There are, of course, an infinite number of ways to screw up Thanksgiving. You can bring your biological parents unannounced; you can make inappropriate jokes about the recently deceased; you can look bad, smell funny, or take all the scalloped potato crust, leaving just white mush for everybody else. But this being Food & Wine, I will stick to cooking mishaps. Any of these can easily happen, even to an experienced cook, and most of them have at one time or another. So be vigilant!
1. Overcooking. And undercooking. I mean, it’s not as if it will be good anyway; it is turkey, after all. But overcooking, which is by far the more prevalent error, only makes the bad things about turkey even worse. It doesn’t take much: Even if you are slavishly following a good recipe, like this one, all you have to do is have an oven that’s hotter than it says it is. Or put the thermometer in so far that it registers the breastbone temperature rather than the breast meat temperature. Of course, even an overcooked turkey is preferable to the unspeakable gore of an undercooked bird. That is the stuff of childhood trauma.
Solution: Cook the turkey until the legs move freely and the breast feels firm but not hard. Temp it on the cutting board from multiple points. Ideally, the meat right next to the breastbone should be a little underdone; you leave it behind when carving.