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The most common turkey-making mistakes

Caitlin McCormack
Shine from Yahoo! Canada
December 19, 2011

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. Thankfully, you can still salvage your turkey from most mishaps.  

Below are five of the most common mistakes people make, and how to fix them.

Mistake: Thawing the turkey at room temperature

Thawing your turkey at room temperature ups your risk for food borne illness like E. coli and salmonella.

The fix: Thaw in the fridge


Turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight, allowing one day of thawing time for every four to five pounds of bird. If you’re short on time, you can thaw your turkey in a sink filled with cold water, but be sure to keep changing the water so it stays cold and out of the bacteria danger zone.

Mistake: Stuffing the turkey before cooking

Because stuffing is in the centre of the bird, it takes the longest to cook to a safe temperature. And the longer your bird is in the oven, the more you run the risk of having it dry out.

The fix: Stovestop stuffing

Food gurus in the EatingWell test kitchen recommend baking your stuffing separately in order to ensure it reaches a safe temperature of 165 °F or 74°C.

[See also: 6 ways to cook a turkey]


Mistake: Undercooked meat

You thought you did the math right to get dinner on the table in time, but when you slice into your bird it doesn’t quite look done.

The fix: Use a thermometer

The Turkey Farmers of Canada recommend cooking a whole turkey to an internal temperature of 170°F (77°C) in the breast and 180°F (82°C) in the thigh. If you’ve got a 12-16 pound unstuffed bird in a 325°F (160°C )oven, plan for about three and a half hours of cooking time to be on the safe side, and use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your bird before you take it out.

Mistake: Your carving job mangles the bird


This has happened to many a well intentioned first-timer. Your bird looks great out of the oven but once you begin slicing it ends up looking more like a mess than the perfect slices of meat you were hoping for.

The fix: Learn the right technique

There isn’t much you can do to fix a shredded turkey once you’ve begun slicing, But you can avoid the mistake in the first place by taking a few minutes to educate yourself on good poultry-carving techniques, like removing the drumstick and thigh to carve.

The mistake: You forgot to put the leftovers away

You got so swept up in the fun of your holiday feast that you forgot to put the leftovers away. Leaving cooked turkey out at room temperature for longer than two hours ups the risk of your meat becoming a bacterial breeding ground.

The fix: Throw it out

Much like bad carving, improperly stored leftovers can’t be fixed. The best way to protect your health is to throw the food out, even if it seems like a waste. There’s no sense in putting yourself and your family at risk just to use up a few leftovers.

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.

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