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Multi-generation family enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at The Ranch at Shadow Lake



Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, and a turkey will be the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving day feasts. They don’t call this turkey day for nothing! Here are some pro tips to help ensure your bird looks and tastes amazing.

Make Sure You Have Enough

When you’re looking at that turkey at the grocery store, you’ll see right away that there’s a huge range of sizes. The general rule of thumb is to allow 1 to 1½ pounds per person, plus 2 pounds more to account for the bones. For example eight people would need a 12- to 14-pound bird. If you want lots of leftovers, add a few more pounds.

Season the Skin & Meat

To help keep your turkey meat moist and make the skin crisp and flavorful, pat the skin dry, rub it all over with butter or oil (you can make a compound butter with herbs or spices if you wish and/or rub it between the skin and the breast meat for extra flavor), and season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Prevent Dry Meat

Dry (and tough) turkey is the bane of many a Thanksgiving meal. You can avoid this in several ways. Brine the turkey before cooking to infuse moisture and flavor. Add about half an inch of chicken broth below the rack in your roasting pan to keep the oven moist. Tent the breast and drumsticks with foil from about halfway through your cooking time to stop them from burning and prevent dryness.

Most importantly – don’t overcook your bird. Check the temperature of the meat using a meat thermometer, starting 30 to 45 minutes before your per-pound cooking estimations suggest your turkey will be done. Remove the turkey from the oven when the thermometer reads 160 degrees, and the residual heat of the bird will cause that internal temperature to continue rising to the optimal 165 degrees as it rests. And if all else fails, a tasty gravy can cover many sins!

Keep the Stuffing on the Side

Leaving the turkey’s cavity unstuffed lets your bird cook faster and more evenly, since the hot air from the oven can circulate inside. There have also been instances of people getting ill from stuffing that was undercooked in a cavity due to bacteria often present in raw poultry. Just make your stuffing in a separate pan. You can make more and it will taste just as good. Add a bunch of aromatic herbs and a quartered onion to your turkey’s cavity instead to add a little extra flavor.

Let It Rest Before Carving

Your guests are hungry, the sides are all ready, the turkey comes out of the oven and looks and smells fabulous. So you put it on a pretty platter, present it at the table and start carving away. Nooooooo! Just like a good steak, you need to let that bird rest so the juices can settle back into the meat, leaving it moist and tender. If you carve it too soon, the juices just run out onto the platter or carving board, leaving your turkey dry. So loosely tent your turkey with foil to keep it warm and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes while you finish making gravy and serving up all the sides. Trust us – it will be worth the wait.

Wishing you a happy (and tasty) Thanksgiving. For more seasonal tips, check out The Ranch at Shadow Lake blog.