Post Thanksgiving dinner tips here!

I’m cooking for thirteen, possibly fourteen people. It’s my turn this year.

The turkey and ham are thawing in the fridge. I’ll be making the turkey brine Wed, and putting the turkey in the brine Thu morning while the ham cooks. I won’t be stuffing the turkey, so if I get it in the oven by noon we should eat by three.

I’ll also be making green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pudding pie. Oh, and rolls. Others are bringing other desserts and the drinks.

The turkey will need to rest after cooking. I can keep the mashed potatoes hot in the crock pot. The green bean casserole can cook with the turkey.

What are you doing and how are you doing it?

Step 1: Drive to Cleveland at the butt-crack of dawn Wednesday.

Step 2: Get on plane

Step 3: Change planes in Cincinnati

Step 4: Arrive in Tennessee/at the parents’ house.

Step 5: Assist mother with whatever she’s making

Step 6: Fight with oldest brother

Step 7: Return to Ohio Saturday.
As far as I know, I’m not actually cooking anything.

How big is your turkey? According to the folks at Butterball, 3 hours is the minimum for a very small bird. You can check out their suggestions here.

I’ll be eating either a frozen pizza or a ham sandwich. If the former, it will take about fifteen minutes. If the latter, two or three. I might have some pudding afterwards too. Not sure yet.

Butterball recommend the “low & slow” method of roasting a turkey, which actually has a tendency to dry out the bird from being in the oven for hours on end.

I’ve found that it’s better to roast turkey at higher temperatures (I start at 450 for the first 30 minutes, then turn down to 350 to finish) to not only cook faster (which keeps it from drying out), but also helps achieve a beautiful, crisp skin.
ivylass: We just recently had a thread of turkey and stuffing ideas here:

I forgot to mention Thanksgiving dinner that we’re having!

My FIL has apparently ordered turkeys from somewhere else, which for one, I’m grateful for–I’ve been hit with a pretty hard case of morning (more like all-day) sickness, and the idea of doing everything this year just seems to be too much.

I’ll be making Smashed Red Skin Potatoes with Roasted Garlic, Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Amaretti Cookie Topping, Cornbread Stuffing, and Green Beans Almondine; other in-laws will be bringing other dishes. I’ll probably contribute a pie or two, too Beyond that, they’re on their own. :wink:

I’m in charge of the main dishes, since my house has the most room for tables (curse you, open floor plan!). This means I’ll be getting the turkey Tuesday or Wednesday, since I’m going with fresh rather than frozen this year. This is my routine:

Clean out the refrigerator Monday
Shop for groceries Tuesday
Collect family members’ extra tables, chairs, and serving dishes Tuesday evening
Set up tables and check the linens and silverware Wednesday morning
Bake pies and bread Wednesday afternoon
Prepare bread crumbs for stuffing Wednesday evening
Make iced tea and lemonade
Brine the turkey Wednesday night
Make stuffing first thing Thursday morning
Drain, dry, and stuff the turkey and get it into the oven between 8:30 and 10 a.m. (depending on size)
Set the table(s) and put out serving utensils
Peel potatoes and set them to boil
Put extra stuffing in oven to bake
Put the butter and salt and pepper on the table(s)

Family starts arriving at 1:00, so as they get here, I take whatever they’re bringing and put it in the appropriate place - pies and other desserts on the kitchen table, vegetable dishes, cranberry sauce, breads, and salads on the dining table(s), and wine bottles discreetly in a place where they’re readily accessible but the teetotalling side of the family isn’t as likely notice them and be offended.

Just at this moment, it’s time to take the turkey out of the oven to let it sit before carving, spoon the stuffing out into bowls, mash the potatoes, and make the gravy. All at once. Chaos ensues, I enlist my brother to take over the gravy, one child to get people things to drink, the other child to mash potatoes, and various well-meaning relatives to do whatever will get them out of the kitchen. When the gravy looks done, I get Mr. Legend to round everyone up and get them seated, and I carve the turkey in the kitchen (we discovered years ago that the drama of presenting a pristine, Rockwellian bird to the assembled table is not worth the mess of actually carving it over the tablecloth and carpet). I dish up the potatoes, gravy, and stuffing, dispatch children to the tables with those, and then bring the platter(s) of meat out. Ideally, at almost exactly 1:30, I join the family at table, we’re all thankful, and we stuff ourselves silly. Then, when people start slowing down, I clear the dishes with the help of a cousin or two, people begin to mill about again, the aforementioned cousins help scrape plates, wash silverware and load the dishwasher, and it’s time for pie. After pie, we divvy up leftovers, everyone goes home, and I run the dishwasher twice before collapsing.

And Friday morning, it’s time to wash all the linens, polish and store the silver, pack up the borrowed dishes, and ship those and the tables and chairs back to their owners. I’m tired already, and I haven’t even started the frantic Monday housecleaning that is the necessary preparation for all of this.

Actually, this year will be a breeze, because the extended family isn’t going to make it. I’ll be cooking for seven, which is not even twice the number for a regular meal, so it should take about half the effort of a normal Thanksgiving. And the people who are coming have all seen my house in its natural state, so although I’ll still clean well, I won’t feel quite so frantic about it.

I’m not cooking this year (just the green bean casserole to take to my sister’s), but I’ve done the turkey-brining method for several years.

I’ve always let it soak in the brine overnight, and then used one of those Reynold’s cooking bags to roast it in. I can cook a 18-20 pound turkey in about 3 hours with a bag. They’re very easy to use, and in addition to the brine, help keep the meat moist. They also cut down on the cooking time.

I’m going to the seafood buffet down the street. Kinda silly to cook turkey dinner for 2 people…

This is how I’m cooking it.

I use Alton’s brining method, too, although I’ve tweaked the exact recipe just a bit to my own specifications.
For the roasting method, as I said, I use the cooking bags. They’re great. My mom has always used them, and her turkeys have always been juicy and moist. My MIL’s turkeys were ALWAYS terribly dry, and she just brushed it off as that’s what happened to turkeys because you have to cook them so long. I’m talking choke-it-down Sahara Desert-dry. And tasteless, too.

After I take it out of the brine, I rinse it off, then I stuff some chopped celery and onions inside the turkey, along with some fresh rosemary and sage, and some fresh chopped garlic and about one stick of chopped-up butter.
I rub the outside of the turkey with some softened butter (real butter, not margarine), and then salt and pepper it.

For the cooking bag, you add one or two tablespoons of flour, shake it around a bit, then lay it in the roasting pan. I add some more celery and onions in the bottom, and then put the turkey in. You might need someone to help you do this, as the turkey will be slippery. Tie it shut, cut a few slits in it and you’re ready to go.
Use a meat thermometer in the thigh to check for when it’s done.

After the turkey is done, and you’ve let it ‘rest’ for 15-20 minutes, put it on a platter for carving, then you dump out the contents of the bag (the turkey drippings, the onions and celery and the herbs and the melted butter), you skim off the big chunks of veggies, and then make gravy from what’s left.

For the first time, I am roasting a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. Will there still be enough drippings to make gravy? Can I buy giblets separately to make stock? If not, could I use chicken giblets instead?

I feel silly; I have no idea what this brine-ing is. Does it add flavor? make it cook better? make the skin color better?

Don’t feel silly, I was going to ask the same thing. :wink:

Brining is basically immersing the bird for several hours in a salt water solution. Believe it or not, this does not make the bird salty, but it does make the bird more receptive to retaining moisture when it cooks. Basically, it helps prevent getting a dry turkey.

Ivylass’ link a couple of posts up is to Alton Brown’s basic recipie, which includes brining instructions. Check it out.

Here’s an SF Chronicle article on how and why to brine a turkey.

Exactly. Even the leftovers stay moist and delicious.
The first time I did it, my mother was positive the meat was going to be really salty-tasting and nasty. To her surprise, it was juicy and flavorful.
I just love proving my mother wrong. :evil smilie:

If you want T-day to go off well with as little stress as possible, make everything that you can ahead of time. For instance, last year, I assembled the stuffing, the sweet potatoes, and the cranberry relish the night before, so that all I had to do on Thursday was to put them in the oven and on the table. I f you have the side dishes already in their pans, all ready to go, it saves you a lot of time on the day.

Another way to keep your sanity is to warn people to stay out of the kitchen unless they have been requested to help. That means no sampling and no kibitzing.

You can also put your guests to work. Assign one person to watch the kids, another to set the table, and so on.

Thank you very much; I’ll definitely try brining this year.

Over at Casa H, I also make twice-baked golden potatoes, stuffing with pecans, and something green (which must be included to lull participants into feeling they’re eating something healthy). And the obligatory pumpkin pie.

The ButterBall cooking tips err on the safe side as to temperature. 170 degrees is much better than 185 or 190 degrees.

Some of my tips:

Avoid turkeys which have a “basting solution” added. It nevers tastes right.

A fresh, natural turkey really does taste better. Make sure that you smell it early in the day or the night before. If it smells like rotten eggs it is bad. I once had to return a turkey on Thanksgiving afternoon and start thawing. We didn’t eat til 10:00 PM.
Roasting the stuffing separately works well. It is safer and the turkey cooks faster.

Starting out hot and turning down the temps works well for smaller turkeys. Larger turkeys (20+ lbs) will be in the oven long enough to get a good brown skin.