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Turkey-cooking mistakes to avoid

Caitlin McCormack
Shine On
October 1, 2012

Whether you're a first-timer or a seasoned pro, cooking a turkey can be overwhelming — but it doesn't have to be.

There are several common mistakes that people make when it comes to making a holiday turkey from the prep to the cooking and even serving.

Yahoo! Canada Shine recently spoke with Tom Fillipou, executive chef for President's Choice to learn about some common turkey-cooking mistakes you should avoid this holiday season and what things you should be doing so that your feast goes off without a hitch.

Starting off with high heat

Fillipou says that one of the biggest mistakes people make when roasting a turkey is starting the bird off at a very high heat in order to get a golden colour on their turkey.

"I know that a lot of bad recipes tell them to do that, so it's really not their fault," he says, "but the best thing you can do with turkey is to do it low and slow, and baste a lot."

While there are many methods for preparing a turkey, from deep-frying to the paper bag method, Fillipou says there's no real magic trick for ensuring your turkey comes out juicy, aside from frequent basting.

The Turkey Farmers of Canada website offers various times for ensuring your bird is perfectly cooked, depending on size and method of cooking. Keep in mind that several factors can influence the cooking time of any meat and you should always use a meat thermometer to ensure doneness.

[See also: Vegetarian feast ideas]

Cooking the turkey too far in advance

Fillipou says another common mistake turkey cooks make is that they tend to cook their turkey too far in advance because they're nervous about it being ready in time for the big meal, and it ends up getting dry or not being as warm as it should be.

"To fix that you basically want to, depending on how big your turkey is you want to figure out the timing," he says. "Once you figure out the timing, the best thing to do is to maybe have the turkey done no more than an hour before the meal; to give it an opportunity to rest, and it'll still hold its temperature and then you can start carving." Fillipou advises timing your turkey's finishing time between 40 and 60 minutes ahead of serving time.

Be sure to keep proper food safety in mind. Leaving cooked turkey out at room temperature for longer than two hours ups the risk of your meat becoming a bacterial breeding ground.

You can store cooked turkey in the refrigerator in a covered container, plastic bag or aluminum foil for up to four days or in the freezer for up to three months. Promptly store any leftovers before the two hour window.

An improperly working oven

Fillipou says another mistake that could be causing stress when cooking your turkey is that your oven isn't regulated properly, so even though you think you're cooking at 350 degress, you could be over or under enough that your food is either under- or over-cooked. Having your oven check by a professional and fixed if necessary will ensure all your cooking is back on track.

[See also: Tips for fluffier mashed potatoes]

Not stuffing the turkey safely

One of the biggest tips people should know, says Fillipou, is that when you're stuffing a turkey is that both the bird and the stuffing should be cold.

"You don't want to put warm stuffing in the turkey because that's where you're going to get some cross-contamination and you might get into issues with salmonella," he says. "I just think all of the natural juices that kind of fall onto the stuffing really make the difference and it gives you that beautiful flavour that everybody's looking for."

Health Canada advises that if you're going to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely just before roasting, and make sure to remove the stuffing as soon as it's cooked. Your stuffing should reach a minimum internal temperature of 74°C (165°F) on a digital food thermometer.


Cross-contamination is a big concern when preparing multiple dishes for large meals around the holidays. Planning ahead and keeping distractions to a minimum can help to prevent the spread of food borne illnesses, as can proper hygiene and food preparation.

"You want to make sure that you don't overwhelm yourself with doing too much and try to avoid having too many people in the kitchen," says Fillipou. He finds that using an option of a pre-stuffed turkey can help cut down on holiday stress and the potential for cross-contamination. All you need to do then is pop the bird in the oven, and worry about sides.

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