Thanksgiving tips and tricks: Part 1


Welcome to November, or rather welcome to a whole month of trying to get someone else to host Thanksgiving dinner.  In our normal recipe blog we explore one of our favorite side dishes to bring when we convince our sister that it is her turn to host (for the third year in a row).  But we all know that the thing that makes people the most nervous when hosting Thanksgiving the first time is the bird itself.  So we are doing another 3-part tips and tricks blog on hosting that one meal that is all about being thankful, especially being thankful for wine.  We start with a “traditional” turkey day, then we talk about turkey day outside (read BBQ).  Part three is a vegetarian/vegan day.


First up we will talk about a “traditional” Thanksgiving

So, your sister conned you into hosting for the third time in a row, or you are a newlywed and have insisted that this year everyone is coming over, or you just forgot that Thanksgiving is coming up and want some quick pointers, we’ve got you. It may seem tempting to think that first you need a menu.  But realistically your menu will be influenced by who will be at your table.  If there are a lot of kids, don’t put in the effort to make quinoa and spinach risotto, if your vegan brother in law is there don’t serve fondue as your main course.  More importantly decide how you are going to host.  Since Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the people and things in your life it is totally acceptable to make it a potluck.

Tip #1 Do not think that because you are hosting that you have to provide everything!

Tip #2 Don’t be a slave to tradition, adapt to what is good for you and your family!

An easy way to parcel out who is bringing what is to say that you will provide the turkey, and gravy (you need the turkey juice for really good gravy anyway), then ask people what they would like to contribute.  This is a great way to get a wide variety of food with less effort for everyone involved, which means more time for eating, watching football, drinking, and trying to prove to your niece that the Earth is really not flat. If your family and guests are close, you can absolutely ask them to bring something specific that you know that they make well or will enjoy making.  For instance if your sister-in-law can’t cook, but makes spectacular cheesecake, don’t make her bring a pumpkin pie for the sake of tradition, ask her to make her cheesecake.  Everyone will be happier with the outcome.

The menu

Okay, for some reason, you have decided to host the whole meal and you will be making a traditional feast. In that case your menu will look something like this

Turkey– you should aim for about a pound per person, unless of course you have mostly children in which case you can get away with a little less.  Or if you have really big eaters coming you might want to go a little more than that, which will leave you some leftovers.

Stuffing– If you buy a package it will tell you about ¼-1/2 cup per person is a serving.  However, people tend to eat more at Thanksgiving and thus, Butterball turkey suggests at least 1 cup of finished stuffing per person.

Mashed potatoes– Potatoes should follow the same rule as stuffing.  Remember that you can use leftover mashed potatoes for tons of leftover recipes, including our favorite: Shepard’s pie.

Gravy- This depends on if your family puts it only on the potatoes or if (like our family) it graces almost everything on the plate (even the cranberry sauce in some cases).  To be safe think about 1/3 cup of finished gravy per person.

Green beans– If you are serving these blanched or steamed think 1 ½ pounds per person.  But if you are making green bean casserole with them, one recipe of casserole serves about 6.  So you will need to multiple the recipe (it’s on the onion package, we all use it don’t pretend) for every person over 6 to get how many time you need to make the recipe.

Cranberry sauce– This also depends.  If the sauce is out of a can and sits on the table for traditions sake and nobody actually likes it, don’t serve it. It’s a waste of food.  But if people like it regardless of if you serve canned or fresh you should think about ¼ cup finished sauce per person.

Rolls-at least 2 per person.  Unless we are there then think 4 per person (we will eat more than that but we will just snag yours off of your plate).  Note that some people will still want butter on their rolls even if there is gravy.  It doesn’t take much time to put a block of butter on a plate, but if you want to really wow them, then whip the butter.  It’s easy to do, easier to use, and makes you look like a cooking pro.

Pumpkin pie-assume that everyone will want one slice.  In an 8” pie that’s 6 servings.  Don’t be stingy with pie.

Whipped cream– A lot of people use cool whip.  There is nothing wrong with that, especially if you have people who are lactose intolerant.  You can also use the whipped cream that comes in a can, but if you are going to use real whipped cream anyway it is an easy thing to do if you have a mixer, and only takes 3 ingredients. (Sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla)


Sample schedule (including steps on cooking the turkey):

Three days before:

-Go grocery shopping.  Don’t assume that you are going to find a secret time where no one else is shopping, it is the nature of the beast.  At least there will be less people this far out and none of our produce will degrade in this amount of time. It also gives you time if you forget/can’t find something.

The Day before:

-Whip cream, put it in the fridge.

-make the pumpkin pie(s) as long as you don’t have an ant or mouse problem these can sit out on the counter overnight

-If your turkey is frozen, put it in the fridge to defrost. Depending on how large your turkey is you may want to do this two days before.  Remember to practice safe meat handling practices:

The turkey needs to go on a cooking sheet with an edge to capture any liquids.

Put it on the bottom of the fridge so it doesn’t accidentally drip on anything.

Keep it covered.

-If you are making cranberry sauce make it today and keep it in the fridge.

Day of:

Timing for the turkey depends on how big the turkey is and what time you want to eat.  Let’s say you have 12 people and you all want to eat after the traditional game so 4:30ish.

11:00- prep your turkey.

We don’t brine turkey in our house because we like roasted turkey.  A lot of people think roasting makes poultry dry, but not if you cook it correctly.

Some suppliers now sell turkey without the gizzards, but most turkeys still come with the organs inside.  You need to look.  Usually the organs etc. are left in a little packet that you can pull out all together, however some suppliers will leave the organs in the cavity loose. You really just need to reach into the cavity and pull out the organs.

Tip #3 if the last sentence made you queasy, don’t host Thanksgiving dinner (want to be really weirded out here is the FDA’s official page on turkey giblets).

Once the cavity is empty, make sure that you drain any liquids in such a way that they will not come into contact with anything else.  You can pat the bird dry and a lot of people tell you to do this, but we never have.

Tip# 4 You will wash your hands a lot, be sure that at the end of the day you have balm or lotion to counteract all the hand washing.

Put the bird either directly into your roasting pan with the chest side up.  Or, put it on a roasting rack that fits in your roasting pan.  The difference is if you don’t use a roasting rack the turkey will cook in its own juices and fat.  If you use a roasting rack, you will get a crisper skin and it will be a little healthier as the fat has dripped away.

Wash your hands.

Gather your favorite things to flavor with, this is what we use:

A large orange, lemon, sage, red pepper flakes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary, fresh oregano, sea salt, peppercorns

-using a sharp paring knife we poke slits into the orange all over.  Then we put it as far into the cavity that we can.  This adds moisture from the inside and helps keep your bird from drying out.  It also add a slight citrus flavor.

-roll the lemon on the counter with the palm of your hand.  You are going to hand juice it and this makes it easier to get juice out.

-Cut it and squeeze it all over the turkey.

-drizzle olive oil over the turkey.  If you are using a roasting rack, it is a good idea to coat the back too.  You can use an oil mop to do this, or a clean kitchen towel.  The olive oil will keep you from having to baste the turkey to keep it moist.

-Add your seasonings.  We do this one layer at a time with sage going down first.  Most people use poultry seasoning.  Poultry seasoning is essentially sage with other things thrown in.  The signature smell of poultry seasoning all comes from the sage.  We are going to use fresh herbs because we have been growing that herb garden on our windowsill all summer right?

Tip # 5: You can plant a poultry seasoning garden.

-Don’t worry about being too fussy about getting all the rosemary off the stick or anything like that, these herbs are going to impart flavor, but will likely not be eaten straight.

-Have a light touch with the salt.  So much of traditional Thanksgiving has heavy sodium in it and nobody really needs that.  Remember that in this case you are using it just to give a slight enhancement to the myriad of other flavors that you are putting on the bird.  A lot of the time we don’t use salt at all.

-Tuck the wings if you want, it helps later with carving.  You can also close the legs here with twine, but you don’t have too, and we don’t do anything not completely necessary on days like this.

-preheat your oven to 350°.


Place your oven safe meat thermometer in the turkey.  This can be a pop up thermometer or a regular meat thermometer.  The key words here are Oven-Safe.

Tip# 6 Yes, the thermometer can go in right with the bird.  Just make sure that it is in a fleshy part (like between the thigh and breast) and not touching a bone which will give you false readings.

Put the bird in the oven.  Set a time for 2 hours.  Don’t open the oven unless you have too (like it’s on fire or something) until the timer goes off.


The timer went off! Open the oven and loosely cover the turkey with aluminum foil.  If you are not a foil person, you can use a lid but it has to have plenty of space around the bird.  Put the bird back in the oven and close it up.  Set the timer for 1 hour

-potato prep. If you are using red potatoes (which we prefer) wash them, and throw them in a deep pot.  Then fill the pot with water until it covers the potatoes and put it on to boil.  If you are using potatoes that need to be peeled, now is the time to start peeling then putting them in the pot.

Green bean casserole- put together your casserole.  Don’t put it in the oven yet, if you have room in the fridge put it there to rest.


The potatoes should be done by now.  Don’t rely on a timer for potatoes if they are small potatoes or if you cut them small then start checking them around the 15 minute mark.  It can take up to 30 or 35 minutes if you did not cut them small.  They are done when a fork goes in and out easily.

Drain them and immediately make your mashed potatoes.  Keep them in the pot with the heat off on the stove to keep warm.


The timer went off again!  Check the turkey temp.  You want it to read 180° if you are measuring in the thigh.  As a rule of thumb Health department regulation require all food to be cooked to 180° and to be held and served at no lower than 140.  This is good to know, because you don’t want people to get sick.

If the turkey isn’t quite there put it back in.  Check it again in 20 minutes.

-make your stuffing


Your turkey should be done.  Pull it out and let it rest while you make gravy.

You should use the turkey dripping in the pan to make gravy, but if you don’t and just make store bought that doesn’t have to be done until 10 minutes before you eat.


Put rolls in the oven to warm

Set your table

Open your red wine to breathe before you eat.


Pull the rolls out! Don’t forget them.

Put food into serving dishes.  Don’t forget to put appropriate serving tools with the dishes as you bring them out. If you have to (or want to) put a dish directly out without transferring it, remember that excessive heat is bad for your table, so put down a trivet first.


Bring out your pretty turkey on a turkey platter and make someone else cut it.


When no one else will cut it, remember that you want to start with severing the joints on the thighs and legs.  Then the wings.  To cut the breast make a deep cut along the breastbone.  Then cut horizontal slices until you meet the first cut, now you have successfully sliced turkey.


-After dinner

Eat your pie, drink your wine, and take the offers that you will get to help with the cleanup.  We hear that there is probably a good movie streaming online that you want to see.

Want more information with less witticisms?  Try the Butterball official page, where they don’t talk…well…turkey.

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