How many times have YOU burnt the turkey?

Have you ever burnt the Thanksgiving turkey, just as your houseful of hungry guests arrive? Or worse, have you ever undercooked you turkey, only to cut into it and realize the damage—too late?

Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not a seasoned home cook. But don’t worry. Listen to my story and you’ll feel much better.

A few years ago I made my first Thanksgiving dinner at home. Let’s just say I picked the wrong year. I was 8 months pregnant with my second child, had hypertension, and was due to go on bed rest the next day. Still, I insisted on having Thanksgiving at my house (apartment actually) with a few friends. There were nine of us total.

I knew how to make the side dishes. After all, I’d been making them every year since I was a kid. And over the years I’d managed to adapt certain family recipes and create new ones for my family. But the turkey—that was a different story. I usually wound up just making a turkey breast for my husband, son and I. With my family living out of state, we usually spend a quiet Thanksgiving at home. But with nine people, I needed a whole turkey. I did everything “right.” I watched Food TV, I brined the turkey for 24 hours ahead of time (don’t try that at home—trust me, you’ll be a raving lunatic by the time you’re finished unless you have a mile high and wide refrigerator) and I bought all the ingredients to make a sophisticated gravy.

Thanksgiving morning came and I waddled into the kitchen to begin preparations. I bought one of those little pop up thermometers for the turkey so I’d know when it was done. After cajoling the turkey out of brine and nearly doing a belly flop onto the kitchen floor I got it into the oven. I got the side dishes going—I was a cooking goddess.

Then the little thermometer on the turkey popped up—early. Hmmmm…I thought. Then I used my thermometer and it read the correct temperature. It looked golden on the outside, so I thought, what the heck, and took it out of the oven, tenting it with foil as all good cooks should.

The guests arrived and it was time to serve the turkey. I cut into it. So far so good. Then I cut again—I was on a roll. Then suddenly—OOPS. BIG oops. Double oops. Oh-my-GOSH-oops. I saw red. Definitively pink liquid oozed from the turkey. It wasn’t cooked.

Let’s just say that year I learned a lesson—little popup thermometers are not accurate. I also learned that you’d better have lots of yummy side dishes, just in case the turkey doesn’t turn out. The next year I bought a Reynold’s cooking bag and cooked the turkey for a very long time. The bag kept it from drying out and it was delicious, even without the brine.

If you’re worried about cooking the turkey this year, don’t be. It’s daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be fine. Look for my upcoming blog on cooking Thanksgiving turkeys to help you out.