What are the chances that the person mainly responsible for Thanksgiving dinner for a large family or assorted crowd can actually enjoy the day? Unfortunately, most people who prepare a large Thanksgiving dinner remember the stress of getting everything done in time for the celebration more than the joys brought on by the holiday.
There are ways to lessen the anxiety and many of the related chores can easily be done well ahead of “Turkey Day” itself. Take the time to sit down and plan which items those are and you will be very glad that you made the effort.
What can I do in October?
Mid to late October (or into the first week of November) is a great time to order your turkey. If you will not be ordering and just buying it in the grocery store, do that as soon as they are available. Make sure there is room in your freezer to store it and keep in mind that it will need to be thawed days ahead of time.
Another chore that should be done in October or at least very early November is the actual planning. What will be on the menu? If you will be asking your guests to bring one of the dishes, decide which dish will get assigned to which guest.
In addition to buying your turkey in late October, also pick up other things you know you will need. There is no reason to wait for last-minute crowds at the grocery store. This includes the cranberry sauce, pumpkin puree and evaporated milk for the pies, sugar and flour for baking, frozen vegetables if you will be using them, potatoes, etc.
What can I do during the first two weeks of November?
This is a good time to make sure everything is going according to plan. Have all of your guests told you that they will indeed be attending? Do you have silver to polish or carpets to clean?
If you usually need to borrow chairs or tables (check with a church or school if this is the case) now is the time to arrange this. Let them know when you will be picking up the items and how long you will need them. If you can’t borrow these items, you will need to check into renting them.
Write down every ingredient you need for each dish you will be making. Unless something needs to be fresh, buy it now instead of waiting. Pick up everything that you didn’t already buy in October. Don’t forget the spices you will be using. What drinks will you be serving? Buy coffee, wine, tea, or soft drinks now.
This is also the time to make sure you have the non-food items that you will need. Do you have a good roasting pan for the turkey? Do you have all the napkins and decorations you will need? Is your tablecloth clean and free of wrinkles? Don’t forget things like aluminum foil.
Check your cupboards to make sure you have enough place settings, pots for cooking, and serving dishes and utensils.
This would be an excellent time to do some baking. If you can make the pumpkin pies now for freezing, for instance, by all means do so. Be sure to wrap your baked goods and pies very well. This way you will be able to have freshly-baked taste when you serve them.
It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving Thursday!
This will most likely be the last chance you have to get some things done before the “anxiety period” starts in a few days. What kind of tasks can you do the weekend before Thanksgiving?
For one thing, remember that a very large turkey, if frozen, may need to start thawing this weekend. Never allow a turkey to thaw at room temperature; thaw it in the refrigerator. Since a 20 pound turkey will take at least 4, possibly 5 days to thaw, it really needs to be put into the refrigerator this weekend. If you happen to have a smaller turkey, like 8 or 10 pounds, you will just need a few days for thawing.
Experts recommend allowing 24 hours for each four pounds of turkey. Another thing to remember is that a fully thawed turkey can remain refrigerated safely for a couple of days (no more than four days, though); so don’t be afraid that you will be thawing it too early to put it into the refrigerator the weekend prior to Thanksgiving.
Another thing to do on this last weekend before the big day is to make space in your refrigerator not just for the turkey to thaw, but also for all the containers of leftovers that it will soon be hosting. This is also a good time to make sure you actually own enough containers to hold the leftovers.
Do any of the baking that you can manage this weekend. Decide which things can be refrigerated until Thursday and which you will want to freeze for those few days.
Arrange to have any tables and chairs that you had to borrow picked up this weekend. If you are renting them by the day, hold off on this until the day before Thanksgiving.
Getting closer! Wednesday is here!
The day before Thanksgiving will most likely be one where the anxiety is already starting to become evident, but doing some of the chores today will still allow you to enjoy more of your holiday tomorrow.
Some items to plan for today include:
Will anything you are making or serving need to chill overnight? Make it today if that is the case.
Chop, dice, and mince vegetables today. Keep any of them in ice water that will discolor without it.
Prepare your side dishes and hors d’oeuvres today. There is no need to spend Thanksgiving morning cooking what could have been done the day before and reheated without a change in taste.
Make sure that everything you have cooked or baked previously is being allowed to thaw today.
“Turkey Day” has arrived!
One of the largest tasks that must be saved for today is roasting the turkey. (See below) The stuffing has to be put into the bird today, do not be tempted to do that at any other time in the process. It simply is not safe to stuff the turkey ahead of time and you certainly don’t want your guests spending the evening in the emergency room from food poisoning!
Prepare to make or reheat all of the dishes that you will be serving. If you can recruit someone else to peel potatoes, it is a big time saver. You may have chosen to do this step the day before and kept the potatoes in water overnight . . . that will work fine.
Start coffee brewing if you will be serving it.
But this is my first turkey!
The key to not feeling undue panic over roasting your first turkey is to do some homework ahead of time. Read extensively and make a list. Print anything out that you can find on the matter and study it at least a month ahead of time. Knowing every step well enough in advance is the key to having a successful “first turkey.”
The big “how-to” . . .
1. Make sure the turkey has been totally thawed (using either the refrigerator method or a cold water method). Preheat the oven to 325 degrees at this point.
2. If you will be putting stuffing inside of the turkey, do not pack it tightly. Do it loosely and put what doesn’t fit into a casserole dish for baking. If you would rather not stuff your first turkey, just bake it all in a casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
3. Place the turkey with its breast up in your roasting pan. (2 inches deep or more) If you haven’t previously removed the bag of giblets and the neck (giblets are stored in the cavity of the bird) now is the time to do it. Many families have long standing jokes about someone roasting his or her first turkey and forgetting to remove the giblet bag first, but you most likely want to be remembered for a great turkey instead.
4. Brush a coating of oil over the turkey. This will not only give it a nice color when roasted, but it will help to keep the meat moist as well.
5. That’s all the pre-preparation that is needed; now just put it into the oven. It will be uncovered at this point.
6. Roast the turkey with these guidelines:
If 10 to 18 pounds and unstuffed, roast for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
If 10 to 18 pounds and stuffed, roast for 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours
If 19 to 23 pounds and unstuffed, roast for 3 1/2 to 4 hours
If 19 to 23 pounds and stuffed, roast for 4 1/2 to 5 hours
If larger than 23 pounds, roast according to wrapper instructions
7. When the turkey is 2/3 done, put foil over the breast and drumsticks to prevent the meat from getting too dark and crisp before the roasting is finished.
8. After the roasting is completed, (this will be 180 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer placed in the meatiest part of the thigh next to the body. If stuffing is in the bird, its temperature should be 165 degrees) allow it to rest for about 20 minutes for the juices to redistribute. If you carve it too soon, the meat will not be as moist as it would have been if allowed to sit for a while.
. . . And one last piece of vital advice
First and foremost, be sure to enjoy the holiday and the loved ones who have gathered with you. Thanksgiving only comes once a year and it should create lovely memories of family moments, not memories of stress and exhaustion due to not being prepared.