2. Shop Smart: 3 Tips to Streamline Your Trip
Don’t get tripped up with big decisions at the grocery store. Here’s what you need to know about buying Thanksgiving’s essential ingredients. .
What’s the Deal with “Heritage” Breed Turkeys? Selecting Your Bird
Frozen turkeys are just fine and what most Americans purchase. But fresh turkeys have become more popular in recent years. Often, fresh birds must be ordered in advance and picked up a few days before Thanksgiving. If you’re buying a fresh, heritage-breed bird, be aware that the meat will be more flavorful, but less fatty, and therefore less juicy and tender. This is because these types of birds get a lot more exercise than the standard frozen turkeys for sale at the grocery store. Because of the difference in fat content, it’s even more important not to overcook heritage breeds. Additionally, their bones are denser, so they can be considerably more difficult to carve. It’s still doable—just take your time and be patient.
- Do the Type of Potatoes Really Matter? Short Answer: Yes
The best potatoes for Do-Ahead Mashed Potatoes, our crowd-favorite holiday casserole, are Russets or Idahos. (Most Idaho potatoes are Russets, but labeled with the state’s name, while potatoes labeled “Russets” are grown in many different states.) For traditional mashed potatoes that will please the masses, Russets are your top tater. They’re easy to peel, light and starchy. Slightly sweet Yukon Golds are just slightly waxy, and do well in many different dishes. They will also stand up to mashing without getting pasty. Waxy potatoes like red potatoes and fingerling potatoes are great for potato salads but pass on them for mashed recipes.
- Yams? Sweet Potatoes? How to Buy the Right Spud.
This recipe for Classic Candied Sweet Potatoes, another favorite among our home cooks, uses orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. If you have trouble identifying them at the store, use your thumbnail to scratch a bit of the skin off to reveal the color of the flesh. Some grocery stores now carry light-fleshed sweet potatoes which are not the right pick for this recipe.
3. Make Way for the Bird (and the cranberries and pumpkin pie, and … )
Clean out the fridge the week before. Can you take out anything that will survive at room temperature? Apples, oranges, lemons, limes, shelf-stable sauces and condiments that last longer refrigerated but technically don’t have to be to remain safe are all great candidates. Can anything living in your fridge move to your freezer?
4. Save on Stress, Cook a Bird Ahead
Have a big crowd coming, or really enjoy leftovers? Consider making two smaller birds. Roast one the day before. Then, carve it and use the drippings to make the gravy, so all you have to do is reheat the carved bird in a warm oven and the gravy on the stovetop, or in the microwave – simply whisk until smooth. Make the second bird on Thanksgiving Day, so everyone can enjoy the beauty (and aroma) of a perfectly roasted turkey. This lets you skip the last-minute stress of carving a bird and making gravy. If you want to serve the second bird that day, you can carve while everyone is digging into the first one or wait and carve it a little later for leftovers.
5. Skip the Bird for Crispy Stuffing
While it’s technically safe to cook stuffing inside a turkey, it’s in no way ideal. You usually end up overcooking your meat while trying to get the stuffing to the safe internal temperature of 165F. Air circulation helps food crisp, brown and cook evenly. When you stuff a turkey, you’re taking away air circulation through the cavity for the bird, and you’re also taking it away from the stuffing, which will brown and crisp more beautifully in a casserole dish. So, we recommend cooking the stuffing separately, in a casserole dish, for ease and safety, but also for best results for both dishes.
6. How to Keep Your Turkey Warm
You will often read “loosely tent the cooked turkey with foil” to avoid steaming the turkey under the foil and softening the skin. Once it’s cooled, just enough to handle, you’ll want to go ahead and carve the turkey, then cover it loosely with foil until ready to serve. If you need to hold the finished turkey for considerably longer, a 200F oven is your best bet. You can hold it carved on an oven-safe platter, covered loosely with foil, or hold it whole on the roasting rack. If you’re already using the roasting pan to make the gravy, no problem, just transfer the turkey, rack and all, to a sheet pan big enough to accommodate the rack. Remember that there will be juices collected in the cavity of the bird, which can spill out and burn you when you’re moving the turkey.
7. Tips on Carving a Turkey
If possible, don’t carve the turkey at the table. It’s way harder to do, and it’s almost 100 percent guaranteed to muck up your tablecloth. Let everyone see the turkey, even take a selfie with it if they want, but leave that bird on a big cutting board, preferably with a groove, which I call the moat, to catch any drippings and keep them off your countertop and floor. Let it rest until it doesn’t burn your fingers. Wear disposable latex or nitrile gloves if you need to. Take your time carving. Plate it beautifully on an impressive platter. No one will think you didn’t actually cook it whole.
While an electric knife was popular at my parents’ house, I think they’re loud and a little over-the-top. You don’t need that much power. You don’t even need a long, unwieldy carving knife. You need a sturdy chef’s knife that’s comfortable to use and appropriate for the size of your hands, preferably of German origin. German-style knives make quick work of carving, cutting through light bones without issue. Japanese-style knives are great for intricate work with vegetables and fish but are generally too delicate for carving large pieces of meat. The breast skin often separates from the meat when slicing. That’s normal. Just go slowly and keep the skin and meat slices matched up so they still look nice when you plate them.
8. How to Keep Mashed Potatoes Warm
Mashed potatoes are notorious for cooling off too fast. If you’re worried about keeping the potatoes warm throughout the meal, you can transfer the hot potatoes to a 3-quart slow cooker and keep warm on “Low” heat setting for an hour or “Warm” heat setting for up to two hours. You can even skip the casserole step entirely by storing the cooked potatoes in microwaveable containers and microwaving, stirring often, until steaming. Then, transfer to the slow cooker.