Overcooked the Turkey? Here’s How to Fix it (Plus 4 Other Common Mistakes)

A few firsts signal you’re officially a grown-up: the first time you get the keys to your own apartment, your first adult décor purchase, and the first time you’re entrusted to cook the most important dish on Thanksgiving—the turkey. If you’re a novice, it can feel like a huge responsibility, one that requires every ounce of skill and attention to perfect.

Few know this better than Charla Draper, a food economist who has worked as an adviser on Butterball’s Thanksgiving Turkey Talk-Line for 10 years. “I’ve heard from everyone from nervous first-timers to experienced home cooks,” she tells MyDomaine. Draper says that while the pressure is high, there are some key must-know rules that will take the stress out of Thanksgiving. “It’s all about the three T’s,” she says: “thaw, temperature, and the two-hour rule.”

Here, she shares the expertise she’s gained from 10 years of fielding frantic calling from home cooks across America and shares her number one piece of advice for avoiding a Thanksgiving cooking disaster. Listen up: These are the insider secrets a Butterball veteran wants you to know before you start cooking the turkey.

Q: I thawed my turkey overnight, but it's still frozen. What do I do?

Underestimating the time it takes to thaw a turkey is the number one mistake people make, says Draper: “It’s always longer than you think.” If you’re tempted to put it in the microwave to speed up the process, don’t. “We never recommend doing it in the microwave. It heats the meat unevenly and is a potential food-safety issue,” she says.

The best way to defrost your turkey is with her simple sink method. “Place the turkey, still in the wrapper, in a sink of cold water. Then allow 30 minutes for every pound of turkey weight,” she explains. “Let’s say you have a 10- to 18-pound turkey. You want to plan on five to nine hours of cold water.”

To fast-track the process, change the water frequently so that it’s not ice-cold. “The more often you change the water, the more quickly it’ll thaw. I recommend trying to change it every 30 minutes,” she says. If you’re not at home for nine hours straight to keep changing the water, Draper says it’s fine to defrost it in the sink after work and return it to the refrigerator during the day, repeating the process at night.

Her one key warning: Never remove the turkey from the wrapper during the thawing process. You could make your entire family ill. “The plastic protects the surface of the turkey and keeps it sanitary, prevents it from getting too warm, and also captures juices. As the turkey thaws, it releases juices, and you don’t want to it cross-contaminate,” she explains.