How Not to Screw Up Your Thanksgiving Turkey

7 essential tips to help you cook the perfect bird

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Real talk: Cooking a turkey is stressful. So much can go wrong--and no one wants to end up crying in her mashed potatoes because it's undercooked or overcooked or whatever. So we asked our recipes editor to share her expert tips for roasting the best damn turkey ever. Take a deep breath and read on, because you’re about to win Thanksgiving.

Dry It Out
The drier your turkey is before you cook it, the crispier the skin will be. But patting it with paper towels is a rookie move. Instead, place the turkey on a rack atop an aluminum-foil-lined baking sheet, and tent the turkey and the pan loosely with foil to keep it all covered. Then transfer the whole thing to your refrigerator (on its own shelf) and let the turkey air-dry for up to three days before cooking it.

Season It Everywhere
Don’t forget to season your turkey outside and inside. Seasoning the cavity is crucial to great flavor of the finished bird. We like to keep it simple and classic with plenty of salt and pepper, plus some chopped fresh herbs and a few lemon slices.

Start Low, Then Go High
Roast your turkey at a lower oven temperature, like 375°F to 400°F, for the first few hours. Then crank the heat up to 425°F toward the end to get crispy skin and a perfectly golden-brown bird.

Don’t Forget to Baste
Regular basting not only keeps the meat flavorful and moist but also contributes to even browning. Baste evenly with the pan juices every 30 to 45 minutes--but work quickly to prevent too much heat escaping from the oven. For extra richness, throw in two or three rounds of basting with a few tablespoons of melted butter.

Carve It Properly
Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. So watch our video to master the technique.

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Never Run Out
Someone always shows up unannounced (sigh). Buy a few turkey breasts or legs and cook them in your slow cooker to have on hand for the big feast--or for leftovers the next day. Alternatively, buy any cut of smoked turkey, which just needs to be gently reheated right before the meal. Either way, you’ll have enough to go around.

Or Make It Easy On Yourself
It's totally acceptable to cheat your way to the Thanksgiving table.

erin jeanne mcdowell
Erin McDowell

Freelance Food Editor

Erin Jeanne McDowell is a recipe developer, food stylist and author of multiple cookbooks, including The Fearless Baker, which was named one of the Best Baking Books of 2017 by...
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