Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks
We know how stressful hosting during Thanksgiving can be, so we’re here to help. We have tips and tricks for you like thawing & cooking times, basting ideas, turkey troubleshooting, thawing tips, timelines, & more!
How to Save Money on Your Thanksgiving Dinner
- Plan Ahead: Start planning your Thanksgiving meal well in advance. Make a list of the dishes you want to prepare and the ingredients you’ll need. This allows you to watch for sales and discounts.
- Create a Budget: Determine how much you’re willing to spend on your Thanksgiving meal. Having a budget will help you make informed decisions when shopping.
- Potluck Thanksgiving: Encourage family and guests to bring a dish. This not only reduces the financial burden on you but also adds variety to the meal.
- Shop Sales and Coupons: Keep an eye out for Thanksgiving-related sales and use coupons to save on groceries. Many stores offer promotions on seasonal items.
- Buy in Bulk: Purchase non-perishable items, like canned goods or spices, in bulk to take advantage of lower unit prices. Just be sure they’ll get used before they expire.
- Stick to Seasonal Ingredients: Opt for seasonal and locally sourced produce, as these tend to be less expensive and fresher during the fall.
- Make Your Own Dishes: Instead of buying pre-made items, like pie crusts or gravy, make them from scratch. It’s often more cost-effective and tastes better.
- Limit Expensive Ingredients: Be mindful of expensive ingredients that are only used in small quantities. For example, consider using less expensive herbs or spices instead of saffron or truffle oil.
- Simplify the Menu: You don’t need an extravagant menu to have a great Thanksgiving. Focus on the essentials and reduce the number of dishes to save on ingredients and preparation time.
Turkey Cheat Sheet
|Number of Guests||Turkey Size (lbs.)||Thawing Time (Refrigerator)||Cooking Time (Unstuffed)|
|4||10-12 lbs.||2-3 Days||2.5 – 3 Hours|
|6||12-14 lbs.||3-4 Days||3 – 3.75 Hours|
|8||14-16 lbs.||4-5 Days||3.5 – 4.25 Hours|
|10||16-18 lbs.||5-6 Days||4 – 4.75 Hours|
|12||18-20 lbs.||6-7 Days||4.5 – 5.25 Hours|
|15||20-22 lbs.||7-8 Days||5 – 5.75 Hours|
|20||22-24 lbs.||8-9 Days||5.5 – 6.75 Hours|
*Keep in mind that the thawing times are approximate and should be done in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F (4°C). Adjust the thawing time as needed based on the turkey’s actual weight and the refrigerator’s temperature. Always follow food safety guidelines when handling and thawing poultry.
*Another tip is to make 2 turkeys instead of one large turkey if your oven space allows to reduce thawing and cooking times.
Turkey Thawing Tips
Thawing a turkey safely is crucial to prevent foodborne illness. Here are some tips for thawing a turkey!
- Plan Ahead: Thawing a turkey takes time, so plan in advance. It’s recommended to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.
- Refrigerator Thawing: This is the safest method. Place the turkey on a tray or in a shallow pan to catch any potential drips. Keep the turkey in its original packaging or use an airtight bag to prevent cross-contamination. Thaw in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or lower. The general guideline is 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. For example, a 12-pound turkey would take 2-3 days.
- Cold Water Thawing: If you need to speed up the process, you can use the cold water thawing method. Ensure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent water from getting inside. Submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes of thawing time per pound. For a 12-pound turkey, this method will take about 6 hours.
- Microwave Thawing: Use the defrost function on your microwave if the turkey is small enough to fit. However, this method can result in uneven thawing and may start cooking the turkey in some areas. It’s best to consult your microwave’s manual for specific instructions.
- Never Thaw on the Counter: Avoid leaving the turkey at room temperature to thaw, as this can promote the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Keep the Turkey Separate: Always store and thaw the turkey separately from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.
- Use a Thermometer: To check if the turkey is fully thawed, use a food thermometer. The turkey is safe to cook when it reaches an internal temperature of 32°F (0°C).
- Cook Immediately After Thawing: Once the turkey is fully thawed, cook it promptly to the recommended internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to ensure food safety.
- Be Cautious with Stuffed Turkeys: If your turkey is stuffed, keep in mind that the stuffing will thaw more slowly than the turkey itself. Ensure that both the turkey and the stuffing reach a safe temperature during cooking.
First thing to know is basting has a minimal effect on the finished turkey’s overall moisture or crispiness. However, how and what you baste your bird with does affect its flavor and fat content. How you baste should be determined by how you want your turkey to turn out.
Goal: Juicy Turkey Meat
Our Recommendation: Dry-brining your bird with salt.
Goal: Crispy Skin
Our Recommendation: Dry out the turkey in the refrigerator. (at least 12 hours and up to 3 days)
Basting with Mayo
Mayonnaise is another alternative to baste the turkey. It’s high fat content will contribute to the flavor and moisture of the turkey. We still suggest mixing it with herbs, and even lemon zest before applying to the inside, under the skin, and outside of the turkey before cooking it.
Way Cool Mayo Baste
- 2 Cups Mayonnaise
- 3 Tablespoons Minced Herbs (Sage, Parsley, Rosemary, and Thyme)
- Zest of 1 Lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Troubleshooting Your Turkey
Problem: Dry Turkey
Solution: To prevent a dry turkey, consider brining the bird before roasting. Brining involves soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution with sugar and aromatics for several hours or overnight. This helps retain moisture and flavor. Additionally, you can use a meat thermometer to ensure you don’t overcook the turkey; aim for an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
Problem: Uneven Cooking
Solution: Uneven cooking can happen when the turkey is not properly thawed or when the oven temperature is not consistent. Thaw the turkey completely, and consider using a roasting rack to elevate the turkey, allowing hot air to circulate evenly. Rotating the turkey during cooking can also help achieve more even results.
Problem: Overbrowning or Burnt Skin
Solution: To prevent overbrowning, cover the turkey with aluminum foil once it reaches your desired level of browning. This will shield the skin from direct heat. You can also start the cooking process with the turkey breast-side down to protect the breast meat.
Problem: Undercooked Turkey
Solution: Undercooked turkey can be unsafe to eat. To ensure the turkey is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. It should reach 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing (if you’re using stuffing). If the turkey is undercooked, return it to the oven, and continue roasting until it reaches the safe temperature.
Problem: Soggy Skin
Solution: Soggy skin can result from not patting the turkey dry after rinsing, using too much liquid in the roasting pan, or over-basting. Ensure the turkey is dry before applying oil or butter to the skin. Use a roasting rack to elevate the turkey, so it’s not sitting in its juices. Baste the turkey sparingly to avoid excess moisture.
10 Tips for a Delicious Perfectly Cooked Turkey
- Thaw Properly: If you’re using a frozen turkey, plan ahead and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator for several days. The general rule is 24 hours of thawing for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.
- Brining: Consider brining your turkey for added flavor and moisture. A simple brine consists of water, salt, sugar, and aromatics like herbs and spices. Brine the turkey for 12-24 hours before roasting.
- Rinse and Pat Dry: After brining (if you brine), rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. This helps to achieve crispy skin when roasted.
- Season Inside and Out: Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper and consider adding aromatics like fresh herbs, citrus, or onion for extra flavor.
- Use a Roasting Rack: Place the turkey on a roasting rack inside the roasting pan. Elevating the turkey allows for even cooking and ensures that it doesn’t sit in its juices, which can lead to soggy skin.
- Butter or Oil or Mayo: Rub the turkey with softened butter or oil. This helps the skin brown beautifully and adds flavor. You can also place pats of butter under the skin for extra flavor.
- Truss the Bird: Trussing the turkey (tying the legs together) helps it cook evenly and keeps the stuffing in place if you’re using stuffing.
- Use a Meat Thermometer: Invest in a meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest part of the turkey thigh. Make sure it doesn’t touch the bone. This ensures you cook the turkey to the correct internal temperature (165°F or 74°C).
- Baste Sparingly: Basting adds flavor and moisture to the turkey, but over-basting can make the skin less crispy. Baste occasionally during the cooking process.
- Rest the Turkey: Once the turkey reaches the desired temperature, remove it from the oven, tent it with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes. This lets the juices redistribute, ensuring a moist turkey when carved.
Thanksgiving Day Timeline
This staggered cooking timeline ensures that all your side dishes are prepared and served at the right temperature. It allows you to make the most of your oven and stovetop, and using timers for each dish can help you avoid overcooking or serving cold sides. Remember to have oven-safe containers and covers to keep the dishes warm as needed.
4 Hours Before Serving: Start with mashed potatoes. Peel, cut, and boil the potatoes while preparing the ingredients for gravy (drippings, broth, etc.).
3 Hours Before Serving: Mash and season the potatoes, but don’t add the final liquid (milk or cream) yet. While the potatoes are cooking, start reheating the casserole in the oven. Take the stuffing out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature.
2 Hours Before Serving: Reheat the prepared stuffing in the oven. Finish the mashed potatoes by adding the milk or cream and mixing until creamy. Cover to keep warm.
1 Hour Before Serving: Prepare the final stages of gravy on the stovetop. Use the drippings from the turkey and the prepared ingredients. Serve the casseroles, mashed potatoes, and gravy.
30 Minutes Before Serving: Remove the turkey from the oven to rest. It’s the perfect time to utilize the oven for reheating or keeping other side dishes warm.
15 Minutes Before Serving: Finish the gravy, ensuring it’s smooth and hot. Season to taste.