Every year we hear about all sorts of Thanksgiving foibles from our readers. And though we’re still not sure how to save the day if the dog gets the turkey -- frozen pizza, anyone? -- we can salvage almost any other disaster. Here are 10 tales of woe that we all can relate to, along with Fine Cooking’s fix-it tips for now or next time.
1. Unevenly cooked turkey
Problem: I can’t seem to cook a turkey evenly. One year the breasts will be perfect, but when I carve the bird, the thigh meat is shocking pink; the next year, the thighs are perfect but the breast meat is overcooked and dry.
Quick fix: Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid one or the other of these scenarios, because turkey breasts cook faster than the legs and thighs. (For food-safety reasons, it’s important to cook the bird until the breast registers 160° to 165°F and the thighs register 170° to 175°F on an instant-read thermometer. ) If despite your best efforts, you wind up with dry breast meat, make lots of delicious gravy, ladle it generously over the meat, and don’t give it another thought. And if the dark meat is undercooked, simply carve off the legs and thighs, put them in a pan, and return them to the oven to continue roasting until they reach 170°F.
Avoiding the problem: You can slow down the rate at which the breasts cook by putting ice packs on the breasts while you defrost the bird so that the breasts are cooler than the rest of the bird when it goes into the oven. Or, you can try our favorite trick for keeping the meat moist: start the turkey off in the oven breast side down with the legs pointing toward the back of the oven, where it’s hotter. About halfway into the total cooking time, turn the bird breast side up so that the skin can brown and crisp. Brining is another option; it doesn’t completely protect meat against dryness, but it does give you a juicier bird.
2. Still frozen turkey
Problem: Yikes, it’s Thanksgiving morning and the turkey is still frozen.
Quick fix: It takes a long time to thaw a turkey in the fridge -- about 5 hours per pound. To speed up the process safely, you can defrost the turkey in cold water, which is not only a faster thawing method than the fridge but a gentler one. Simply put the turkey (still in its wrapper) in your kitchen sink and cover it with cold tap water. Every half hour, drain the water and refill the sink. The turkey will thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound. Meanwhile, call your guests to tell them that dinner will be delayed. And don’t forget to remove the giblets after the bird is thawed. Oh, one last thing: we’d be remiss if we didn’t remind you that it’s never a good idea to thaw the bird on the counter overnight.