Last Thanksgiving, I had the brilliant idea of spatchcocking my turkey. I had the butcher take out the backbone so I could roast the bird, butterflied. The turkey cooks faster and the skin gets nice and crispy; even on the underside of the bird. I do this to whole chickens all the time.
Big mistake. I hadn’t considered how much space an 18-pound turkey would take, flattened out. It didn’t fit any roasting pan or sheet pan, and I ended up having to cut the bird in parts, dismembering it.
So this year, I have a new plan: I’m roasting two smaller birds—one on Wednesday and a second one on Thursday. Why this madness?
By roasting one turkey on Wednesday, I’ll be able to use the giblets to make the stuffing Wednesday night (mine calls for putting the giblets through a meat grinder). I can make turkey stock with the neck and, along with the drippings from roasting that first bird, make the gravy in advance.
For the win: I can cut up that first bird and package slices into portions for guests to take home. This way, I won’t have to jump up from the table after pumpkin pie, to carve the rest of the turkey and divvy it up. Instead, I can simply refrigerate the whole carcass of the turkey I serve, and take it apart at my leisure the next day.
What does all this say about how we do Thanksgiving at our house? 1) We like leftover turkey. 2) We like to share leftover turkey with all our guests so they can enjoy a second Thanksgiving feast. 3) While I relish cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, I hate the last-minute preparations that are usually part of it, and I am determined to streamline the work.
If you’re thinking along the same lines, even if you don’t plan to roast two turkeys like me, here are some tips for getting ahead of the game.
- Make pie crust in advance and freeze; thaw in the refrigerator overnight and roll out. You can even roll out the pie crust and fit it into a freezer-to-oven-capable pie plate before freezing. If you do this, cover the pie crust in the plate with plastic wrap and freeze firm; once frozen hard, overwrap in heavy duty foil. (You want to wait until the crust is hard before wrapping airtight in the foil, so you don’t break off fluted edges.) Thaw crust in the refrigerator, fill and bake.
- Chop celery, onion and other stuffing ingredients a day or two ahead and refrigerate. Caution: chopped onion, even stored in a couple of layers of plastic bags, will still make your fridge reek. Always put the onion in several plastic bags, then overwrap with a thick layer of newspapers, which will absorb some of the odor.
- Save empty plastic bread bags to store your prepped ingredients. I never wash them out—just shake out any bread crumbs. By reusing the bread bag once, you’ve kept a new plastic bag out of the landfill.
- Write out your menu and plan a timetable by day and hour, so you can determine what you can make in advance (cranberry sauce, gratins you can reheat, some desserts), and so you are aware of when the turkey needs to begin defrosting and when to put it in the oven. Double check your menu before you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner to make sure you haven’t forgotten a dish in the fridge, in your haste to get the party going.
The key times to be aware of at Thanksgiving, is when to begin thawing your turkey and when to put it in the oven. It always takes longer than you think. Also, allow time on your timetable to prep the bird—preheating the oven, removing the packaging, extracting the neck and giblets, seasoning, and getting it into the oven.
Thawing your Turkey:
A 20- to 24-pound turkey may take 5 to 6 days to thaw in the fridge, or 10 to 12 hours in cold water, for faster thawing. Click here for a thawing chart and check out specific thawing instructions from USDA.
Roasting your Turkey:
There are many ways to roast a turkey. Some methods require starting at a high heat, then reducing to a lower temperature. As a rule of thumb, if you are just planning to roast an unstuffed turkey at 325°F the entire time, plan on 4 ½ to 5 hours for a 20- to 24-pound turkey. Take note of this roasting chart from USDA. I no longer stuff my turkey, for food safety reasons; I bake the stuffing separately. If you plan to stuff the turkey, use a food thermometer to ensure that the stuffing temperature reaches 165 °F.
In our Friday newsletter, we’ll share recipes for some last-minute sides from the Special Fork database.
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