Anyone who has taken on the task of preparing the Thanksgiving feast know turkey mishaps occur. Don’t panic, all is not lost. Most turkey disasters are not as bad you think and you can recover. Below are some tips and advice, I have learned over the years, to help recover from some of the most common turkey disasters.
First thing to know and remember. For a nice juicy turkey take it out of the oven once it has reached 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Your turkey will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. Let the turkey rest until the breast reach 165 degrees and the thighs are at 175 degrees. You can leave it in the oven a little longer if you want but the longer you wait the more juices are cooking out. In addition, a stuffed bird retains more heat so remove the stuffing while the turkey is resting.
Second thing to know and remember. Baste your turkey. People get busy and forget but it is an important thing to do. Your turkey won’t go bad if you don’t baste it but top breast meat and skin will be drier. All the juices flow down due to gravity so you need to put some back on the top every once in awhile to keep it moist. Baste that turkey every 15 minutes during the last hour of cooking.
On to the fixes:
You get up Thursday morning and the turkey is still frozen.
This is a very common one but not a problem. Take the turkey out of the fridge, keep it in the plastic wrapper, and immerse it in completely cold water. Change the water out every 1/2 hour to an hour depending on how frozen solid it still is. It will take a few hours but can do the trick.
It is time for the turkey to go in the oven but it is still partially frozen.
You can still go ahead and roast that partially frozen turkey however it will take longer to cook. Don’t increase the temperature as that will not help. If you can’t get to the neck and giblets, start the roasting process and once the turkey is thawed enough, pull it out to get the neck and giblets out and stuff how you want. Baste it regularly and tent the breast with foil to avoid any burning, unless you like your breast dry and crispy.
Turkey is not cooking fast enough.
You are ready for the turkey to be ready but it is nowhere near done. Just cranking up the heat can lead to an overcooked, dry or even burnt turkey. You can turn up the heat but wrap the turkey in foil first before doing so. Once you have wrapped the turkey up, turn the oven up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have time to let the turkey rest cook it to the required 165 degrees. To determine how long to cook it will depend on what temperature the turkey is already at. On average at 450 degrees it takes about 2-3 minutes per pound of turkey. If the turkey is half way to being done then cut the time in half, if it is a quarter ways then cut the time in a quarter and so forth. You can speed up the cooking time and still turn out a pretty decent moist turkey with this method but it should only be used when you absolutely have to.
You start slicing the turkey and it looks pink in places.
If you have cooked your turkey to the proper temperature then you have no worries. Some pink juices are not cause for concern and are not an indicator your turkey is not cooked. Check the temperature to make sure the breast have reached at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit and the thighs have reached at least 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes the dark meat should be at a higher temperature.
Turkey is only half cooked.
You check on the turkey and the breast are done but the thighs aren’t. It won’t be as pretty but here is what you do. Go ahead and cut off the breast and set them aside. Put the rest of the turkey back into the oven, uncovered, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the thighs reach the proper temperature of at least 175 degrees. Alternately, you can cut up the turkey into smaller pieces or slice it and use the microwave to finish cooking the turkey. Microwaves vary wildly so make sure to check the temperature.
The skin is starting to burn but the turkey isn’t done cooking.
As soon as you notice the skin is getting browner than you need, tent the top of the turkey with foil to let it finish cooking and minimize any further browning to the skin. Unfortunately, there is no way to save the skin if it gets burnt. You can minimize further browning or burning but you can’t undo burnt skin.
Breast are overcooked and dry.
As soon as you realize the breast are overcooked, cut them off, if you already haven’t, then place the breast in the pan juices and let them soak up the juices until you have to serve them. Alternately you can slice the breast and soak the meat in the pan juices but this method really soaks up the juices and can leave them salty so do a taste test every so often until they are served.
The entire turkey has dried out.
A dried out turkey is a sign of overcooking. What you want is to avoid this in the first place but you can’t go back and change what has already happened. You have a few options. Carve the turkey and sever with lots of good gravy and I mean lots of gravy. You can use warmed chicken stock to baste the turkey meat as you carve it. Some one recommended using a spray bottle to spray the meat as you carve it and that would work as well. You can cut the pan juices with some warm water and put the sliced meat directly into the juices to soak. Now I say cut the pan juices with warm water and that is to minimize the saltiness of the pan juices. If you put the meat directly into the juices, you can end up with salty turkey.
You realize you forgot to remove the giblet bag from the inside of the turkey.
I think we all have been there at one time or another. Don’t fret. Just remove the giblet bag and your turkey is fine. It is not hazardous in anyway to leave the giblet bag in while the turkey is cooking. Some people actually use the giblets to make gravy, in the stuffing or even to fry up and eat separately.
Not sure if the stuffing inside the turkey is cook.
The stuffing inside the turkey needs to reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Test it in several different spots and once it has reached 160 degrees it is done. It may look nice at the beginning, but don’t serve the stuffing from the turkey. Remove the stuffing and transfer it to a serving dish. I recommend this strongly. You don’t want stray pieces of cartilage or bone to fall into the stuffing while it is being carved. Additionally, if the turkey finishes cooking and the stuffing hasn’t, remove the stuffing and put it back in the oven to cook a little longer while the turkey is resting.
The turkey is done but you still have hours to go before it is time to serve.
The secret here is to keep the turkey warm but not allow it to keep cooking. Remove the stuffing, if any. Wrap the turkey in several layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Once the turkey is all wrapped in the aluminum foil, wrap the turkey in a big towel. Now I have heard some people go a step further and put the wrapped turkey in a cooler but I haven’t found this necessary. The wrapping of aluminum foil and the towel do the trick by helping the turkey retain its heat but not keep cooking. This helps keep the turkey from drying out before the turkey is ready to be served.