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Ah, Thanksgiving.  It’s a day many people look forward to because we get to combine our two greatest loves; family and food.  However, nothing kills the mood faster than realizing the items on your plate don’t taste half as good as it looked.  Whether you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner or you’re a seasoned pro, you want it to go off without a hitch.  Here are some common ways people screw it up and how you can avoid becoming the laughing stock of your family.

Not thawing your turkey early enough

The safest way to thaw a turkey is to put it in a pan and give it a few days in your fridge.  Leave it in its original packaging and sit it breast side up.  You’ll need about 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.  However, waiting until the last-minute doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost.  You’ll just need to take a different approach to speed up the process.  Leave the turkey in its packaging but place it in cold tap water with the breast side down.  You must change the water every 30 minutes.  The thawing time will take about 30 minutes per pound.  Here’s a quick cheat sheet on how long both methods will take based on the turkey weight.

Turkey weight Fridge thawing time Cold water thawing time
4 to 12 lbs. 1 to 3 days 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 lbs. 3 to 4 days 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 lbs. 4 to 5 days 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 lbs. 5 to 6 days 10 to 12 hours

You’ll know your bird is ready to go when the breast meat feels springy and the legs and wings move loosely.  There also won’t be any ice crystals inside and you’ll be able to easily remove the giblets.

Underestimating your cooking time

The best meals take time.  When you’re in a rush, you’re more likely to cut corners or forget key ingredients.  Once you have a menu in place, decide what dishes can be made in advance and what needs to be saved for Thanksgiving Day.  Cooking times can vary depending on the type of stove you have so always give yourself more time than the recipe suggests.  By the way, Thanksgiving isn’t the time to gamble with a recipe you’ve never tried before.  So, stick to dishes you already know how to make even if it’s not traditional items.

Not cooking your turkey to the proper temperature

Roasting a turkey can be tricky business.  Take it out too early and your turkey can make people sick.  Leave it in too long and your bird will be dry as the Sahara.  The key to avoiding disaster is to properly check the turkey’s temperature.  Toss the plastic pop-up thermometer that most turkeys come with and invest in a meat thermometer instead.  Pop-up thermometers are usually set for 180°F which will leave your turkey overcooked.  To check your bird, stick the thermometer in the meatiest part of the thigh but avoid hitting the bone.  You’ll know it’s ready when the temperature holds steady at 165°F.  If your turkey starts getting dark too quickly, don’t turn down the oven.  Instead, cover the turkey with aluminum foil to slow down the browning.  Once you take it out the oven, let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Helpful tip: Forget what the name implies, stuffing doesn’t belong inside the turkey.  Baking them together will result in an overcooked bird or undercooked stuffing, there’s no in-between.  Feeding your guests undercooked food puts them at risk for salmonella poisoning.  Save yourself the headache and just cook the dishes separately.

Throwing away the turkey drippings

Why are you pouring all that delicious goodness down the drain?  Rather than let your turkey drippings go to waste, use it as a base to make your gravy.  A basic recipe includes:

  • ¼ cup turkey fat or butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pan drippings
  • 1-2 cups broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Simply pour the pan drippings into a measuring cup and skim off the fat.  Instead of throwing it away, place the fat in a saucepan over medium-high heat and stir in the flour to make a roux.  Give it a couple minutes then pour in the pan drippings.  Once it forms a thick paste, add the broth.  From there, you’ll just sprinkle in some salt and pepper to taste.  Voila!

Trying to do everything yourself

We know you want to impress your guests but don’t make life harder than it needs to be.  There’s nothing wrong with using pre-made ingredients instead of doing everything from scratch.  Also, if someone volunteers to bring a dish or lend a helping hand, take them up on the offer.  This will ensure that you knock out everything on your “To Do list” without getting too overwhelmed.  The last thing you want to do is have a meltdown in front of your guests or serve a midnight dinner because you just had to do everything yourself.