UNITED STATES—The big day is less than a week away, and unless you’re living under a rock, I’m referring to Thanksgiving. I promised we’d talk about the bird this week and I’m indeed a person of my word. I’m going to harp on this right now because it’s critical. It’s time for you to pick out that bird, if not what are you waiting for. Picking the right bird matters, but the weight of the bird is just as important. If you are cooking for a small group a small bird is better, but things get tricky when you are cooking for a large group.

The worst thing you can do is purchase a small bird that doesn’t cater to all your guests, and in some situations you may not need one bird, but perhaps two turkeys. For novice cooks, I wouldn’t recommend cooking two turkeys because it could be quite difficult to navigate the cooking time and the space to do so. I mean you would virtually need a double oven, and there are not too many people who have those in their homes.

If you have not purchased your turkey, now is the time to start thinking about it. The biggest mistake I see year after year after year is people waiting till the last minute to purchase their turkey. You CANNOT purchase a frozen turkey the day before Thanksgiving and thinking all will turn out well. It will NOT, why? That turkey needs at least a day or two to defrost. You cannot cook a frozen turkey in the oven! If you do, it will take hours on hours to cook, and just a word of advice it probably will not taste well.

I would say purchasing that turkey at least four to five days before the holiday is vital! You want to allow the bird to thaw, then you have to determine if you want to brine the bird or not. That’s something that can go either way. There are those who argue you have to brine your turkey to make it taste delicious. In my household, we do not brine the turkey, for me it over seasons the bird, however, to each is their own. We do a bit of a dry brine, but not one that transpires overnight, this happens a few hours before the turkey hits the oven.

Look I’m going to get some blow back from people on this, so I’m leaving it up in the hands of the cook. If you’ve never cooked a turkey before it might be safe bet to brine so that you flavor the bird. The two biggest mistakes people make when it comes to the turkey is not seasoning it properly or cooking it so long that it becomes dry. I’m not a fan of turkey because I always think it’s too dry. I’ve had probably two turkeys in my entire life that were divine. The first was roasted in the oven and cooked by my mother who has cooked so many turkeys in her life she is a pro at it.

TIP: she does not wet brine or dry brine her turkey at all. She uses salt, pepper, thyme, butter and a few herbs; one of them is not sage. She hates it because sometimes people overuse the herb which is quite strong to say the least. Butter, you will need to purchase plenty of it for the holiday because it is a must in almost every dish you will craft this holiday from savory to sweet. Buttering up that turkey on the outside and the inside before placing it in the oven is vital you want a nice crisp skin on it.

However, once you’ve decided to brine or not to brine your bird, it’s all about ensuring the bird is not disturbed when you cook it. You cannot cook other items in the oven when the turkey is being cooked. When it comes to side dishes, prep them as much as possible in advance so you’re not stressed about trying to cook everything at once. That will create utter chaos America and you really, really don’t want that. With the turkey it’s about an hour of cooking time for every 10-15 pounds of the bird.

Keep that in mind as it’s important. When it comes to internal temperature the bird should be 160 degrees (that’s for the breast) and with the leg or thigh (it should be 180 degrees). A typical turkey is somewhere between 15-20 pounds and takes around 3-4 hours to cook in the oven at 350 degrees. I know some people who start the temperature up high at first (I’m known to do that), where you start at 400 or 450 for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour, and then turn the temperature down to allow the bird to continue to cook at 350 degrees.

After the bird comes out the oven and you’ve checked the temperature with a thermometer, you have to let it rest. So many people make the mistake and try to slice the bird right away: NO! Let those juices and flavors salivate because it will be that much more satisfying when you break the turkey down. We’ve talked a ton about turkey, but there are other proteins you can cook at the table as well. You have duck, you have ham, you have lamb, you have Cornish hens, you have Top Roast, you have pork or beef tenderloin. The turkey matters, but you do want to consider other proteins to provide options to your guest. Best of luck, be patient and don’t wait till the last minute with that bird. If you do, you will regret it.

Written By Kelsey Thomas