All Your Thanksgiving Dinner Questions — Answered!

Got a burning (ha!) question as you're prepping for Turkey Day? Don't worry — our experts have fast solutions to every puzzler.

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November 06, 2019
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Photo by: Tetra Images/Getty

Tetra Images/Getty

By Leah Brickley for Food Network Kitchen

Worried about nailing it on Turkey Day? Bookmark this page to have our tried-and-tested expert advice at the ready for any obstacle you might encounter prepping the biggest dinner of the year. (No pressure.)

How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey, and how should I do it?

Factor in 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. Set the wrapped turkey on a rimmed baking sheet (or in a roasting pan) and thaw in the fridge.

Whoops, I totally forgot how to thaw the turkey! What do I do

Don’t worry — there's still time! But plan on waking up early on Thanksgiving morning: Submerge your wrapped bird in a pot of cold water and change the water every 30 minutes — thawing should take 2 to 3 hours for every 5 pounds.

Get the Recipe: Butter-Blanketed Turkey

Get the Recipe: Butter-Blanketed Turkey

How large of a turkey do I need for my group?

First of all, do your guests love turkey? Does anyone follow a vegetarian or vegan diet? After subtracting for any non-meat-eaters the general rule is 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per guest — and there will still be leftovers for turkey sandwiches and soup.

And how long will that turkey take to roast?

Budget 15 minutes of cooking time for every pound of turkey at 350 degrees F — when it’s done, the thigh meat should register 170 to 175 degrees F on a meat thermometer. (If you stuffed your bird, then the stuffing needs to reach 165 degrees F to ensure its’ safe to eat.) Try to let they turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving.

Is it really OK to cook stuffing inside the turkey?

Yes, you can stuff your bird, but be prepared for drier turkey. Your stuffing recipe probably calls for eggs and it's surrounded by raw turkey (at the beginning of cooking, anyway) so it's imperative that it be cooked to the safe temperature of 165 degrees F. Both the white and dark meat might finish first and dry out waiting for the stuffing. That goes double for stuffing your bird and refrigerating overnight — colder stuffing will take longer to reach 165 degrees F.

Get the Recipe: The Best Turkey Brine

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Get the Recipe: The Best Turkey Brine

Do I really need to brine my turkey? How long does it need to brine for?

Brining (allowing a concentrated mixture of salt, sugar and aromatics flavor and tenderize your turkey) can up your Thanksgiving game for sure. If you have space in the fridge, try our best turkey brine — allow for 8 to 24 hours of brining. Dry brining, which doesn’t require submerging your bird, is an easier option. Follow this dry brine recipe and refrigerate overnight. It’s also totally fine to buy a pre-brined turkey or skip the brining all together — let simple salt and butter (and gravy) do all the work.

How do I check the turkey’s temperature? Is the pop-up thermometer reliable?

We suggest you ignore that red pop-up one in the turkey, and rely on a digital meat thermometer for better accuracy. Or even better, use a probe thermometer: insert the probe in the deepest part of the thigh and set the thermometer to alert you when the temperature has reached 170 degrees F.

Do I need to baste my turkey? What’s the best way to do it?

No, you don’t have to baste your turkey. In fact, it's preferable that you don’t. Opening the oven to baste drops the temperature, which means your bird will take longer to cook. A well-seasoned turkey won’t benefit from basting.

Get the Recipe: Tuscan Turkey Roulade

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2015

Matt Armendariz, 2015

Get the Recipe: Tuscan Turkey Roulade

How do I get my turkey to have crispy, golden brown skin?

Here are the 3 rules to follow: 1. Your turkey should be bone dry — use paper towels to wipe away any moisture and then place it uncovered in the fridge overnight. 2. Coat the bird in butter or oil. For extra crispy skin go for oil; butter is about 20% water, which will evaporate during cooking and create steam — the enemy of crispiness. 3. Don’t cover the turkey while it’s cooking or resting — not even a tent of foil. Covering will only create a steamy environment.

What kind of wine goes with turkey?

Good thing turkey is versatile — wine pairing shouldn't be stressful. For red wine drinkers, go for a Pinot Noir (it’s lighter on the palate then bigger reds like Cabernet or Merlot). California and Oregon produce some excellent ones. White wine can go two ways: a dry oaked or unoaked Chardonnay or a subtly sweet Riesling. Local wine store salespeople are always eager to make suggestions, too.

FNK_ThanksgivingOpener_H

FNK_ThanksgivingOpener_H

Food Networks Kitchen’s Frozen Thanksgiving: All the classic Thanksgiving recipes, prepared in advance and frozen for THANKSGIVING/BAKING/WEEKEND COOKING, as seen on Food Network.,Food Networks Kitchen’s Frozen Thanksgiving: All the classic Thanksgiving recipes, prepared in advance and frozen for THANKSGIVING/BAKING/WEEKEND COOKING, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

What dishes (or parts of my dishes) can I make ahead of Thanksgiving? And what about way ahead – what can I freeze

Some things keep well in the fridge: Chop veggies for stuffing and side dishes, cut herbs that don’t bruise easily (save sage and basil for last-minute), and make fresh bread, mashed potatoes and even gravy and reheat. Fresh pie, salad dressings, even fancy compound butters for rolls or your turkey will hold. Cut your bread for stuffing and let it get stale at room temp for a couple days. Make cranberry sauce ahead too — it will taste better as it sits. You can also freeze your feast: follow our guide for freezing everything from turkey to mashed potatoes, pie and green bean casserole. Thaw, reheat and open some wine.

Could I even... cook the turkey the day before?

Sure, why not? The skin won’t be crispy, but it will still be satisfying. Cool your cooked bird until it's almost room temperature and carve (don't forget the wishbone!). Wrap and refrigerate. To reheat, arrange the pieces in a large baking dish, pour in some stock and couple tablespoons of butter. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F until heated through.

The Best Roasting Pans, Tested by Food Network Kitchen

We roasted our way through multiple pans to find which will guarantee you success on Thanksgiving and beyond.

Can I cook a few dishes in the oven at once?

If you have a few dishes that bake at the same temperature then absolutely bake them together — think scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole. If you want them all to finish at the same time, make a quick time chart to help plan when goes in the oven.

Get the recipe: The Best Gravy

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Get the recipe: The Best Gravy

What do I do with the turkey neck and giblets?

Turkey offal isn’t awful. In fact, it's what makes our best gravy the best: the neck and giblets are browned and give the gravy a deep and rich favor. (Turkey neck is also delicious in Italian Sunday sauce.)

Should I skim some fat from the roasting pan before I make gravy?

Fat means flavor, so unless there is an excessive amount left in your pan then keep it and make delicious gravy. If you really want to skim, then a fat separator is a handy tool: pour in the pan drippings let the fat rise to the top of the separator and pour off.

What do I do if my gravy is too lumpy?

First, is it also super thick? If yes, then whisk in a little hot stock and hopefully those lumps will loosen. If not, then pour your gravy through a fine sieve and leave those lumps behind.

And then what do I do if my gravy is too thin?

Gravy should coat your food, not soak it. To thicken it up, mix together equal parts soft butter and flour into a paste (this is called a beurre manie) and roll into small balls. Whisk one ball into simmering gravy until completely dissolved and cook for about 1 minute. Repeat until desired thickness.

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Do I need to blanch my veggies? And uh, what does blanch mean?

Blanching sounds fancy but it so isn’t: it means you par-cook something until crisp-tender in boiling and salted water and then immediately stop the cooking by plunging into ice water. It's an extra step that will allow you to quickly finish cooking vegetables while retaining their color: like sauteed green beans. You don’t need to worry about blanching for roasted vegetables or for khaki-colored (what? It’s true!) green bean casserole.

How can I magically make stale bread cubes for stuffing?

Stale bread is the best bread for stuffing. That hard and crystallized coating creates a barrier for moisture, so your stuffing won’t be a soggy mess. If your bread cubes didn’t stale the natural way, then there's a fix: dry them out in a 300 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes and let cool.

Is there any way to make stuffing without bread?

Yes! Start a new breadless stuffing tradition this year: try a grain like this rice and butternut squash version or Quinoa-Olive Stuffing. And the cornmeal in this tamale stuffing will make you forget all about bread.

Get the recipe: The Best Pumpkin Pie

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Get the recipe: The Best Pumpkin Pie

How do I keep my pumpkin pie from cracking?

The secret isn’t special: don’t overbake. Pumpkin pie has a custard filling (it has eggs and dairy), and as it bakes the proteins coagulate and shrink. If overcooked, the custard will crack as it cools. Give your baking pie a shake — it’s ready when the center just jiggles. There will be some carry-over cooking after you remove it from the oven, so it will continue to shrink as it cools. But shouldn’t crack if you remove it from the oven at the right time.

The Best Pie Dishes, Tested by Food Network Kitchen

We’ve only got eyes for pie, which is why we’re highlighting the very best pie dishes.

What I can do with leftover pumpkin puree?

Give the can a good scrape and make a batch of Pumpkin Spice Lattes or a quick Pumpkin Ginger Smoothie. Keep the oven on and bake some Whole Grain Pumpkin Scones or Pumpkin Spice Cranberry Muffins. Go savory and serve Tortellini with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce for dinner. Or freeze extra puree for up to 3 months.

Get the recipe: DIY Pumpkin Spice Blend

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Get the recipe: DIY Pumpkin Spice Blend

What’s in pumpkin pie spice? Can I make my own?

PPS is a blend of warm (think autumnal) spices — cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice and clove. Follow this recipe for exact proportions. Now 365 days of fall is possible.

And what’s in apple pie spice?

Apple pie spice is a trio of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Use it to spice up your apple pie (obviously), or it can even stand in for pumpkin pie spice in a pinch.

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