Everything from how you thaw the turkey to making sure no bacteria survive on your countertops is important. Turkey takes center stage on Thanksgiving, so let's get it right.
So to begin, how large a bird should you buy? The answer depends of course on how many people you have coming for dinner. Figure one pound per person, which factors in bone and fat that's trimmed away, second helpings and leftovers.
"If you get a rock-hard frozen turkey, just put it in the fridge four days ahead of time," says Margo True, food editor of Sunset magazine.
Whatever you do, don't thaw the turkey on the counter. However, you can soak it in its wrapper in a sink of cold water, but change the water every half-hour or so.
Remember to remove giblets and gizzards. New health rules suggest patting the turkey dry rather than rinsing it off to reduce risk of salmonella. Bacteria should be killed by the heat of cooking.
Once the bird is in the oven, do a complete wipe-down with hot soapy water or sanitizer on countertops, cutting boards, even your hands.
And Margo True also says she prefers the stuffing cooked separately inside the oven because that way it ensures the meat of the turkey is cooked all the way through.
"If you stuff the bird, it's like putting a big block inside the turkey," says True. "We always feel at Sunset that you do better to have the stuffing cooking separately. It's also safer because it gets to the right temperature."
Have two thermometers ready. One goes into the breast all the way to the bone, to reach 165 degrees. The other goes in the thigh through to the carcass. That should reach 170.
When the turkey is done, don't start carving yet.
"You want to let it sit for at least 20 minutes, up to 45," says True. "It really hangs on to the heat and that's just enough time to make the gravy, reheat the mashed potatoes or make the mashed potatoes, get everything else done."
That will also allow the turkey's moisture to redistribute and keep meat tender.