5@5 - Don't dry out that turkey
November 14th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Thanksgiving is one overstuffed occasion to serve up a bone-dry bird. Whereas gravy is meant to be a savory accoutrement, for some, it becomes a defense mechanism for a thirsty turkey.

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, Melissa Clark is here to answer the age-old question of how to not burn or dry out your Thanksgiving turkey.

Clark is a James Beard award-winning writer who pens the wildly popular “A Good Appetite” column for the New York Times Dining section. She is also a Contributing Editor and weekly recipe columnist for Gilt Taste.

Five Things NOT To Do When Roasting Your Thanksgiving Turkey: Melissa Clark

1. Do not baste
"Every time you open your oven door, you’re letting the heat out, which not only slows down the roasting, it also encourages an unevenly cooked, potentially dry fowl."

2. Do not - I repeat - DO NOT abide by the pop-up timer
"In fact if your bird came with one of those plastic doodads pierced into its tender breast, rip it out mercilessly. If you leave it in and wait for it to pop, your bird breasts will be utterly dried out. So do yourself a favor, invest in a good instant-read meat thermometer."

3. Do not flip the bird
"This is always good advice, particularly while driving through dicey neighborhoods or riding the subway, but it’s especially apropos when we are talking about handling a burning hot, greased-up 20-pounder. You’re just asking for trouble if you try it. Instead just plop the turkey on top of a roasting rack and let it be."

4. Do not stuff the bird
"In order not to poison your family, the stuffing needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time the stuffing reaches that temperature, chances are the breast and thighs will be much higher, and drier.

Bake your stuffing on the side and if you miss the drippings flavor, cover the top of the stuffing dish with the fat and skin you’ve trimmed off the bird before roasting. It will render and turn into fowl cracklings while flavoring the stuffing beneath."

5. Do not carve the bird the second it comes out of the oven
"We know you’re starving. But good eating is always worth the way. Let the turkey sit, undisturbed, for 20 minutes after roasting - if you carve it right away, the juices will run and your meat will dry out."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Holidays • Thanksgiving • Think

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soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. TomGI

    My mother in law refused to learn any of these tips and ruined many turkey dinners on Thanksgivings gone by. Nobody could tell her anything. She thought her 'feast' was Martha Stewart league. Wrong! When she finally crossed over we started a new tradition of either going to one of many high end eateries in our area or getting a gourmet smoked turkey from specialists with crazy culinary skills. The best for us and we'll never go back to a dried out over cooked turkey again. Plus my wife doesn't miss the shopping, cooking and clean up one bit and my daughter has her mom's sensibilities too and follows the same 'recipe' for her family's big bird day. Gourmet catering is worth every penny.

    November 27, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  2. Demetrius Searchwell

    Very good writing. Interesting and accurate.

    January 31, 2013 at 3:07 am |
  3. gizzards

    I think there are people who love traditions and people who love to bust traditions. Sometimes, I think, folks like this author feel they gain credibility by bucking tradition. "Your grandma was wrong!" type headlines probably make us read the article and fosters the many comments here. While there is logic and science behind some of the tips,the question of basting, stuffing, flipping is all about what works for you. I have tried different techniques over the years and had different levels of success, but in general, if you cook for your family and friends because you love them, it doesn't really matter.

    November 22, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  4. GinaNSocal

    I don't flip turkey when I roast it, because it usually doesn't need flipping. I use a shallow enough roasting pan, enough to catch the drippings, and it browns evenly. I like to place the turkey on a rack also. Some of those pan are so deep, it seems like the turkeys braise rather than roast.

    November 21, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  5. Sunflower

    Stuffing = Moist and delicious.....

    Hollow turkey = dry, tough, and flavorless.

    Where did she come up with the stuffing B.S,???? I've stuffed my turkey for 35 years, and they are always perfect. What a looney tune... Maybe SHE needs to go to cooking school!

    November 21, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • E

      It can be dangerous, they are not making that up, but if you are careful about the temperature and do not stuff it too much (keep it loose), it is fine.

      November 21, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Lilah

      Didn't the CDC or FDA warn about not stuffing your bird? We stopped that many years ago just to be on the safe side. Also, when you think about it its kinda gross.

      November 21, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
      • Spock

        Such warnings were because:
        1) people were not cooking the stuffed bird long enough to properly heat the stuffing, and/or
        2) people would stuff the bird the night before – even if you refridgerate the bird, the stuffing is insulated inside and does not get cold enough to prevent bacteria growth.

        Both can lead to food safety issues. However, if you use good food handling techniques and cook the bird enough, stuffing is prefectly safe and mighty tasty.

        November 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • LilMe

      I have been to cooking school, and rule of thumb is to not stuff your bird exactly for the reasons people here have mentioned. The turkey meat always turns out better and more moist if you don't, and people are way less likely to get sick. Throw some onion and celery in giant chunks inside the cavity if you want that flavor instead.

      November 21, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
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