Thanksgiving turkey can be a tricky thing to cook. For some folks, it can be more daunting than an entire turkey — in fact, multiple people grieve the past year when they end up blowing a great opportunity to impress their family or friends. But if it has been a long while since you’ve tried cooking it, or if you just want to get out a plan in case you do, there’s plenty to be gained by preparing a precooked Thanksgiving turkey.
First, you don’t need to rush.
“Usually people will come in and there’s this aggressive hunger for turkey and they’re about ready to grill it,” says Traeger co-founder Adam Townsend. “And then you have to turn on the grill, you need to start to move the bird, and you end up having a lot of surface area that’s getting saturated with fat, which if you don’t kill the fat, it’s going to boil up.” On the other hand, a cooked bird will just soak up fat without adding it to the bottom of the oven. So carve the bird before it comes out of the oven, leaving that fat on the side to tenderize it, and make sure it hasn’t overcooked, a highly common problem.
That fat can also have other consequences.
“Salmonella is not going to do a thing to me if it’s on the surface of the turkey,” says Townsend. “If it’s on top, I’m going to have problems.” Salmonella, Townsend says, can be traced back to the fat in the turkey. (Some people also believe salmonella can be caught from being touching raw meat; salmonella can also come from cross-contamination when preparing a turkey, so you want to be careful with that.) “But if you have a nice moist turkey, that good fat in the bird, you can handle,” he says.
When it comes to bones and skin, make sure you cut through them thoroughly and discard immediately. “A lot of people will cut the skin off and leave the bone,” Townsend says. “But if you cut through the meat, it’s going to continue to release the salmonella.”
Make sure your turkey is thawed before you cook it.
Though most turkeys are frozen before they get to the kitchen, not all turkeys come in that frozen state. The exception is turkeys that come from organic farmers, often known as PQT-certified turkeys, where the thawing process begins at the farm and continues at the supermarket. Some turkeys come to the freezer six months before Thanksgiving. If your turkey is several weeks away from its ideal thawing time, try refrigerating it now. But you can’t thaw a frozen turkey in the microwave.
It’s OK to have a little left over.
Most turkeys are already stored moist and buttery enough by Thanksgiving, and you don’t need much more of it to let you finish the job of cleaning up your bird. But, even if it does have some meat left over after all is said and done, there are plenty of ways to save that leftover meat and add it to a recipe — just a little cut more fine than you’d normally slice a boneless bird.