Buying the wrong size bird
When it comes to a holiday feast with lots of guests, it’s always better to have too much food than too little. Turkeys are sold by weight, so, remembering that the bird’s bones will account for a lot of the total, figure about 1½ pounds per person (so a 12-pound turkey for eight guests, for instance). This will ensure that nobody goes hungry — and that there are leftovers, which are one of the best things about a Thanksgiving feast anyway.
Not having room for it in the refrigerator or freezer
Turkeys are big creatures, especially when they get up into the 16- or 18-pound range and above. If you buy yours frozen a week or so ahead of time, you’ll want to keep it frozen until it’s time to start the thawing process, so you will need plenty of freezer room. And when it comes out of the freezer, you’ll need room in the fridge for its long, slow thawing.
Not thawing it completely
If you buy a frozen turkey, be sure to remove it from the freezer early enough. You can roast a turkey that isn’t thoroughly thawed, but it will take much longer and be much harder to time. The best way to thaw one of these big birds is to place it, in its wrapper, on a tray in the refrigerator. It will take at least a day for every four pounds. Don’t be afraid to start early, because it will keep in the fridge for up to four days after it’s thawed.
Rinsing the bird
Like other poultry, raw turkey is likely to be covered with bacteria. This will be killed by roasting to a safe temperature, but many cooks think they should try to rinse the bacteria off the bird. Not so, says the USDA, which counsels: “Wash your hands, not the turkey!” It’s almost impossible to get all the bacteria off anyway, and all the process does is risk spreading E. coli, salmonella, and other bugs around your kitchen. But the hand-washing part is vital to avoid transmitting foodborne illnesses. The USDA recommends a 20-second scrub with soap and warm water — and use soap and warm water on any surfaces (platter, cutting board, etc.) the raw bird might touch.
Brining the bird
Many home cooks — and professionals, too — recommend brining the bird in a solution of water, salt, sugar, and other ingredients before roasting. The problem, as other cooks point out, is twofold: it waterlogs the bird and it makes the turkey taste like luncheon meat. As no less an authority than award-winning chef and “Top Chef” host Tom Colicchio just tweeted: “Don’t brine the bird.”