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Meat Morgan: Cooking the Turkey

Cook's Country Deputy Food Editor Morgan Bolling gives helpful tips on how to handle Thanksgiving Day turkey.

Published Nov. 25, 2019.

Whether you’re a lover of cooking meat or just of eating it, it’s time that you formally meet our in-house meat connoisseur, Morgan Bolling. She’s worked at a few different test kitchens across the United States, gracing those who will listen with her meat knowledge. When she’s not at work developing a new meaty recipe, there’s a likely chance that she’s hosting a homemade sausage dinner, running a half marathon (to cancel out those sausage dinners), or planning her next pig roast.

It’s a badge of honor to be able to say you cooked the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. To ensure that it happens this year—that your centerpiece is actually something worth admiring—check out Deputy Food Editor Morgan Bolling’s five tips on cooking turkey, which will help you avoid making any mistakes come the big day.

1. How often should you check the temperature?

You should check the temperature of the turkey 30 minutes before the beginning of the time range advised in the recipe. If the breast is close to 160 degrees, go ahead and check it once every 15 minutes until it's done. If you go to check and it’s below 140 degrees, give it a full 30 minutes before opening the oven door again.

2. What should I do if my turkey isn't completely thawed on Thanksgiving morning?

Fill a large bucket with cold water. Place the turkey (still in its original wrapper) in the bucket and let it thaw for 30 minutes per pound; a 12-pound bird, for example, would take 6 to 8 hours.

TIP: Change the cold water every half-hour to guard against bacteria growth.

3. Where do you put the thermometer probe?

Insert the probe into the deepest part of the breast, holding it parallel to the bird at the neck end. When the probe hits 160 degrees, confirm the temperature by checking with the probe or a separate meat thermometer in both sides of the breast. Be careful not to go so deep with the thermometer that you hit the bone; doing this can compromise the reading. Don’t forget to check the temperature in the deepest part of the thigh (about ½ inch from the bone), which should register at least 175 degrees.

4. What can I stuff the cavity with besides stuffing or dressing?

I’d say salt and pepper. Nothing else.

Anything else you stuff into the cavity (herbs, fruits, etc) will have minimal effect on flavor.  And we don't advise cooking stuffing or dressing inside the bird—by the time the stuffing is safe to eat, the meat will be overcooked. If you want to do it for presentation, add some oranges or herbs once the turkey is cooked and has rested.

5. How long should I let the turkey rest before carving?

You should wait at least 30 minutes so that the juices in the turkey have enough time to redistribute. This redistribution prevents the meat from getting dry. If you decide to let it rest up to an hour, that’s fine. Just make sure that you don’t tent the turkey with foil to keep it warm while it’s resting; it’s unnecessary and will make the skin soggy.

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