My Best Turkey Advice

Tested & Perfected Recipes

Photo by Sarah Plfug

I have been hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 20 years, and I have tried literally everything when it comes to cooking turkey. I’ve brined it, deep-fried it, marinated it, injected it, buttered it, dry-rubbed it, butterflied it, smoked it, and stuffed it. I’ve tried Kosher turkeys, organic turkeys, free-range turkeys, and self-basting turkeys.

A few years ago, I even bought an oil-less outdoor propane turkey fryer called “The Big Easy,” which freed up my oven and actually made a wonderfully crisp-skinned and juicy turkey. (If you want to spend $160 on a large piece of equipment that will likely sit in storage collecting cobwebs 364 days a year, I highly recommend it!)

From all this fussing with turkeys, I’ve come to realize that my turkey will never be perfect.

Let’s face it: turkeys, on their own, just aren’t very good. That’s what gravy and cranberry sauce are for.

As Mary Risley from Tante Marie’s Cooking School humorously points out in the video below (which you should definitely watch, especially if you have any turkey-cooking anxiety), “I have never had an outstanding turkey.”

(Heads up: this video contains some foul language)

 

Short of purchasing a special turkey cooker (this is the one I have), it is near impossible to cook a turkey perfectly: the white meat always cooks before the dark meat is done and the skin on the bottom is never crisp (unless you flip the hot, sputtering bird mid-way through cooking – ummm, no thank you).

So is it really worth it to go to great lengths – brining in big coolers for days in the garage, risking life and limb deep-frying in the driveway, pre-icing the breast of the turkey so it cooks more slowly (I swear, there’s a very respectable cooking magazine that wants you to do this) – to make that “be-all and end-all” turkey?

It’s up to you, but I’m not interested in babysitting my turkey for three days to get only marginally better results at the end.

My advice to you on Thanksgiving is to keep it simple. Make an easy roast turkey recipe, like this dry-brined roast turkey, with an over-the-top delicious gravy and some cranberry sauce to go with it. (Or if you really don’t want to stress, go ahead and buy your turkey already roasted!) Serve lots of wine and focus your time and creativity on the side dishes and desserts because that’s what everyone really looks forward to anyway.

Wishing you a happy and stress-free Thanksgiving! ❤️

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Comments

  • The best part of Thanksgiving turkey is the prepping with family creating memories that will last. Even though my mom is no longer with us, times we prepped the turkey come up as I’m working in the kitchen with our children.

    • — Diane on November 22, 2021
    • Reply
    • 💓

      • — Jenn on November 22, 2021
      • Reply
  • I been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 38 years and your advice was the best advice I have ever got! Thanks so much. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    • — Merle on November 21, 2021
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  • I have Thanksgiving turkey horror stories. Last year I purchased a sous vide cooker. Game changer! We will never bake a turkey again!

    • — Teresa Valeri on November 21, 2021
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  • The video was really funny, but I have to disagree with her contention that there is no such thing as a good tasting turkey. I have used a variant of the the Gourmet Magazine recipe for turkey ever since I married at age 20 and that was 50 years ago! The essentials are soaking a piece of cheesecloth in butter, draping it over the turkey and basting every 20 minutes. If I am feeling really energetic, I put herb butter under the skin of the turkey before roasting and draping the cheesecloth. The drippings are perfect for making the gravy. The turkey is perfectly brown and picture perfect and tastes great. It is not cardboard! lol!

    • — Glen on November 19, 2021
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  • Hey Jenn
    Up here in the great white north (Vancouver BC) we have our Thanksgiving
    in October .As with Christmas and Easter I get a 18-20 lb bird ,have the butcher
    cut it up : one breast ,two thighs ,two legs .Wings and back of turkey, and a dozen chicken wings are used for gravy which I make a few days earlier, I buy two more large thighs and do a overnight salt only brine . The beauty of cooking big bird this way is it cooks very fast and you can remove individual pieces as they are done so reduce chance of bresat overcooking waiting for dark meat. Love your recipes .

    • — Ron Vancouver BC Canada on November 19, 2021
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  • Thank you, Jenn! My feelings exactly. If you were choosing, would you recommend your dry brined turkey (cooked ahead of time as you mentioned) or the high heat method (also cooked ahead of time)?
    I so appreciate your recipes and comments as well as your readers’ reviews. You are my go-to for recipes. I give your cookbook for hostess and house warming gifts. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am very thankful for you! Phyllis

    • — Phyllis on November 18, 2021
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    • Hi Phyllis, They’re both good made ahead of time, but I’d go with the dry brined – less chance of smoking up your kitchen! Happy Thanksgiving! ❤️

      • — Jenn on November 18, 2021
      • Reply
  • I’ve made viewing the Mary Risley an annual event. Hilarious.😂

    • — Mary Pat on November 18, 2021
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  • Jenn have you ever tried cooking your turkey on a Weber Kettle braai? Here in South Africa we generally get small ( about 4 Kgs) turkeys imported from Brazil and have great success stuffing, seasoning,oiling and cooking on indirect fire for 1 1/2 hours. Juicy and crisp and delicious!

    • — Pam Gibson on November 17, 2021
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    • I can’t say that I have!

      • — Jenn on November 18, 2021
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  • Finally, the best cooking video ever! and a great song video to boot! Happy Holidays Jenn!
    Love ya!

    • — Navyman on November 17, 2021
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  • What are your thoughts on roasting the turkey low and slow, say 200*?

    Thank you!

    • — Janey Hahn on November 17, 2021
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    • Hi Janey, I’ve tried a lot of methods for cooking turkey but that’s one I’ve never done. I poked around online and see that there are some recipes using that method, but can’t weigh in myself. Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

      • — Jenn on November 19, 2021
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  • Jenn, your fryer is on sale and I am considering purchasing it to free up oven space. Do you like it? Do you use it each year?

    • — Kelly Powers on November 17, 2021
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    • I do like it, and it makes a very good turkey, but it sits in storage for the rest of the year. You can definitely make other stuff in it, as another reader mentioned, but since I store it in the basement (it’s big!), it’s a to-do to get it out.

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2021
      • Reply
  • I agree, turkey is over rated and can turn into a lot of work. One note on the”Big Easy”. I’ve had one for at least ten years and love it .It’s actually great for chicken,ribs,beef,vegetables, etc.
    I have found it to be one of the best tools for cooking turkey.It now comes with a grill plate for steaks.fish,pork,etc. …no I am not a salesmen ,but a big fan of your cooking/recipes and cook books.

    • — Tom on November 17, 2021
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  • I always start my turkey breast-down and roast it that way for the first 1-1.5 hours depending on the size of the bird. I then turn it over and finish it breast-up. I use a pair of oven mitts, which then get thrown in the wash. I never have dry breast meat.

    • — Grannysaurus Rex on November 17, 2021
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    • I’ve heard that doing this actually works. I’ve not been inclined to do it yet, but I just might try it this year.

      • — Wanda on November 19, 2021
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  • Refreshing, funny, and useful!

    • — Angi on November 17, 2021
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  • That’s for your great advice. I love the video! Thanks for sharing. Have a lovely Thanksgiving.

    • — Melanie on November 17, 2021
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  • The video is hilarious! Thanks for sharing and also for the advice. This will be the 38th Thanksgiving I’m hosting so I’ve had my share of turkey disasters from a turkey with tons of feathers still attached to having one finish cooking way before the guests arrived because I didn’t adjust the time for a convection oven. So my tried and true (after 37 years): Just stuff the darn bird, season with salt and pepper, butter the skin, and stick it in a the oven. I baste every once in a while (when I remember), and tent when the breasts are getting too brown. A remote meat thermometer also helps tremendously. Always comes out great!
    Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Jenn!

    • — Doreen on November 17, 2021
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    • 😂

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2021
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  • Mary Risley is absolutely hilarious! I was laughing out loud because it’s all true! Thanksgiving now is just my husband and I, but a couple of years ago I took a stand! I roast a chicken! With all the turkey day sides, but we both love roast chicken and don’t care for turkey…problem solved! Oh and your cranberry bread recipe has now taken the place of my late mother’s recipe for Thanksgiving breakfast! Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for all the great recipes!

    • — Laura Cox on November 17, 2021
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  • This advice and video was spot-on perfect! Thank you 😊

    • — Karen on November 17, 2021
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  • Excellent advice and I absolutely LOVED the video … she is hilarious! Thank you for all of your amazing recipes – you help us to be better cooks every day! God Bless and Have a very Happy Thanksgiving

    • — Sharon on November 17, 2021
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    • Happy Thanksgiving to you! 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2021
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      • Over the course of 20 years I’ve come to hate Thanksgiving — so much work for so little reward. A few years ago we started eating out on the day which was working out fine until the Pandemic. So last year when my 20-something daughter suggested a stay-at-home meal and she would help, I quickly turned that around to suggest SHE make the meal and I would help. She agreed! Every cook needs to experience cooking a Thanksgiving meal, right? Well of course she ran into all the same problems the rest of us do. So I’ll share the video and this blog and I’m sure she’ll feel better about the whole thing 🙂 (yes, she did agree to try again this year.) I’m grateful for OnceUponaChef!!

        • — Andrea on November 19, 2021
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  • Kill it, cook it, eat it….well not really my motto (I wouldn’t kill anything)but I love to keep things simple. Enjoy your turkey everyone!

    • — Ginny on November 17, 2021
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    • What perfect advice, and thanks for sharing the video…that was hilarious. I think this is so true. Why waste time you could be spending with loved ones (and a glass of Pinot noir) trying to make a perfect turkey when even a perfect turkey really isn’t that amazing lol.

      What is your favorite thanksgiving side dish?

      • — Amy Jacobs on November 17, 2021
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      • Glad you enjoyed it, Amy! My fave is definitely potatoes au gratin.

        • — Jenn on November 17, 2021
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      • Love the video & your thoughtful, always entertaining emails interspersed with your delicious recipes. I have both of your cookbooks (yum!). Thanks, Jenn!

        • — Barb Metcalf on November 17, 2021
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  • My friend at work told me a secret about cooking a turkey. First, I oil and season the bird the night before and I place the oiled and seasoned bird in a Reynold’s plastic bag and place it in the refrigerator overnight to marinate. Second (this is the tip) flip that bird and roast it in the Reynold’s plastic bag BREAST SIDE DOWN. The bird only roasts for 2-21/2 hours and the white meat is cooked, but juicy. No, you don’t have a crispy skin, but you do have a juicy, fully cooked bird. Also, once the turkey is in the oven, DO NOT open the oven door! Breast side down. Works every time.

    • — Terri Fromm on November 17, 2021
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  • I read in a magazine that an alternative to brining the turkey is to use a “baster injector” or “flavor injector”. Essentially, you inject the turkey with brine and/or melted butter at four strategic locations on the turkey. The exact instructions in the article were: “Right before cooking, when the turkey is at room temperature, inject each thigh and breast half with about 1 oz of liquid. Try to stick the bird only four times, so that the skin remains intact and the natural juices don’t run out.” I have not tried this, but plan to do it this year. I find brining too messy and more work than I want to do.

    • — Shelly17 on November 17, 2021
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  • I’m known to my friends as the queen of poultry. My turkeys aren’t always perfect, but usually pretty good. I always start them breast side down for the first hour or hour and a half, depending on size. Then I flip them, with the help of sons, husband, for the rest of the time. It cooks way more evenly this way. Also, you can’t use the pop up timer. If you do, the turkey will be overdone. I’ve read that they are set to pop at 175 degrees. The turkey should come out at 165. On average, a 15 pound turkey will take no more than 3 hours, sometimes less.
    Hope this helps.

    • — Suzie DeAngelis on November 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • I agree. And, I’ll add a strange anomaly that maybe you can answer. Every time we’ve gotten an organic turkey, that thing just wouldn’t cook! Or, I should say, it takes twice the amount of time to cook as a conventional one. Why would this be?

    • — Jennifer on November 17, 2021
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    • Hi Jennifer, that’s really strange! I’m not sure why that would be, but if it only happens when you’ve gotten an organic turkey, then I’d stick with the conventional.

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2021
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  • OMG – That is the best video ever. I am so ready to cook my turkey now – crack open Jen’s cookbook and we’re off!

    • — CD on November 17, 2021
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  • Loved the video! I actually “met” Jenn a few years back looking for Thanksgiving recipes, and I never looked back! The sausage stuffing recipe, the cranberry sauce, and layered biscuits are my go to every year. Gifted my daughter and best friend with both books, and share the website with countless friends. I was planning to make your Rolled Stuffed Turkey Breast recipe, even ordered the turkey breast, butterflied from Sprouts. Now watching the video, should I not bother??

    • — m3r1 on November 17, 2021
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    • So glad you’re enjoying the recipes and thank you for spreading the word 💕. Definitely make the rolled turkey breast w/sausage stuffing! It’s my favorite turkey recipe and I make one every year on Thanksgiving. I don’t mention it here because most people prefer to roast a whole turkey on Thanksgiving.

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2021
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  • Great article! Last year, I cooked our Christmas turkey sous vide and it was marvellous! I could time it to be hot and ready exactly when I wanted. It took 24 hours total, but it was in a modified camp cooler in our laundry room the whole time. All I did was broil it for 15 mins to brown the skin before serving. I don’t think I would ever go back to the “normal” way again.

    • — Lowell on November 17, 2021
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    • Oh, I forgot to add that I quartered the turkey first, lol.

      • — Lowell on November 17, 2021
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  • Dear Jenn,
    As someone who wastes WAY to much time trying to make EVERYTHING perfect, your wonderful turkey advice struck me as deeply profound. Not just for Thanksgiving but for every day! Many thanks 🙂

    • — Cindy S on November 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • The easiest way to make a turkey is using a Nesco oven. I’ve used one for the last 40 years. It comes out perfect every time. That frees up the oven for other dishes. On top of that the turkey is golden brown, moist & delicious. It does need some basting. In fact over the years I’ve eased off & hubby now is totally responsible for the turkey start to finish. How much easier is it than having hubby cook the turkey?

    • — TSandy on November 17, 2021
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  • As always you are spot on! 5 stars. I am experimenting with subtle differences in cranberry sauces or chutneys this year. Then my baked honey onions. Got three copies of your newest cookbook for my daughter-in-laws as early holiday gifts. Kudos your way! rba

    • — bob adams on November 17, 2021
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  • Love the info. How do you reheat your cooked turkey Thanksgiving day?

    • — Pstricia on November 17, 2021
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    • Hi Patricia, I suggest pouring a thin layer of the gravy into an ovenproof serving dish. Arrange the carved turkey nicely on top of the gravy; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two days. Refrigerate the remaining gravy in a separate container. To reheat: remove the plastic wrap and cover the platter with aluminum foil. Place in a 325°F-oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the turkey is hot. Reheat the gravy in the microwave or on the stovetop. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2021
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      • Thank you so much! Happy Thanksgiving!! Patricia

        • — Patricia on November 17, 2021
        • Reply
  • Good advice!
    I have been using Alton Brown’s dry brined recipe for years which is similar to your except that the turkey is spatchcocked (butterflied). This results in a lower cooking time (under 2 hours for a 12-14 lb bird) that doesn’t dry out the breast. Will try that tried and true method for me this year but with your dry brine mixture.

    • — Chad on November 17, 2021
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  • Hi Jenn! Thanks for the Turkey talk article as I definitely have some turkey anxiety right now. I’m hosting a small Thanksgiving this year and I’ve never roasted a turkey before. I was considering buying a whole roasted turkey from Whole Foods after reading your Pro Tips on holiday cooking from your cookbook. Now I’m not sure. This actually sounds doable. What do you think about buying a turkey from Whole Foods? Do you know if they reheat well and what that process is like? If I make most of the sides ahead and the turkey only takes 1.5hours or so, that could actually be a stress free day right? I’m on the fence.

    • — Adrienne on November 10, 2020
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    • Hi Adrienne, I honestly wouldn’t hesitate to buy the roasted turkey from Whole Foods. I often make my turkey ahead of time, carve it, and reheat it before serving — and a turkey from Whole Foods is going to be just as good as one you’d make at home. Keep it simple and enjoy the day!

      • — Jenn on November 11, 2020
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      • Thanks Jenn, that settles it 🙂 What about the gravy? Buy that from Whole Foods as well?

        • — Adrienne Trumpower on November 11, 2020
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        • Hi Adrienne, I make my own gravy, but I bet Whole Foods has a good one too. 🙂

          • — Jenn on November 11, 2020
          • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I have been truly enjoying so many of your recipes, in fact I’m eating a blueberry muffin with my coffee right now! And your soup recipes – yum! I’m soooo happy you posted this turkey talk information. I seriously stress way too much about the turkey every year, for exactly the reasons you’ve listed. I consider myself a pretty darn good cook, but I have been defeated by a stupid, dead bird in my own kitchen several years now. Well no more!!
    Thank you!

    • — Suzette Perez on November 5, 2020
    • Reply
  • Thank you…had a few belly laughs reading this. Happy Thanksgiving!🦃

  • You are hilarious! Thanks for the sensible, humorous advice. Have a great [email protected]

  • I don’t feel the need to serve and present a whole turkey. I’d rather have good tasting, tender meat. I’ve been cooking turkey parts for several years. Do the legs and thighs separately from the breast. That solves the problem of dry white meat. I also have brined and smoked the breast with very good luck. I like my dark meat at almost 185 and the breast at no more than 165. Enjoy your Thanksgiving everyone!!

  • This is the best Thanksgiving advice on the internet! We started going to the beach for the week of Thanksgiving and have a very minimal T-Day dinner. We have been cooking our turkey like this for years and makes the holiday much more enjoyable when one part of it is easy, quick and works consistently.

  • Simple – Common sense – Fantastic!
    Thanks Jenn, it is supposed to be fun 🙂

  • I thoroughly enjoyed your turkey segment! Thank you!

  • Just watched this video – hilarious! I’m bringing the Pinot Noir! Love all your recipes Jenn. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Since November starts holiday anxiety time, I want to sincerely thank you for
    sharing your awesome talents and recipes.
    Wishing you and your family all the best!

  • Ugh!!! Why does everything have to be soiled with profanity? Why do women trade their power as the civilizers and refiners of a coarse world for the vulgar expressions more associated with men and women of ill-repute? I love your recipes and website. Why did you have to go and sink into the common just to try and make a point? Ladies face challenges with intelligence, style and grace not rudeness. Be pretty. The world already has too much ugliness.

    • I felt as a common folk….. her (#&[email protected]#!#% ) actually added a bit of comedy. What the world really needs more of are individuals that are not so easily offended. It would be nice to to sprinkle in a dash of less judgmental aspects, just because you never curse …. does not mean everyone is like that. Ugh… please find something to be thankful for beside picking on what you feel is a lack of class. ?

      • — Richelle Pimentel
      • Reply
      • I love your reply, Richelle! I will raise a (#%&!#) turkey leg to your words!

    • Bea I agree. People show their incompetence when they have to lower themselves to use fowl language. I wouldn’t even watch the video just by the title.

    • Men and women of ill-repute? The common? Hey Bea, try stowing your supercilious attitude, relax a bit, step down off that soapbox, and try to enjoy/embrace the variety life has to offer. Thanks for the hilarious video, Jenn. I’m still enjoying it two years later!

      • — Vicki on October 18, 2020
      • Reply
    • Bea, I am sorry to say that I find your response utterly ridiculous. I have a masters degree and yes I occasionally use profanity. I am hardly a woman of ill repute. Do you realize that you are living in the year 2021? Are you really advising women to “be pretty” and proper? Are you living in a Jane Austen novel? The fact that you define a woman’s class and worthiness by her choice of expression truly baffles me. Jenn shared a funny video that many of us found quite humorous. Please try to relax a little and cease your generalizations and judgments. If you don’t like the video just scroll on by. There was no need to lash out.,No one is forcing you to watch it. We have so many problems going on in the world today. Perhaps focus on what is truly important and leave the judgements at the door.

      • — Lauren on November 17, 2021
      • Reply
    • Hi Bea, I happen to agree with you. I too think the world could use a little more kindness in the way of many things but understanding the most important.
      The ability to scroll on by can apply to videos and comments of those we disagree with alike. In comments, I try to go by the adage of “seeking to understand” – genuinely – those I disagree with rather than chastising those that appear to hold different values than me. Most times, while we find differences on the surface that are easy to divide us and lose all the beauty we each bring, through genuine dialog and a spirit of curiosity and understanding we find we’re not as far apart as we first thought. Each, even the seemingly unpopular, can bring understanding and thought provoking considerations to us all. Happy Thanksgiving!

      • — SK on November 17, 2021
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      • There is wisdom in knowing that there are times when our greatest accomplishment is just keeping our mouths shut. That said, I loved this article and can see Jenn Segal’s heart in her creations and her writings. Thanks for sharing this with us Jenn – all of it.

        • — Abby on November 17, 2021
        • Reply
    • Thanksgiving is just that – a gathering of those we hold dear to enjoy a memorable meal (served with really good wine at our home). It’s who is with us that is most important – everything else is secondary. After going through a pandemic plus a myriad of natural disasters, I am grateful to have a home in which to share a special dinner, made with love and care. This is what matters most to me. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

      • — Margaret on November 17, 2021
      • Reply
  • The linked video in this recipe is hilarious and really helps one put a proper perspective on fixing any holiday meal!! The turkey was awesome as well as the gravy! I will use this method again next year for sure.

  • actually the past 3 years I’ve made Gordon Ramsay’s “christmas turkey” recipe and I use it every time I make a turkey. My guests are very impressed with the outcome and it produces JUICY PERFECT-TASTING turkey. All my turkeys were mediocre until I tried his recipe. Gordon states, “Turkey is a really lean meat and it dries out so we need to help it, and it’s all in the preparation; keeping that bird moist” If you’d like to adapt a recipe Jen, I suggest taking a look at his:
    ‘How to Cook Perfect Roast Turkey (Part 1)’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I93nany8nQI

    ‘How to Cook Perfect Roast Turkey (Part 2)’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTDmwTq4QHo&src_vid=I93nany8nQI&feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_189437

  • Loved your comments and the video – pretty much summarizes it. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to ya………………

  • Thank you for receiving my stress this year! I have spent endless hours researching the perfect (and very complex) recipes for turkey and gravy. I can’t wait to prepare your recipes. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Love this! I totally agree that the best part of the Thanksgiving feast is all of the side dishes, but I love the turkey for another reason. My favorite thing about roasting a turkey is making a rich turkey broth for soup with the carcass.

  • THANK-YOU….This is what I have always suspected :0)

  • You are a mind reader! No matter how many turkeys one cooks, there are always those nagging pre-Thanksgiving doubts (which turkey, which method, etc). BUT, I have complete confidence in you, Jenn, and will follow your advice to the letter. Thank you for all your great recipes, congratulations on your new weekly newsletter (love it!), and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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