5 Tricks for Cooking the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
By Theo Weening
Theo Weening is a third-generation butcher and the Global Meat Buyer at Whole Foods Market. His in-depth knowledge of raising practices, cuts and preparation techniques have made him a highly sought-out national expert. Below, he shares his top turkey cooking tips.
Whether it’s your first or fortieth time, pulling off the perfect turkey can be intimidating. I get it. Not only is it the centerpiece of your meal, but it’s also not something you’re cooking every day. Don’t fret — I’ve rounded up my top turkey cooking tips to help you succeed this year, no matter your level of confidence in the kitchen.
1. Start with the best quality turkey.
If you’re going to cook the best turkey, you have to start with the best turkey. All of the birds in our Meat department are third-party audited to meet over 100 animal welfare standards. Our birds are also Animal Welfare Certified (except kosher turkey). And, like all meat and poultry in the department, the animals must be raised with no antibiotics ever, and no animal by-products in feed. We know our suppliers; we know how they raise their turkeys.
Find more buying tips, check out our Turkey Buying Guide.
2. Dry brine for more flavor.
What’s the secret to a juicy, crispy bird? Dry brining. This simple technique involves rubbing salt, sugar and seasonings directly onto the turkey skin and meat. It’s different from wet brining, which involves soaking meat in a solution of water, salt and seasonings. It also takes up much less space and causes half the mess. Try our Herby Dry-Brined Turkey to get started.
3. Know the signs of a perfectly cooked bird.
How do you know when your turkey is cooked? I recommend placing an instant-read meat thermometer in the meatiest part of the leg — just make sure you don’t hit the bone, or you’ll get an artificially high reading. If the thermometer registers 165°F, your turkey is perfectly cooked.
4. Don’t forget to rest!
I know — it’s tempting to slice into your beautifully roasted bird the moment it comes out the oven. However, doing so can mean the difference between tender, juicy meat and dry, overcooked meat. Allow your turkey to rest (covered) after cooking for about 30 minutes. This redistributes the juices and makes for smooth carving.
5. Present your platter proudly.
At last, time to present your bird! Carving a beautiful turkey takes a little practice, but it’s well-worth the effort. Check out Our Step-by-Step Guide to Carving Turkey to master the technique. (Pro tip: To get familiar with where to make your cuts, try practicing on a whole chicken.) After carving, I put breast meat slices in the middle with the drumsticks together to one side and the thigh meat together on the other. Then, at each end of the platter, I’ll put one wing. Finally … eat it, of course.
Turkey Storing Tips
Whether you’ve just picked up your bird from our stores or you’re lucky enough to have leftovers (hello, Day-After-Thanksgiving Pizza), it’s important to store turkey properly. Follow these tips to set yourself up for success.
How to Store Our Fresh Turkeys:
Our fresh turkeys are kept just below freezing to maintain a crust of ice on the surface, which easily melts when stored in your refrigerator. (According to the National Turkey Federation, turkey meat doesn't freeze at 32°F but at a temperature closer to 26°F.) Keep your turkey as deep-chilled (35°F) as possible until you’re ready to cook it. Store in the coldest spot in your fridge, turned down as low as possible, or store in a secondary fridge.
How to Store Our Frozen Turkeys:
Store frozen birds in your freezer (ideally in a secondary freezer if you have one) until you’re ready to thaw. Depending on how much time you have, you can thaw your turkey in your refrigerator or by submerging it in cold water.
To read thawing instructions for frozen turkeys, check out our Holiday FAQ.
How to Store Turkey Leftovers:
Turkey leftovers generally should be good for 3 – 4 days in the fridge or for 3 – 6 months in the freezer. To store, divide the meat into smaller portions and refrigerate in covered containers. Enjoy within three to four days. You can also freeze leftover turkey — remove the bones first and try to use within two to six months for the best quality.
For more tips on safely thawing, cooking and storing turkey, check out the USDA’s Food Safety Guide for Turkey.
Have more questions? Feel free to chat with our experts behind the counter in the Meat department. They love talking turkey!