25 Thanksgiving Tips from Yankee Magazine
14. If a guest brings a surprise dish that doesn’t go with your menu, serve it anyway. So much of Thanksgiving is about tradition and memories — if Aunt Sarah needs to make chocolate cranberry turnip salad as part of her tradition, let it slide.
15. Thanksgiving is not the day to try out a new recipe. Stick with what you are comfortable with and that you know will work.
16. Instead of one GIANT turkey, consider two or three smaller ones. Everything will cook faster (consider cooking one the day before and one the day of, so that you can present one beautiful browned bird tableside), smaller birds will be more tender and juicy, and if you have a large crowd, you’ll have more drumsticks.
17. Turkeys are notorious for being finicky to cook, because the white breast meat cooks more quickly than the darker meat of the drumsticks. There are several ways to even the playing field: brine your turkey, butterfly your turkey, remove the legs and cook separately, and/or cover the breast with foil (remove the last 45 minutes to brown the skin).
18. Baste or not to baste? Basting does very little to add to the flavor of your turkey (not much of that flavor actually gets absorbed), BUT basting the breast does cool it down (by evaporation) and slows down the cooking time of the breast meat which lets the legs catch up a little.
19. Stuff or not to stuff? Most food safety experts will tell you not to (some of the raw turkey juices could soak into the dressing and not fully cook. I prefer a stuffed turkey, but it will slow down the cook time.
20. At 325 degrees, most turkeys cook at about 15 minutes per pound (stuffed, about 20 minutes per pound). But keep your eye on things. According to food safety experts, your turkey is done when a meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees in the thigh, 170 in the breast, and 165 in the stuffing. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I’d go 170 on the thigh and 160 on the breast.
21. Remember who is wagging this holiday’s tail: If your turkey is done at 2 pm, but you were planning on serving at 3, that is fine. Remove the turkey to its carving place and “tent” it with foil (don’t wrap it in foil or it will steam and the skin will lose its crispness). It will stay warm. I promise.
22. Have a few simple jobs for guests to do (i.e. pouring drinks, setting water glasses, minding the ice bucket, making place cards with the kids, sit next to Grammie and make sure she has what she needs).
23. If you are a guest, be a good one. Don’t stand in the middle of the kitchen and ask, “what can I do?” If you bring children watch them and keep them entertained. If you bring an appetizer, make sure it is ready to go, not something that needs the oven or complicated assembly. Jump in and help with the clean up.
24. Have extra ice. For some reason you always need more ice than you or your ice maker can produce.
25. Buy disposable plastic food containers, to send guests home with leftovers. My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey sandwich the next day!