Thanksgiving Day's crowning glory is turkey and those special family side dishes. The meal only comes out perfect, however, if you do a little advance strategizing. Once you've decided on your menu, think through how to cook it. If all of your dishes have to go in the oven--and at different temperatures and times--you might have trouble. Modify your menu so that you get the turkey done first; then choreograph the rest of your prep time so that all your dishes come out together. The tips we offer will help you develop a plan, whether you're working with new recipes such as the ones here or trusted favorites.
It can take two to three days to thaw a frozen turkey. So, buy it ahead of time while the selection is still good, and plan when and how you'll thaw it. Find defrosting charts attached to the turkey, or visit www.butterball.com.
After the turkey thaws, stick your hand into the cavity and pull out the neck and giblets. They're usually wrapped in paper. If you forget this step and find these after you've finished cooking, your turkey is still safe to eat; just pull 'em out, enjoy a laugh, and go on.
Once you remove the turkey from the oven, cover it loosely with foil to allow the bird to rest. The juices absorb back into the turkey, and it carves easily. This resting is prime oven time for additional casseroles or dessert.
The Roasting Pan
A turkey is best cooked on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. If your roasting pan is missing the rack, line the bottom with 1 1⁄2 inches of roughly chopped fruits and vegetables (onions, celery, carrots, apples). These elevate the bird off the pan and add wonderful flavor. Plus, the rich pan drippings make a delicious gravy. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to picking roasting pans.
- For ease of cleanup, choose a large aluminum foil disposable pan, available at the supermarket. You may need to place it on a baking sheet for support.
- Avoid deep Dutch ovens with high sides (more than 4 inches), and don't use a lid; you'll get a steamed turkey rather than a browned roasted one.
- A good roasting pan costs from $45 to $60. We like a stainless exterior with a dark nonstick interior and sturdy handles.
- A bulb baster makes easy work of gathering pan drippings for basting the bird.
- Turkey lifters help you move the hot bird safely from the roasting pan to the serving platter or carving board.
- A timer/thermometer guarantees a completely done turkey that is moist, tender, and never overcooked. A turkey breast should cook to 170°; turkey thighs (or dark meat) should cook to 180°.
- Replacement racks for roasting pans are very inexpensive and available at grocery stores.
- At the supermarket, pick up an aluminum foil oven liner (such as the ones made by Hefty) for easy cleanup. Simply slide the flat sheet under the heating element on the bottom of an electric oven to catch spills and drips. They work well on the bottom of gas ovens too. (Check your oven manual and package directions to see if they'll work in your oven.)