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7 Thanksgiving hacks that will make your turkey juicier, evenly cooked, and tastier than ever

7 Thanksgiving hacks that will make your turkey juicier, evenly cooked, and tastier than ever
  • Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and it's not too late to learn some expert tips for cooking the perfect turkey.
  • Using a meat thermometer and glazing the turkey with sweet wine can ensure your main course stays juicy and moist.
  • We've rounded up the most helpful cooking hacks for preparing your Thanksgiving turkey.

Preparing a Thanksgiving meal is no easy feat.

Balancing the timeline of when to start chopping, baking, and putting everything in the oven can be overwhelming. But if there is one thing you need to get right, it is the turkey.

Cooking a great turkey is one of the greatest challenges an amateur cook faces, so with Thanksgiving coming up fast, we turned to experts for some helpful Thanksgiving hacks. Follow these turkey cooking tips and tricks to ensure your pièce de résistance doesn't go afoul.

You need to plan well ahead for proper thawing, which might take an entire five days for a 20-pound turkey.

You need to plan well ahead for proper thawing, which might take an entire five days for a 20-pound turkey.
Have a plan of when you need to move your bird from the freezer to the fridge. US Department of Agriculture

According to Tony Seta, a culinary partner with Big Green Egg, it's critical that you "plan your thawing schedule in advance. For every four pounds of meat, the turkey needs 24 hours in the fridge."

That means you should move a 20-pound bird from freezer to fridge five days prior to cooking to ensure the turkey is fully thawed. An improperly thawed turkey will almost surely result in a bird with parts that are overcooked and distasteful, or undercooked, which can be a danger.

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A good meat thermometer is a must-have, and you should use it during the roasting process, not just to check the bird when you think it's done.

A good meat thermometer is a must-have, and you should use it during the roasting process, not just to check the bird when you think it's done.
A meat thermometer will be your tool for success. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Poultry needs to be cooked to at least 160 F to be safe to eat, and if heated much past 175, it will start to dry out. This narrow range is why Seta said people should invest in a meat thermometer, calling it "your No. 1 tool."

You should check the progress of the turkey every hour or so to make sure it is heating evenly, he said. Better yet, get a wireless meat thermometer that can stay in the bird the whole time. Keep in mind that a large piece of meat will continue cooking itself with retained heat even after removed from the oven, so pull the bird just as soon as you are within a degree or two of your target.

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Use ice packs to keep turkey breasts cooler at the start of the roast and juicer throughout the cooking.

Use ice packs to keep turkey breasts cooler at the start of the roast and juicer throughout the cooking.
Applying ice packs to the turkey breasts is a lesser-known trick. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Turkey breast is arguably the best meat the bird has to offer, but breast meat is also the first to dry out, thus the need for foil wraps to retain moisture and regular basting during the roast. But you can mitigate this drying out by prepping the breasts for the roast to come.

"While the turkey is still in the fridge, apply ice packs to the turkey breasts, so they're a colder temperature than the rest of the bird," said Tony Seta. After the hours spent roasting, moist, fully-cooked turkey awaits.

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You probably don't need as big a turkey as you think. One pound per person should be plenty.

You probably don't need as big a turkey as you think. One pound per person should be plenty.
When in doubt, choose a smaller turkey. Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Food writer and chef Danielle Bennett said you only need to "allow one pound of turkey per person when planning your holiday menu." That will equate to less than an actual pound of meat, what with bones, gristle, and the rest of it.

Even if each diner only gets about a half pound of actual meat, that's still more than the 5 to 6 ounces of meat the USDA recommends per serving. With side dishes on the table, everyone should end up plenty full.

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If you are smoking a turkey, then cook the stuffing outside the bird and use apples and aromatics to fill the cavity.

If you are smoking a turkey, then cook the stuffing outside the bird and use apples and aromatics to fill the cavity.
The cavity is a great opportunity to give your turkey a flavor boost. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Sometimes it's best not to use stuffing to stuff a turkey. Danielle Bennett said, "Don't stuff your turkey before you smoke it. Smoke your stuffing separately to allow more airflow into your turkey."

Instead of traditional stuffing, you should "use aromatics and apples in the cavity to give your bird a flavor boost," Bennett told Business Insider. Aromatics in this context consist of celery, leeks, carrots, garlic cloves, and other vegetables, which should be roughly chopped into large pieces.

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You can use sweet wines as an easy glaze that will keep a turkey moist, add flavor, and reduce how often you have to open the oven.

You can use sweet wines as an easy glaze that will keep a turkey moist, add flavor, and reduce how often you have to open the oven.
Sweet wine makes for a great one-time glaze. GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images

Drier turkey loses taste and is harder to chew, thus the regular basting most cooks employ during the roast. For an easier, one-time glaze, Tali Dalbaha, an adviser with the Bordeaux Wine Council, recommends using a relatively sweet wine instead of a traditional basting fluid.

"When the turkey is about halfway done, simply splash the entire half-bottle on the turkey for a golden, honey-like glaze," Dalbaha said.

If you prefer a sweeter turkey with notes both citrusy and aromatic, try an ice wine. Though usually thought of as a dessert drink, these sweet and complex wines make a superb glaze for a turkey. And a fine dessert drink, too.

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Don't let your leftovers and extra ingredients go to waste — there are thousands of recipes that use them.

Don't let your leftovers and extra ingredients go to waste — there are thousands of recipes that use them.
Once you've made a juicy turkey, you can enjoy it all week in different recipes. JodiJacobson/Getty Images

It's practically a given that there will be an excess of Thanksgiving leftovers, but that doesn't mean the food no one ate or that you never even cooked has to become food waste.

"There are more than 30,200 recipes spread across the internet using common Thanksgiving ingredients and leftovers," Brandon Warman, cofounder of Cooklist, told Business Insider in 2019.

Using your turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and other common Thanksgiving foods, "you might find that you can cook something like turkey pot pie or a Thanksgiving bruschetta," Warman said.

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