Choose a small, fresh turkey in the 14-pound-and-under category. Large turkeys take longer to cook, making the outer meat likely to overcook and dry out before the interior meat is cooked. If you’re feeding more than 12 people, buy two small turkeys rather than one big one.
Brine the turkey. Two good things happen during brining. Salt draws out the blood, cleansing the bird, and is absorbed into the meat, which becomes juicy and seasoned right down to the bone. Sugar rounds out the salty flavor and helps the turkey brown. If you purchase a frozen turkey, brining greatly improves the flavor.
Two varieties of turkeys should not be brined: kosher turkeys, which have already been salted, and self-basting turkeys, which have been injected with salted broth.
If you can’t make room in the refrigerator to store your turkey while it brines, put it in a cool garage or basement or outside with a weighted lid. If you live in a warm climate, dissolve the salt and sugar in a small amount of lukewarm water in an ice chest and add ice water to cover the turkey.
Cook the dressing in an ovenproof dish—not inside the turkey. A stuffed bird takes longer to cook through than an unstuffed one. The longer the turkey sits in a hot oven, the more it overcooks and dries out.
When carving the turkey, remove both wings first. Separate each wing from the body at the joint. Remove each leg and set aside. Remove each breast half from the bone in one piece, then thinly slice each half crosswise. Cut each leg at the joint, then carve the meat from the thigh and drumstick.
If you’re serving two small turkeys, cook the first one early in the day. Carve it, arrange it on an ovenproof platter and cover it with foil. Meanwhile, roast the second turkey. Just before serving, set the platter in a 350° oven. Use the whole bird for show and pass the carved turkey. Carve the second bird once everyone’s had a first serving.