HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Had a turkey trauma...now I've lost my mojo.

We had Thanksgiving on lockdown. Everything was timed to the minute, the turkeys were looking beautiful and everybody was having a great time. Then, the wheels came off.

I tried something different this year, roasting the turkeys using Alton Brown's method and cooking the stuffing in a dish. The recipe called for the turkeys to take 2 - 2.5 hours and to pull the birds when the breast reached 161. Ours took 1 hour and 57 minutes to reach temp and as I said, looked gorgeous. I took several readings in the breasts and all temps were a go.

The first problem was that I had allocated 2.5 hours for cooking, so it threw our timeline off. Not a huge issue, but slightly uncomfortable because we had family members arriving later after work. We had to let the turkeys rest longer than we had planned. It was when we decided to finish off the meal and carve that the sky fell. Although the breasts were perfect, the legs and thighs were practically RAW! In fact, I think I heard a "gobble, gobble" in protest when they were cut.

I made the absolute critical error of measuring only in the breast and completely forgot to measure in the thigh. I was utterly embarassed. The timeline and all our plans went out the window as we tried to make sure that the breasts were salvaged and the dark meat was cooked, all the while trying to make sure that we didn't cross-contaminate anything and kill a guest or two in the process.

I keep seeing that damned raw turkey in my sleep and its the first thing I think about when I recall Thanksgiving 2012. And just to add insult to injury, the stuffing cooked outside the bird did not meet my standards. I wiffed on the two biggest parts of the meal.

Now, everything I touch turns to crap. It feels like no matter what I cook, everything is just off. Anybody know where I can go to get my mojo back?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Learn to allow extra time to prepare any roast and other items planned for the meal......using the low and slow approach will give you the confidence you need to get more reliable temperature readings....as the roasts will cook more consistently and evenly.

    If I believe a roast will be finished in 3 hours...I allow a total of five to be safe. Once a roast hits temperature, it's easier to hold the roast,,,,,,then to rush it and cook it up faster. My general rule is to hold roasts a minimum of one hour, but two hours is best for most large roasted meats. While the roasts are holding, you can finish your sides. When your sides are completed, you can put the roast back into the oven for a high heat blast that will sufficiently warm the meat for serving.

    1. You just need to cook something you know like the back of your hand. Maybe something you haven't made in awhile but that never fails you. I have a couple of favorites that require a little bit of effort but that always turn out impressive - it's a great way to get you feeling good about your skills again!

      We all have had our turkey moments - mine was the bbq fire of 2006... luckily we had a ham as backup. Don't let it frustrate you or scare you off. Just move on to a different recipe next year.

      You could also try the turkey again sans family to judge or worry over. Of course, you run the risk of it not turning out again but at least you'll not have the pressure of the holiday looming!

      1. failure happens to the best of us, but it sounds to me like your problem is a crisis of confidence (i can't believe i just quoted Jimmy Carter on CH).

        don't force it. take a step back, and breathe. you said "we" a lot in your OP, so i assume this means you have a significant other at home. can he or she take over the cooking duties for a few days? maybe if you don't feel obligated to "perform" you'll be able to relax about it. and when you're ready to give it another shot, ease back in slowly. start with a couple of really simple, no-pressure dishes that you like to cook. once you get those on the table successfully i suspect you'll start to feel better about taking on more challenging dishes again, and you'll regain your stride. just be patient, and don't beat yourself up over it! even great cooks have bad days...or weeks ;)

        1. I had the same turkey issue with the same AB recipe! I usually make a great turkey, but this one was totally off.

          2 Replies
          1. re: boogiebaby

            Hey, as they say, live and learn....that's what life is all about! 161 is too low for me, but I only know because I made that mistake myself in the beginning. I assumed the less cooked, the more tender it would be. Now 165 would be bare mimimum, I aim for just under 170. Sorry but I'm not familiar with the AB method. However since I use the prebrined birds it comes out perfectly.

            I do remember Martha Stewart on a Thanksgiving show advising to cook to 195, but I never cared much for her anyway.

            1. re: boogiebaby

              I'm sorry to hear your turkey didn't work either, but I do feel better knowing I'm not alone. ;o)

            2. Sorry to hear about the frustrating results. Take a step back and make some fabulous soft scrambled eggs with a knob of browned butter, salt and finely ground pepper.....even better serve over a slice of well buttered toast and all will be well.

              For your next turkey consider roasting it deconstructed or simpler, just buy a split breast on the bone as well as a couple legs or thighs and cook in the same pan measuring each one separately and pull each when it reaches your target temp. Brine them first and keep notes for your practice round. You can ramp up to larger birds/parts with confidence by checking each piece and rotating the pan and flipping the pieces during your roast.

              1. Christina, this is not your fault. Here is something I have noticed. It seems like the world abounds in recipes that hugely underestimate turkey cooking times. The recipe we used indicated that the turkey would be done in 2.5 hours at 400. We took it out after 4.5 hours and it was barely cooked. I've since looked up cooking times in several cookbooks and their times are similarly unrealistic. It's like a bizarre conspiracy to cause massive Thanksgiving failure.

                The Alton Brown recipe seems much worse then most and really set you up to fail. It does indeed call for putting a probe in the breast and taking the bird out when it registers 161. That's just irresponsible. 161 is at the lowest possible bound of food safety for cooking poultry, and it is an established fact that the breast cooks faster than the thigh area. Almost all recipes will direct you to take the temperature in the deepest part of the thigh. I don't know how that recipe has a five star rating with 4220 reviews. I suspect that most of the people who were satisfied ignored the suggested cooking time. There are a number of reviews complaining about bloody, raw turkey, so you were not alone.

                I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I think goodhealth is right about taking a few days off from the kitchen and then easing back into cooking with fun and easy recipes.

                11 Replies
                1. re: CathleenH

                  +1 to ChathleenH, especially the part about hugely underestimated turkey cooking times AND the bad advice about taking the temp in the breast.

                  1. re: CathleenH

                    +1 and more to your first paragraph.With all that is published about how to COOK A TURKEY,why is there almost nothing that addresses OUR MODERN OVENS.Even Americas Test Kitchen doesn't include any serious information or tips.With all the variations and convection options,the to roast what,with etc is hole like the Bermuda Triangle.

                    1. re: lcool

                      +1 nada
                      and GF insists that that is because REAL cooks don't use them.
                      I insist regular baking does not work in my oven because there is no bottom element. (It was a feature: GE moved the bottom element to the drawer under the oven an touted it as another oven)

                    2. re: CathleenH

                      "It seems like the world abounds in recipes that hugely underestimate turkey cooking times"...

                      Actually, my experience is mostly the opposite. (though I've never tried the AB recipe in question.) This year, my sister was low roasting her turkey and told me based on the recipe that it would be at least five hours (for a fairly small turkey). I took one look and told her I thought it would be quite a bit less. Sure enough after three hours I checked the turkey and it was done, 165 in the deepest part of the thigh (Which is where I always check). Her turkey was pretty close to perfect though I would have liked it a bit less done (and of course it had to rest longer than anticipated but not long enough to worry about). Thank goodness I was there to help, or she never would have even checked until it was too late....

                      OTOH, the turkey that I brought and did on the grill ended up a bit overdone to my taste: not a disaster by any means, but still not ideal (and my Weber'd turkeys are usually perfect): and to make matters worse hubby (not a cook but he does have an engineer's perfectionism) had pointed out the problem before I put it on the grill but I ignored him: namely, the underside of the turkey and thighs weren't completely thawed. Result: by the time it registered 165 on the thighs the breast and top of the legs were overdone.

                      I suspect that turkeys not being completely thawed is a primary reason that timing is off (that and oven calibration). Edited to note: I find even 'fresh' turkeys come halfway frozen these days, so this could be a problem even with a turkey that 'has never been frozen'. It sometimes isn't obvious, because if you feel the breast, it definitely feels all nice and thawed. I've also learned to supplement the thermometer with how the bird looks and feels, which helps a bit (in the case of my weber'd turkey I knew full well by half way through that the breast was in danger of overcooking, but since Sis has a tiny kitchen with no way to do half on the grill and half finished some other way, I felt I had no choice). Hubby was nice enough not to smirk and I am not sure the rest of the clan really noticed, since there was more than enough and the oven'd turkey was good....

                      As for getting the mojo back: I am also in the try another turkey camp, with a different recipe and no family stress. Make just a few (two is plenty) of favorite sides and celebrate Thanksgiving all over again!

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        'turkey' by definition:
                        (n) a loser; an uncoordinated, inept, clumsy fool
                        a tool; a person who is not in with current culture and slang or is just generally uncool.
                        These slang usages of the word "turkey" were mostly used during the late 60's and 70's for jive turkey: a. One who speaks as though they know what they're talking about...though they do not. b. a bullshitter.


                        My Weber smoked turkey this year was underdone. I've done the bird on the Weber many times to perfection - 2.5 hours, do not lift the lid during cooking. One year we even walked to Haight Street to the Red Vic for an afternoon movie and came home to a perfectly cooked 2-1/2 hour bird. I do NOT recommend leaving the house and grill untended.
                        What happened this year? Well, the smoke from the grill vent went to our next door neighbors' deck and through their open patio glass door. This does not make for 'good neighbor' relations. We set up the electric fan to direct the smoke away from their new deck and guests. I removed the bird at two hours and it really needed another 30 minutes of smoking. After resting, the bird was clearly underdone at 160°F and it went into the oven for 40 minutes while we had more wine and a 'salad course of Dungeness crab and fennel' to no complaints. 165°F always works.
                        How to get your mojo back? Don't worry, next year is Another Turkey and you'll be fine. If it's underdone, cook it in pieces. If it's overdone, add slices to gravy. Always make extra gravy.

                        Dressing in the Crock Pot/slow cooker burnt on the edges along the wall of the liner this year. We ate the 'center of the stuffing' in the pot. More gravy. Burnt dressing went into compost.
                        Next year: Dressing in a casserole in the oven.

                        1. re: Cynsa

                          "How to get your mojo back? Don't worry, next year is Another Turkey and you'll be fine. If it's underdone, cook it in pieces. If it's overdone, add slices to gravy. Always make extra gravy."

                          Exactly.....there will always be another Thanksgiving and another turkey.......Last year my turkey was gorgeous & beautiful & perfectly cooked.....this year was not.......next year hopefully will be like last year! It happens....

                      2. re: CathleenH

                        This post proves you don't know the whole of the popular AB method. The breast has a foil heat shield in place which slows the cooking of the breast and allows the thighs to come to a higher temp.

                        "Doneness" is a measure of temperature, not color. This generation of cooks has been taught to incinerate poultry. They were taught that any hint of pink in a bird is some sort of harbinger of a massive outbreak of food born illness.

                        The "cook until juices run clear" method was developed to give a novice cook with no temp equipment an easy way to tell that their turkey was overcooked, and therefore "safe" to eat. This method is overkill, but we are so used to the results people panic if their bird isn't overcooked.

                        1. re: Brandon Nelson

                          Brandon, am I missing something? Please tell me where in this recipe it mentions a heat shield.


                          Perhaps it's under the link "Click here". Alas, I'm not in the habit of watching a video version of a recipe that should be complete as written. Lesson learned.

                          1. re: Christina D

                            You're both correct. AB uses a triangular foil heat shield and the video showing how is under the "click here".
                            For what it's worth, in addition to using the foil, I let the bird sit on the counter for at least an hour with bags of ice on the breast. Starting the breat at a colder temperature allows for the warmer thighs to get to 180ish by the time the breast gets to 160ish.
                            AB's method (along with McGee's icing trick) has worked great for years at our house.
                            Lastly, if you use a red apple for Alton's aromatics, the juices end up quite redish which can be alarming if you're not ready for it - I try to remember beforehand and use a green apple.

                            1. re: Christina D

                              I have never watched the vid or seen the food network recipe. The same process is described in a print article Brown did for Gourmet some years ago.

                            2. re: Brandon Nelson

                              Reflecting on long ago Thanksgivings, I seem to remember the legs always being overdone. Maybe Mom overcooked the whole bird and I only remembered the legs being kinda hard in places because that's what I went for at dinner time. All that mayo on the toasted Peperidge Farm bread on the turkey sandwiches the next day made the breast just OK!

                          2. You should get it back by knowing that not only we CHers have all been there, done that and bought the souvenir T shirts. So did Josie on Top Chef, and so have countless other accomplished chefs on TC alone. It's part of the deal, getting distracted and missing a step happens here more than I care to relate.

                            My other piece of advice is to stay away from Altons' recipes and especially his cooking times. I've learned to the hard way, though I did ignore what I believe was his suggestion to stop cooking a deep fried turkey at 155 degrees, his dishes are like WASP hospital food when it comes to flavors, too, IME.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mcf

                              Interestingly enough, I have used Alton's recipe several times and am always very happy with the results. But I totally agree with Susan that incomplete thawing may well contribute to underdone turkey......and I also believe that all kinds of other factors can play a role (oven size and the possibilty that temps are not what they read; heck even elevation maybe??). You just do your best and plan for delays. One of my tricks is to try and have all the side dishes ready long before the turkey will be...with the exception possibly of salads (that could be made while turkey rests) most of the traditional tday sides do fine if they sit for awhile and are reheated.....imo.

                              Oh, and thank you Susan for saving our mutual sister's turkey:-)

                            2. I also had that problem with my turkey, tho I didn't use AB's method nor did I have guests waiting......I pulled the turkey when the breast registered 170 and the thigh just over 170, then let it rest for 35 minutes. The breast was perfect but the rest of the turkey was pretty much RAW......

                              You are not alone for sure!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: jenscats5

                                I had this happen to me once too - we simply removed the breast and put the dark meat / rest of turkey back in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes..... It worked really well.

                                It's very important to check both temps becuase they often do cook at diffrent speeds. Hope your T-day turned out okay none the less...

                                Don't let it scare you (you can buy another turkey for cheap right now and cook it up just to show it whose boss').

                                1. re: jenscats5

                                  I took my Butterball (just under 15 lbs) out at 170 degrees and it was truly perfect, the best one ever!!

                                  1. re: jenscats5

                                    If the thigh was raw it was not 170, or you hit the bone. Thickest part of thigh registering 160 will give a perfect result.

                                    1. re: jenscats5

                                      That happened to me last year, I also tested in the thigh as well as the breast, and the thigh registered 165. Upon carving, UGH, blood in the thigh joint area, undercooked all the way. I carved the breasts off and put the turkey back in a hotter oven for a while, but man, what a pain.

                                    2. You are definitely not alone. I didn't try the AB method, but in spite of taking temps in the thigh we still ended up with a lot of pinkness inside the thigh area. And my stuffing ended up on the dry side (cooked in a pan in the oven). Still tasty but not the heights I was hoping for. SIGH.

                                      I second goodhealthgourmet's suggestion to cook some simple no-pressure things to get your mojo back. I also like sparky403's suggestion to get another turkey and show it who's boss. That's what I'm doing now. :-)

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: 1MunchieMonster

                                        Hope you show'd it who was the cooked and who was the chef. I had issues this year with my gravy being too salty (due to the brine). But I'm not letting it get to me;-).

                                        Enjoy the leftovers;-)

                                        1. re: sparky403

                                          That's too bad about your gravy but that's great you can let it slide

                                          "Hope you show'd it who was the cooked and who was the chef"

                                          Ha! :-) As it turned out, turkey #3 was also undercooked in the thighs, even more so than turkey #1 on Thanksgiving. I just roasted it tonight and in spite of dry brining again, the breast and even parts of the legs were starting to get a wee bit overdone. However like you, I'm not letting it get to me. After the meal I broke down the rest into pieces, baked it a bit more, and now look who's boss. ;-)

                                      2. Thanks, all. I knew you'd understand. ;o)

                                        For this evening, I've decided to take the night off. As I type, I'm sitting by the fire with a lovely glass of Cabernet, while the hubby throws some steaks on the grill and taters in the oven.

                                        I'll start again tomorrow and find a way to exorcise my turkey demons.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Christina D

                                          I find the turkey is a little unpredictable in some new way every damn year. Timing is never what we expect, even when we adjust expectations based on the previous year's weirdness. I think it is partly because it ISN'T just like roasting a big chicken - the light vs dark timing is harder because of the scale of the breast vs. thighs, and in our case at least it turns out our oven is uneven in ways we don't really understand because we don't cook a huge THING in them most of the rest of the year.

                                          Don't let the turkeys get you down!

                                          1. re: LilyB

                                            Which reminds me of a story I heard on NPR right before Tday which was a repeat of an interview with Julia Childs on how to roast turkey. She advocated removing the legs and thighs before roasting and doing them separately, as they take longer to cook. Then she would roast the breast lying on top of the stuffing. And when everything was done she would tuck the legs and thighs back into the turkey, warn the carver, and let everyone have what the interviewer called the "Norman Rockwell moment"

                                          2. re: Christina D

                                            I would recommend a nice dinner out... Best case you will come back inspired, worst case you will know you can do better in your kitchen!

                                          3. :).

                                            It happens. I suggest you spend a few hours this week braising something wonderful...a pot roast.
                                            Pair it with some rich mashed potatoes and a great vegetable you and your family likes along with a delicious salad and bread.
                                            Put it behind you and think about the day you'll be able to look back at it all and have a few chuckles. It happened to me a few years ago, don't even remember why, but now it's one of those memories that deserves a place in the book.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: latindancer


                                              I kept under cooking poultry and having to frantically finish them off in the microwave for fear of over cooking. My SO would not touch my chicken without a very through check. *Sigh* Very discouraging.

                                              Now I have thermometer probe and let the turkey tell me when it's done and keep serving appetizers until it's close to being done. No one questions me on the doneness of my bird and it's always moist. Two times of done chicken/turkey they will not remember the undercooked ones.

                                            2. If you followed the methods use of a foil heat shield your turkey was fine and ready to eat. Most of the general public doesn't understand that some pink in their poultry doesn't mean it is an undercooked salmonella risk.

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                Any thoughts on why my bird was evenly pink throughout? I pulled it when it was giving random readings between 167 and 175. It looked perfect, clear juices, etc. Let it rest 20 minutes and got the big surprise upon slicing. It did not look like underdone chicken...no redness near the bone, just evenly pink throughout the white meat...it almost looked smoked. Clues?

                                                It tasted ok, a little tough, but frankly I didn't have high hopes because it was a Whole Foods branded Turkey (kochs out of PA) and I'd had bad luck with that before. I'll NEVER buy that again...here's hoping my feeble brain can hold onto that thought for 12 months..

                                                1. re: danna

                                                  Brining can cause it to remain pink/redder than you would otherwise expect.

                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                    Plus it is normal to see some pink near the bones, it's not blood but something that leaches out of the bones (collagen?) It won't go away with extra cooking.

                                                    1. re: coll

                                                      Yes, definitely some brighter red, pinkish and brownish read near the bone.

                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                        yeah, that seems more normal, but is not at all what my turkey looked like. It was pale-ish pink all the way to within 1/2 of the skin.

                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                            Oven issues? Do you have an oven thermometer, in addition to the meat thermometer? This is just a wild guess, since the turkey did seem to come to temp. But maybe that thermometer is broken? Or else they feed their turkeys some kind of red feed......

                                                    2. re: mcf

                                                      did not brine (although i wish I had)

                                                2. Someone else in my family cooked a turkey using this method. The dark meat was a bit underdone. As the guest carver, I cut off the white meat first. Then I removed the dark meat, We microwaved the dark meat until it was thoroughly cooked. It tasted just fine.

                                                  1. This happens to me every few months. After a bombed meal I end up wanting to Eat take out for a few days. I recommend either doing a tried and true recipe you love to get your confidence or something new where you have no expectation but the concept is so wonderful that even mediocre will knock your socks off. Even tarting small where you jut combine ingredients would be helpful.

                                                    1. I"m raising a glass to toast you. Through the years I've had some abject failures which I learned some valuable lessons from. Those lessons have made me a better cook and a better person all round. Bring your shoulders down from around your ears, let out an ear-splitting FUUUUUUU*****, then have a good laugh about it - and learn.

                                                      You cooked a turkey dinner for a group of people you care about. You rock!

                                                      1. CH'ers are the best. I took the advice to make an old favorite and cooked up a pot of my grandmother's spaghetti sauce. The tomatoes and garlic (which aren't found on my T-Day menu) were a refreshing change and I can nail that sauce in my sleep.

                                                        Side note: The last time I didn't "nail" it I was 9 months pregnant with my now 15-yr old son. I accidentally used andouille instead of italian sausage and it was *awful*. I literally went into labor at the dinner table. Not entirely sure the sauce was to blame, but it makes for a great story. ;o)

                                                        Thanks again, all!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Christina D

                                                          I know what you mean (not the labor part though), I once used some pre made "osso bucco" in a pot of sauce without knowing it had a smoked flavor. What a waste!

                                                          At least yours yielded a good story.