Just follow the list
MANHATTAN, Kan. — If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, there’s a lot to do, and it can be daunting, especially for first-timers. Here are a few hints, in chronological order, to help you get the ball rolling. In addition to the fine folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have advice from two K-State Research and Extension specialists: family and consumer science specialist Sharolyn Jackson and food safety specialist Karen Blakeslee.
1) Clean out that refrigerator
Get rid of that mostly empty bottle of pickle slices, the old pizza, and that … whatever it is with the green fuzz on it. You’re going to need room for a couple of things. At least twice. Once your refrigerator is cleaned out, it’s a great time to…
2) Buy the Turkey
The USDA suggests that when buying a whole turkey, you should plan on about 1 pound of turkey per diner. If there’s 10 people at the table, you should have a 10-pound turkey. If you’re buying a turkey breast, the scale is a bit different. Incidentally, a turkey breast can be a great option for smaller gatherings. If you’re near a turkey farm or a butcher shop, you may have a chance to enjoy a fresh turkey — but most families will be buying a frozen turkey. Which takes us to the next step in the process …
3) Thaw the Turkey
This takes time and lots of it. It’s almost impossible to start this step too soon. “It takes about a day for every five pounds of turkey,” says Blakeslee. “So for a 12-pound turkey, it’ll take two to three days.” That means putting the bird in the refrigerator on Monday evening.
“You’ll want to leave the turkey in its original wrapping, place it in a shallow container, and then place it on the lowest shelf in your refrigerator.”
If you forget, you have another option: the cold-water bath method. “This is simply done by placing the wrapped turkey in your clean, sanitized sink, and then fill it with cold water,” Blakeslee says. “Change the water about every 30 minutes to keep it fresh and it’ll take about 30 minutes per pound of turkey.”
Turkey thawing? Good! Let’s think about the rest of the meal.
4) Schedule Your Cooking
“What can be very helpful to most folks is to prepare a schedule and back-time it,” says Sharolyn Jackson. “It can be something really simple where you work backward from the time that you want your meal to begin and figure how long you’re going to need to have your turkey roasting. Be sure to allow an extra 20-30 minutes for carving the turkey and getting it on the on the serving tray. Also, you want to make sure that if you’re cooking food in a slow cooker or other small appliances, that you allow enough time for those to cook and be ready to go once again at your desired dinner time.”
5) Break Out All the Toys!
The countertop oven; the microwave oven; the slow cooker; even those new “instant pots.” If you can plug it into a wall socket and let it bake, steam, broil, simmer or roast, put it to work! Slow cookers are self-contained, so they don’t even need to be taking up valuable kitchen counter space. Put it in another room, or even out in the garage. There’s one gadget you should definitely have on hand, if you haven’t gotten one already …
6) Get A Good Food Thermometer
Yes, if you buy a frozen turkey, it will most likely have one of those red, plastic pop-up indicators; no, they are not as reliable as you think. But a simple probe-style food thermometer with a dial readout on top can be purchased for $5–$10.
When you check your turkey, place the probe of the thermometer into the meat, as deep as possible without contacting any bone. You’ll want to check three places:
- The breast
- The thickest part of the wing
- The thigh
Your official, USDA-recommended turkey temperature: 165 °F
If some parts of the meat look a wee bit pink, that’s okay, as long as you’ve reached that critical temperature of 165 °F.
7) Let’s Eat!
Okay, this one’s pretty self-explanatory, right? By now, hopefully, you’re at least thankful for this list.
8) Let’s Put Away!
It’s almost a tradition in some families that the dinner table morphs into the grazing table for the rest of the day, with uncles and cousins swooping in for a piece of turkey or pinch of stuffing. This is a tradition that needs to stop. Leaving food out is just an invitation to food-borne illness to spoil the rest of your weekend. “After you’ve enjoyed your Thanksgiving meal, you’ll want to refrigerate your leftovers within two hours,” Blakeslee says. Give everyone a food-storage container of some sort to fill up while someone focuses on the turkey. “Place the turkey that you’ve removed off the bones in a shallow container that’s about 2-3 inches deep. If you know you’re not going to use your leftovers within 2-3 days, you’ll want to freeze them for further use.”
9) Get Creative!
Thanksgiving leftovers are great on Friday, and maybe even Saturday, but they can get boring quickly. “If you don’t want to have turkey at every meal following your holiday meal,” Jackson says, “then you might want to try several different things. One way is to use divided containers — you can put some turkey and maybe leftover potatoes or other vegetables together. Then they’re ready for the microwave, or you have a quick grab-n-go lunch for work.”
One way to put a different spin on the leftovers: Stovetop Shepherd’s Pie.
In a pan on the stove, combine about 2 cups of diced turkey meat, a can of cream of chicken soup, a 1/2 cup of milk, a dash of poultry seasoning, onion powder or other seasoning, and two packages of frozen mixed vegetables. Heat all ingredients thoroughly, and then top the pan with some leftover mashed potatoes.
10) Savor Your Victory!
That’s it! Done! Set a spell … take your shoes off.