Over the past 30 years, more than three million callers have hit up the Butterball team with questions ranging from the small (How many pounds of meat will feed ten people?) to the panicked (What should I do if my turkey is still frozen in the middle and my dinner is supposed to start in an hour?). For turkey tips from Butterball, visit butterball.com or call the 50 or so experts who man the annual Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (1-800-BUTTERBALL; 800-288-8372, open November 1 through December 29).
Avoid These Thanksgiving Mistakes
1. Buying the wrong-sized turkey. This rule is nice and simple: Allow 1 1/2 pounds per person, which will also give you plenty of meat for leftovers.
2. Skipping a meat thermometer. The turkey can look and smell great, but if the temperature hasn't reached 180 degrees Farenheit in the thigh, and 160 degrees in the stuffing, you're going to be in for a bloody mess (or give your guests foodborne illness). Those pop-up indicators are great, but a reliable thermometer should always be your backup.
3. Not refrigerating leftovers within two hours. Socializing around the table can make you forget the leftovers sitting on the countertop, and bacteria love room-temperature meat. Set a timer on the stove for 2 hours. To be able to get back to the guests quickly, have containers or zippered food-storage bags ready, and recruit a few helpers to get things portioned out.
4. Winging it. It might sound fussy, but having a to-do list will actually keep you sane. Start making your game plan several days before Turkey Day.
5. Not allowing enough time to thaw your bird. This mistake is pretty common, but it's just basic math: Allow 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey. Just put your frozen turkey (still in its wrapper_ on a tray in the refrigerator, and wait. If the turkey still seems slightly frozen, you can still throw it in the oven, but it will take a little longer. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to test doneness.
6. Overcooking. The guidelines given on the package or insert folder are just that -- a guide to help you plan your day, not a definitive timeline for when the turkey will be done. There are plenty of variables (such as a partially frozen turkey) that can affect how long it takes to cook the meat. Again, here's where that meat thermometer comes in.
7. Being a turkey bore. The guests may be the same every year, but your turkey doesn't have to be. Don't be afraid to shake things up with a different cooking method. Try deep-frying or grilling, cooking in a convection oven or a microwave, using a shallow open pan or even an oven-cooking bag.
8. Doing all the cooking yourself. Too many Thanksgivings have been ruined by hosts becoming martyrs for their meals. When you're stressed, guests feel it. Ask your attendees to bring a dish to share -- it will be a more meaningful dinner (not to mention giving the host a break). Have each guest bring a recipe for the dish they bring, and have a recipe exchange.
9. Experimenting with that new cooking method or pan on Thanksgiving Day. Yes, trying new recipes is good. But when it comes to turkey, it's always a good idea to have a practice run before the holiday.
10. Being a slave to the baster. Everyone wants a juicy bird, but basting is like pouring water on a raincoat -- the juices simply run off the turkey skin into the pan. Just spray or lightly coat the skin with vegetable oil or butter before putting the turkey in the oven will give you a gorgeous golden color and seal in the turkey's natural juices.
Paraprased from Kitchen Daily November 25, 2010