How to avoid 5 of the biggest turkey mistakes at the grocery store and in the kitchen

By: Hilary Meyer  |  Friday, October 22, 2010

Even though Thanksgiving isn't upon us yet, it’s time to talk turkey. Buying and roasting a bird can be intimidating, especially if you’re a first-time host or hostess. Even those of us who have done it before have a hard time shaking those nagging thoughts revolving around whether the bird will be juicy or dry or—worse yet—underdone.
It’s understandable. After all, if you’re like most people, you’re only roasting a turkey once, maybe twice a year. We’ve roasted quite a few turkeys in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, and through trial and error, we’ve picked up on some common turkey mistakes and how to avoid them.
Related: EatingWell's Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes
Mistake 1: You buy the wrong bird.
What To Do Instead: Not all turkeys are created equal. Some birds are self-basting, meaning that they are injected with a solution of broth, salted water or other flavorings to keep them moist during cooking. We found these turkeys do stay moister, but if you’re watching your sodium intake you may want to avoid them. Check the label if you’re buying a turkey from the grocery store. The label will tell you the percent of solution in the bird and will also include all the ingredients in the solution.
Related: Turkey Buyer's Guide
Mistake 2: You buy a bird that’s too big or too small.
What To Do Instead: Unless you’re hosting a huge gathering and buy a tiny turkey, you’re not likely to run out of meat. What’s more likely is that you end up buying a huge bird for just a few people. For either scenario, a good way to estimate how much you need is about a pound per person, and that number takes into account some leftovers. While that might sound like a lot, remember that the weight of the bird includes bone too.
Related: Leftover Chicken and Turkey Recipes
Mistake 3: You stuff the bird.
What To Do Instead: Stuffing a bird is tricky. Since the stuffing is in the middle of the bird, it takes the longest to cook. To be considered safe, the internal temperature of the stuffing needs to reach 165°F. Unfortunately, by the time you get the appropriate temperature reading for the stuffing, the meat is overcooked. If you want to enjoy stuffing with your turkey, bake it separately.
Related: Easy Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipes
Mistake 4: You destroy the bird while carving.
What To Do Instead: There’s a lot of apprehension when it comes to carving. The first time I carved a bird, I think I may have left 80% of the meat on the bones and what I did manage to cut off was a shredded mess on the cutting board. Even though my guests loved the turkey despite its presentation, it would have been satisfying to give them perfect slices. To avoid this problem, check out a carving guide like the one referenced in the link below. But as a general rule you want to carve the turkey into it’s separate parts: drumsticks, thighs and wings, and thin slices of juicy breast meat. You can even practice on a chicken, if you are roasting one between now and Thanksgiving, to give you an extra confidence boost.
Related: Step-by-Step Photo Turkey Carving Guide
Mistake 5: You throw out the pan drippings.
What To Do Instead: After you roast a turkey, don’t move the bird to a cutting board and throw the roasting pan in the sink. What’s left atthe bottom of the pan are brown, caramelized little bitsof concentrated flavors that set the stage for a rich and magical gravy. Letting those pan drippings go down the drain is a Thanksgiving crime. Making a gravy using the roasted goodness is easy and the flavor is far superior to anything you’d get out of a pouch or jar.
Related: How to Make Pan Gravy
Check out the recipe to inspire you to pull off a flawless turkey this year:
Lemon-Garlic Roast Turkey & White-Wine Gravy