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17 Major Ways You're Cooking a Turkey Wrong

If you're cooking for Thanksgiving this year, avoid making these cooking mistakes!

Are you hosting Thanksgiving for your household this year? While choosing the menu and cooking some delicious Thanksgiving sides can be fun, roasting a full turkey for a crowd can be quite intimidating. That's why we tapped Jasmine Shea, nutrition consultant for Bubs Naturals and founder of Your Dinner Is Planned, to share some of her knowledge on turkey mistakes you may be making while cooking this year. Between buying your turkey, cleaning it, and cooking it, we have quite a few tips and tricks to make sure this year's turkey is the best one yet!

So if you're cooking this Thanksgiving, make sure to avoid these turkey mistakes.

And for more, check out these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.

Mistake: Washing your turkey before cooking

Washing turkey

A common misconception is that rinsing the raw turkey will remove the harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning, but the opposite is true. Rinsing the turkey puts you more at risk for contamination because washing it can cause the bacteria to spread all over your kitchen. The USDA  encourages everyone to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds before and after handling a turkey. Plus, the only real way to kill bacteria is to cook to the proper internal temperature.

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Mistake: Thawing the turkey out on the counter

Thawing turkey

One of the top mistakes you could make to compromise the safety of your turkey is to let it thaw on the counter. A room-temp environment is an ideal breeding ground for nasty bacteria that can make you (and all of your guests) really sick.

Mistake: Thawing your turkey in water

Bowl of water

If you decide to thaw out the turkey in a bowl of water instead of in the fridge, be sure to change the water out every 30 minutes. The CDC says this is necessary to keep the turkey at a safe temperature and to avoid dangerous bacteria from developing.

Mistake: Keeping the turkey out for more than two hours

Raw turkey

This is probably one of the most important turkey mistakes to remember this Thanksgiving. The two-hour mark is when the CDC says you've crossed the line of safety. It's best to err on the side of caution and go ahead and buy a new turkey if you left it out on the counter (or even worse, in the car) for 2 hours or more.

Mistake: Buying a fresh turkey (unless you can cook it right away)

Fresh turkey

If you decide to purchase a fresh turkey from your local butcher, meat supplier, or grocer, be sure that you time the purchase date to fit with your Thanksgiving dinner plans. You'll want to immediately cook the turkey if it's purchased fresh. The longest you should let a fresh turkey chill in the fridge is 1-2 days before it's cooked, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Mistake: Buying a pre-injected or pre-basted turkey

premade turkey

While a pre-basted turkey may seem tempting, don't waste your time and money. It takes the seasoning and flavor part out of your control, which you never want. According to Southern Living, the ingredients used in this process can make the turkey taste too salty, or the texture can be spongy. Not exactly what your guests expect when they take the first bite, right?

Mistaking: Cooking pre-stuffed turkeys

Pre stuffed turkey

Again, just because the turkey is pre-stuffed doesn't mean that it's the best choice. According to Southern Living, pre-stuffed turkeys can present a food-safety risk because there's a chance the turkey wasn't handled properly when stuffed, leading to possible bacteria in the turkey or stuffing.

Mistake: Adding too much salt

Salt spilling from salt shaker

On the flip side, you can have too much of a good thing: salt, that is. According to Shea, your store-bought turkey may come pre-salted, so go easy with the salt shaker before you roast it.

"Keep in mind that many store-bought turkeys have been pre-brined. This means they have soaked in a salt bath and may need less salt than you think, so don't add too much at once," says Shea.

Mistake: Overlooking the skin

Overcooked turkey skin

Stuffing the bird is one thing, but if you're not stuffing the skin as well, you're easily making one of the most delicious turkey mistakes of them all. According to Shea, the turkey skin is one of the best places to lock flavor into the turkey.

"The skin of the turkey is a great place to trap flavors. When preparing your turkey, lift the skin up and put slices of butter against the meat. The butter will soak into the turkey meat, leaving the bird extra flavorful," says Shea.

Mistake: Overstuffing the turkey

Stuffed turkey

Stuffing the turkey with traditional stuffing can be a great option, but don't add too much. You may end up drying out the turkey because the bread in the stuffing can dry out the meat.

Mistake: Making the stuffing too early

Slow cooker stuffing

For food safety purposes, it's not a great idea to make the stuffing ahead of time. According to the CDC, it's best to mix up your stuffing right before you loosely stuff it in your turkey.

Mistake: Not checking the internal temperature with a meat thermometer

Meat thermometer turkey

This is arguably the most important thing you can do to check that your turkey is done and safe for you and your guests to eat. The internal temperature you're looking for is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure you have a meat thermometer.

Mistake: Being afraid to grill the turkey

Beer can grilled turkey

If you're lucky enough to have some good weather (and a grill) on Thanksgiving, why not grill the bird? Grilling a beer can turkey is one of the many creative turkey ideas you can try this thanksgiving. Plus, a beer can is such a handy prop!

Mistake: Not changing things up


If you're a fan of spicy chilis, try adding them to your turkey for an unexpected spicy kick.

Mistake: Carving the turkey as soon as it comes out of the oven

Cut up turkey

As excited as you'll be to taste the turkey after the roasting smells have filled your house, don't cut into it right away. According to pro chef Daniel Angerer of New York City's Hu Kitchen, letting the turkey rest for at least 15 minutes will give the juices a chance to distribute throughout the meat.

The easy way to make healthier comfort foods.

Mistake: Skipping the gravy

Turkey gravy

You may see gravy as an afterthought after making the turkey, but don't underestimate its importance. You're going to cover the meat in it, so it's a good idea to take it as seriously as the bird itself.

And whatever you do, don't buy a gravy mix! You've already gone through the trouble of preparing, roasting, and, let's face it, babying your turkey. Don't ruin it with a less-than-stellar gravy mix from the package. Besides, roasting the turkey gives you some perfect made-from-scratch gravy ingredients already, so you can make an easy homemade gravy.

Mistake: Not saving leftover turkey

roasted turkey

If you're lucky enough to have some leftover turkey (or maybe you have more than you know what to do with) know there are options outside the turkey sandwich. Try one of these clever Thanksgiving leftover ideas.

For more, check out these 108 most popular sodas ranked by how toxic they are.

Mercey Livingston
Mercey Livingston is a freelance health and wellness writer, and is a holistic health coach and integrative nutritionist. Read more about Mercey