How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Disasters Page 1

I guess I should say "A perfect Turkey Almost Every Time" because every year there are a very small number of "Turkey Disasters". I don't know if the turkey wasn't completely thawed, the oven temperature is off, the wrong cooking time was calculated, or there is a problem with the calculated cooking time caused by altitude. Most of the people that have a problem believe nothing was wrong and I believe they're telling me the truth. But there has to be a reason since the overwhelming majority of people are successful.

It's almost always that the turkey was not done on time. I can't think of anything worse than having a house full of hungry people waiting to eat. I suspect that the turkey was not completely thawed which would totally distort the cooking time and would account for the fact that all but one problem reported to date was that the turkey was not fully cooked on time. But I'm not there... lucky for me I guess... and I don't know that for sure.

One of my website followers, Kimberly F., offered this suggestions to explain why some turkeys do not get done on time...

"I think I can answer why there are quite a few people saying their turkey was not done by the specified time. Some ovens, including mine, when you go down as low as 250 degrees do not work right. My oven will heat to 250, then pretty much turn off, like it can't sense when the temperature drops below 250 and never turns on again. So it does not maintain 250 degrees inside the oven. However, if I turn it up to just 275, it always works fine and my birds are always tender and juicy, almost falling apart." So it would behoove you to test your oven's ability to accurately maintain a temperature of 250 degrees before you get any surprises on that big day.

Since the turkey is usually impacting a major holiday many people aren't inclined to try to diagnose why something went wrong. I don't take the responsibility of making a major holiday a success lightly. To the extent that anything ever goes wrong because I failed to explain something clearly I want to sincerely apologize in advance.

So I want to present all the disasters... all of them... along with the positive testimonials to be fair to those people who had problems and give them a voice. I want you to see that nothing is bullet-proof when it comes to cooking. Maybe you want to try a small turkey ahead of time to find out if you're going to have a problem. There are very few problems reported but if you're one of those people having a problem that's all that matters.

Here are the negative reports...

  • I followed your recipe exactly and read on your site that you appreciate feedback, so here's mine. Unfortunately, it did not work out well at all. I suspect that the size was the issue, as my turkey was 19.5 lbs., but your site did say "up to 20 lbs."  You might want to do some tests yourself and amend that. My oven is pretty accurate, and if anything, tends to run a little hot - so I know that low temperature wasn't the issue. (And I am at sea level.)
    It took an hour longer than your recipe said to get to the proper temp (170 in the breast), and then the bird wasn't actually cooked through - although the breast was delicious and juicy, the legs and wings were all red inside! So far nobody's gotten sick (we only cut off the breast at dinner), but with the contamination present in today's factory farming methods, that *is* a legitimate concern and is probably the reason for the recommendation of cooking at 325 degrees.
    Which reminds me, when I cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving at 325 degrees, it was also excellent and juicy (I was careful use my thermometer and not overcook it). Although, I do like some of your ideas, so I think I will try your method again with a smaller (12 lb. or so) turkey and see what happens. I'll let you know how that one turns out! Best wishes, Sarina M., 12/29/08.
    Note: I have cooked turkeys much larger and never had this problem. This lady obviously knows what she's doing. I have no idea what went wrong.
  • I followed your instructions to the letter.  The result was an under cooked turkey. I had to leave it an additional hour just to get the outer layers of the breast to the minimum temperature.  No left-overs this year.  Very disappointing.
    Chris, Novato, CA, 12/25/08
  • Have high end new stove and temp is correct.

    After cooking 9.5 lb. turkey for 20 min. at 475, 3 hours 15 min. at 260 (I went up a bit from your instructions), the breast was only 140 degrees.

    Oh well.... I will just keep cooking until I get the right temp.

    Thanks anyway. J.S., 12/25/08
  • I don't know what possessed me to try a new recipe for Thanksgiving, especially one I found the night before Thanksgiving on the Web, but I did...

    So I just uncovered my turkey, expecting it to be done. It is mostly raw. It is indeed quite moist -- the cavity is still full of bloody juices! I don't know if you made up all those testimonials or what, but I can't believe they were real. So now to try to finish cooking my turkey in a way that will work. Shirley V., 11/27/08
     Comment: The testimonials are real. I'm sorry you had a disaster.
  • I had one I can't re publish because this is a family website. The gentlemen referred to parts of his anatomy and my anatomy. It was a cornucopia of colorful words delivered with the skill and aplomb of a an enraged drill sergeant. The kindest word in the email was when he called me a hack. I was left with the distinct impression that he was unhappy with his turkey.
    My response to that gentlemen: I have no idea why your turkey didn't come out right. I'm very sorry you had a problem.
    Publishing a recipe does not always result with a pat on the back.
  • While I let this turkey cool before putting it in the fridge I wanted to respond with my results. Poor - too well done - overcooked are adjectives that come to mind. I'm disappointed as I was so looking forward to turkey this year as I am single, older, and got this on a fabulous sale. I followed your instructions but did not use foil - which is perhaps the method of destruction. I used my grandfathers roasting pan. I will not give up as your recipe does sound simple and should give good results. I will do this again - obviously not right away - and I will use this turkey in various recipes - just not necessarily the way I wanted to. I can't even eat the skin as it is just too dark/crisp even for me. As I said - I will try this method again - just a different pan and foil instead of the old roasting pan. BTW - this is the first time I have ever overcooked a turkey! *sigh* Katrina, 11/19/09
    Note: This is the first problem reported where the turkey was overdone. It may be that the older roasting pan used was made of thicker metal and held the 475° temperature from the initial cooking phase way too long. But that's a guess.
  • My son and I used your recipe for our Thanksgiving turkey.  The breast was cooked perfectly but the legs and thighs were still raw.  Because of that, my son tossed the entire turkey away.  We did eat some of the white meat, but no one could touch the rest.    So... needless to say we will not be using this recipe again next year! Diana, 11/29/09
  • I decided to use your recipe but I had not really read ALL of the reviews yet until halfway through cooking it. So anyway, I followed all directions and used maybe two cups of butter total soaking underneath the skin. I think it was good I went overkill with the butter because it saved me in the end. I did not know how accurate my oven is/was and therefore it took eleven hours (and the last 3 I cranked the heat to 325). I still liked the recipe but the cooking time was the real "disaster". Liisa M. , 12/2/09

    Response: This is not a true turkey disaster but I had no other place to publish this comment. Obviously Don seems to be very passionate about brining the turkey. Brining is a process that adds moisture and sometimes other flavors to the turkey and keeps it from drying out when it's roasted. But the slow roasting process prevents the turkey from drying out in the first place. You can read the positive reviews where people find the turkey prepared in the slow cooking process is the best they have ever had which probably includes turkeys that have been brined. Or maybe not? But as the name implies, brining also adds a tremendous amount of salt to the turkey and not good for people on salt restricted diets.

    By simply doing a search for "how to brine a turkey" you can find all about brining and what is involved. If you think it's worth the trouble go for it. It is my humble opinion that brining is not necessary with the slow cook method and saves you a whole lot of time and trouble.

  • You didn't explain how to do this and what a total mess this thing turned out to be FAIL. Gregory H., 11/25/10
  • Unfortunately despite doing as instructed, the Turkey is taking FAR longer than estimated on the site. Now, in desperation, Im cranking up the oven temperature. I cooked an 11 lb turkey - it's a newer Maytag oven however I don't have the interior temp double checked. Thawed for 4 days in the refrigerator. I have a new digital thermometer (the one where the reading is on the outside of the oven and the probe stays put on Turkey) I used an aluminum foil roasting pan with aluminum foil covering the Turkey. Not sure why it is so far off the estimate of 330 hours (obviously Brian meant minutes) at 250F Thanks. Brian L., 11/25/10
  • I slow-roasted my free-range, never frozen turkey 15#, EXACTLY according to your directions.The temps were way lower than you suggested, so back in it went. I've stuck it back in 4 times now, finally upped the temp and uncovered it, because folks want to eat the thing. SO I'm not as enthusiastic as I was at 7 AM, about this method. My stove is a Jenn-Air and my thermometer is accurate. I am totally at a loss as to why this is not turning out right, but my dinner timings are now totally shot, and I'm coming across like some kind of 'doesn't know what she's doing' flake. (With guests who are trying hard to be civil, but are not pleased.)

    I'd love to hear back from you, as I want to know why this happened and how to avoid it in future. Thanks. Diane F., 11/25/10

    Here was my response...

    First, please know how sorry I am that you ran into trouble. Normally when this happens, it's because the turkey wasn't completely thawed. But we know that's not it.
    • Is it possible that the turkey was not completely thawed?
    • Did you allow the turkey to warm to room temperature before putting it in the over?
    • Did you leave the turkey in the oven after the initial 20 minutes at 475 degrees so that the oven cooled while the turkey was still in the oven?
    • Did you calculate the additional time in the oven at 20 min x 15 = 300 minutes or 5 hours?
    • Do you live in a place at very high altitude?
    If any of the answers are true, that can cause the cooking time to increase.

    If you did all these things and you know the temperature of your oven is accurate and you do not live at a high altitude, I don't have a clue of what might have gone wrong.

    Again, I'm so sorry you had trouble.

    Feedback from Diane...

    I followed your instructions to the letter, left turkey in while oven cooled down to 250, calculated the time needed to be exactly 5'30", live under 800' above sea level. It turned out fine, but did need a lot of extra time. I'm wondering if, since it was a free range, organic and never frozen bird, the times need to be adjusted; "regular" turkeys don't get much exercise, if any, whereas the muscles on a free range turkey are actually used--perhaps more time is needed therefore.

    At any rate, this is all FYI; the additional time I needed for a 14.5# turkey was--three extra increments of 20", and a temperature rise to 300 degrees, uncovered, for a fourth 20" increment. The surface did get a bit drier, unfortunately, but I had to do something, and fast. The interior was good, as your recipe stated.

    Note: If anyone has used the slow cook method to cook a free range turkey I would appreciate your feedback.
  • I bought a 14.50 lb turkey and i did everything that the recipe stated.
    I thought my turkey would be done in three and a half hours. Put it in at 10:20 at 250 and was not done untill 4. I think it was too low at 250
    Thank you, Christine D., 11/28/10


    I'm sorry you had trouble. Did you do the first 20 minutes at 475°? You had not mentioned the first step.

    Then did you, without removing the turkey from the oven, reduce the temperature to 250° and cook it for an additional 14.5 x 20 min = 290 minutes or 4 hrs. and 50 minutes?

    The total preparation time for a 14.5 lb. turkey would therefore have been 20 min + 4 hrs. and 50 min + another 20 min to let it sit before carving = 5 hrs and 30 min.

    Regardless of what may have happened, I'm very sorry you had trouble.
  • Your cooking times chart is way off... A 6.5 lb bird took 9 1/4 hrs to reach the right internal temp in my electric oven (which I tested with a thermometer to assure proper temp as you suggested).

    Needless to say, Thanksgiving was a bust at MY house... all I have are leftovers from ordering take-out and a ton of turkey that will end up in the garbage disposal...

    Guess I'll do more homework next time! Gary, 11/30/10
  • You're instructions are useless. You have destroyed my turkey & my Thanksgiving. My husband doesn't want to wait for the turkey, it is 9pm, the middle kinda pinkish & now we are going to a fast food joint on a thanksgiving night. Thanks for the bad advice Im only going to seek my experienced counterparts advice for now on. I had a 15 pounder. You do the calculation. Jennifer L., 10/10/11.

    Response: Wow... that's awful! I'm sorry you had trouble and for your ruined Thansgiving.
  • I wish you could post comments to your site so that I could warn anyone else attempting to try your method…..been cooking a 13lb bird now for over 5 ½ hours and we just hit 150 degrees...To say we're frustrated would be an understatement…… will NEVER do THIS again… Michael R., 11/24/11
  • I just followed this to the "T" and failed. The bird is grey still, not hot enough in the center. Now I'm faced with hungry people and I had to put it back in for I don't know how long.... uncovered. And yes my oven is fine. You might want to ad some info or just take it down altogether! Lewin B., 11/24/11
  • Hi there,
    I followed your directions and my turkey came out dry. :( I think 20 mins per pound is a little much.....just thought I would let you know. 11/24/11