Connie Thompson of Blackfoot, Idaho. Read up on more things to put in your turkey (that aren’t stuffing).
Freeze the leftovers
Let no turkey go to waste! “Dice up leftover turkey and freeze in 1-1/2 cup portions for quick casseroles or to toss in salads,” says reader Julie Beth Lamb of Lindsey, California. Don’t miss our best recipes for leftover turkey.