Thanksgiving FAQ

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Look, we've been doing this for some time. For years we've been taking your calls on Thanksgiving morning -- helping you out of jams and guiding you in the direction of a splendid feast. So we pretty much know what goes on.

Whether you're on fire or just fishing around for that finishing touch, we think we can be of some assistance. What follows is an exhaustive list of common queries and our best offering as to a helpful answer.

TURKEY

How many pounds of turkey do I need?

The math says to buy 1 pound of turkey per person up to a 15-pound bird, or 3/4 of a pound per person for larger parties. You want leftovers, though, right? Pad a little.

How long will it take to defrost my turkey?

If you're putting a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, the rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.

But I'm in a hurry. Won't the bird thaw faster if I just leave it on the kitchen counter?

Yes, but DON'T! Never thaw at room temperature. You should try an ice-water bath instead. Figure about 30 minutes per pound, and change the water every 30 minutes.

Another option is to use your microwave. Consult the owner's manual for maximum size and cooking times.

How should the bird be prepared for roasting?

The night before your turkey goes in the oven, season it with a blend. Maybe fresh herbs, garlic, shallots and/or onions, with some olive or whatever your tradition. Spread this mixture under the skin.

Another option is brining, a technique that produces a moist turkey. To brine overnight, dissolve 1 cup of table salt or 2 cups of kosher salt in 2 gallons of cold water in a large stockpot or clean bucket. Submerge the bird in the solution and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well under running water, and pat dry inside and out with paper towels.

Can you just point me to some turkey recipes?

Sure.

OK, I'm ready to roast. Tell me about cooking times and temps.

The turkey will need to roast for about 15 minutes per pound in a 325-degree oven. To stay juicy, roast with the breast down in a large, shallow pan. (Avoid those flimsy foil pans. They can buckle under the weight of a large bird and are dangerous.)

Flip the turkey for last 30 minutes to brown evenly. It's done when a thigh is 170 degrees on an instant-reading thermometer.

How often should I baste? And with what?

You should have pan juices consisting of dry wine, cider or broth. Several times during roasting, baste the bird with those juices. (Ditch the bulb baster and just use a large spoon.) This will facilitate browning and crisping of the skin. Just be careful with how often you're opening that oven door; the loss of heat could affect your cooking time.

It's done. Can I carve it right away?

Put your knife down. When the turkey comes out of the oven, it needs 20 to 30 minutes just to rest. This redistributes the juices and thoroughly moistens the meat.

All right, it's been a half-hour. Now you can carve. Here's a good tutorial:

The meat will cool during the resting period, but that can be masked. Serve it on a hot plate and cover it with hot gravy.

I'm looking to mix it up. What are some good alternatives to turkey?

If you want another meat, browse through our poultry recipes for some chickens, geese, ducks or quails. Hard to decide, right? Too bad you can't have them all. Oh, you can: How about a turducken?

Finally, there's this.

My safety requires advice from the government. Where can I get the proper regulations?

The USDA has several fact sheets on poultry preparation and a turkey hotline: (800) 535-4555.

STUFFING / DRESSING

They're interchangeable, right?

Yes, those two words mean the same thing.

Fine, so how do I make the stuffing?

Lynne likes stuffing that is cooked inside the bird. We've got several good recipes, including a cornbread stuffing from Herman Merkin and this basic bread stuffing from Mark Bittman. Here's a farro and Italian greens stuffing from Lynne that includes crisped pancetta, pine nuts and raisins. (Make this one.)

Never stuff the turkey until immediately before it goes into the oven. Then, remove it immediately when the hot bird comes out.

GRAVY

What's the secret to great gravy?

When making stock, use lots of aromatic vegetables, garlic, white wine, and herbs for a rich, delicious taste. For big flavor, consider reducing some wine in the pan juices before adding stock and thickening. To avoid lumps when thickening the gravy, never add flour to liquid. Instead, gradually beat cold liquid into the flour until you have a smooth slurry then gradually whisk the slurry into the gravy until it reaches desired thickness.

Lynne says this gravy recipe is foolproof. Also consider David Rosengarten's smoky chipotle-mushroom gravy.

WINE

Which wines should I pair with my Thanksgiving feast?

We asked Michael Franz, editor of Wine Review Online. Here's his take:

With a house full of family and friends and a big job in the kitchen, most home cooks have their hands full with Thanksgiving dinner. Selecting wines poses yet another challenge, but the good news is that finding your way to bottles that will please almost everyone is really not very difficult.

One reason you shouldn't fret about selecting the perfect wine is that there's simply no such thing for this particular meal. No single wine can really match up perfectly with everything on a Thanksgiving table, since the typical range runs from delicate breast meat to rich stuffing to acidic cranberries to sweet yams.

Though it makes no sense to stress over perfection, neither should you resign yourself to failure. When you're confronting a cacophony of flavors and textures, you can do very well with wines that sing in the middle of the range.

SIDES, SAUCES AND DESSERTS

The team has curated a list of recipes on the Thanksgiving menu page. Not so many as to be intimidating, but enough to give you some choices.

LEFTOVERS

How long can everything sit out?

The USDA recommends discarding any turkey left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Get everything back into the fridge before that time.

How long will the turkey keep in the fridge?

Only refreigerate what you think you're going to eat in the next three or four days. If you have more than that, it should go straight to the freezer, where it'll be good for up to 6 months.

Turkey from the fridge can be eaten cold or reheated. We recommend Lynne's ultimate turkey sandwich (which includes cream cheese, scallion, cranberry sauce and mayostard). You're welcome.

TRIVIA

What's with this trytophan business? Is that real?

Myth. It's a mild sleep-inducing agent, but only on an empty stomach. As part of a large feast, there are too many other things getting in the way of the chemical doing damage. Everybody's just tired from the calories and the wine.

Hey, did you know Minnesota is the country's top turkey-producing state?

Um, we did not.

It's true. And did you know that most of what we now consider holiday staples -- sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie -- were not a part of the first Thanksgiving?

No, but thank you for that.

ABOUT THE SHOW

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