Defrosting: If you buy a frozen bird, never thaw it at room temperature. Either thaw it in the refrigerator for two or three days (depending on the size of the bird) or thaw it under running cold water.
Brining: Brine before it’s time!!! Brine your turkey in a solution of salt, sugar, spices and cold water at least two days before you cook your turkey. Your turkey will be internally flavored and will release the moisture it has absorbed during the brining process while it is cooking instead of releasing its own moisture. Remove the turkey from the brine the night before you are going to cook it and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator to achieve a crispy skin.
Seasoning: If you have not brined your bird, use kosher salt to season all over the bird (including in the cavity) the night before you roast it so the salt will have time to be absorbed into the meat. You can rub a flavored butter under the skin to baste the meat as it cooks.
Stuffing: If you choose to stuff your bird, do not stuff the cavity too full so air can have a chance to circulate and cook the stuffing fully. Stuffing must reach 165⁰ as measured by a thermometer. If you do not stuff, place lemons, apples, herbs, or onions in the cavity.
Pan Prep: Place mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery), bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley stems, garlic cloves, and 2-3 whole cloves in your roasting pan so your drippings will be infused with flavor when you use it to make your gravy. If your turkey included the neck, place it in the pan as well to add flavor and body to the drippings.
Oven Bag: Try using an oven bag instead of basting. The turkey roasts and steams at the same time so it comes out very moist and tender. There is no need for basting and the drippings will be nicely contained in the bag
Basting: Only baste your turkey with its own juices or other fat. Basting with wine or stock will wash away any of the turkey’s natural juices and make it dried out.
Cook Time: Take your turkey out of the refrigerator 2-3 hours before roasting to ensure more even roasting. Plan on approximately 15 minutes per pound in a 350⁰ oven plus an additional hour for resting out of the oven.
Temperature: Do not wait for the temperature gauge included in the turkey to pop up. By that time, your turkey will be dried out. Invest in a meat thermometer, and pull your turkey out of the oven when it reads 165⁰ (or a couple of degrees lower since it will continue to cook after leaving the oven) inserted into the thickest part of the dark meat. There are newer smart thermometers that will send temperature information to your phone and alert you when the correct temperature is achieved.
Resting: Allow your turkey to rest for at least a half hour (up to an hour) before slicing so the juices have a chance to redistribute. Plan this time into your overall cook time. Don’t worry, your turkey will still be piping hot when you go to carve it. Allowing for resting time will also free up your oven to cook and/or reheat side dishes!
Drippings: Place your turkey drippings in a wide, shallow dish and place in the freezer before making your gravy. The fat will congeal on the top and you will be able to skim it off much easier. You can even use this fat to make your roux instead of butter. If you allowed an hour for resting, you can take the neck and mirepoix out of the pan and make a quick stock to moisten stuffing or bulk up your gravy.
Carving: Instead of slicing the turkey at the table, take apart the bird and place it on a platter. That way, more people get the pieces they really want. Do not slice breast meat while it is on the bird, remove the breast completely and slice it against the grain. This will make the breast meat even more tender, and every piece gets some skin. Invest in a slicing blade to make very clean slices.
Storage: Take all the meat off of the carcass to make storage easier. The meat is safe to eat refrigerated for a week after cooking. You can either make stock from the bones immediately or break the carcass down and freeze the bones until you need to make a pot of stock.