The Turkey Dinner Checklist You'll Be Thankful For.
—Originally posted in November 2019 (Updated November 10th, 2020)
(These tips, tricks and recommendations are not just for Thanksgiving, but are useful for any holiday dinner where a turkey is the main event!)
If you're cooking the whole Thanksgiving dinner this year, or just a part of it, you’ve landed in the right place. Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays, but it can easily turn stressful, especially if you're preparing the whole turkey dinner and all the trimmings. With a little know-how, a bit of planning and do-ahead prep, along with the proper kitchen equipment you can avoid common Thanksgiving dinner pitfalls and make this 4th Thursday of November a day to truly give thanks.
What we'll cover —
Roasting the Turkey | Roasters | Meat Thermometers | Better Mashed Potatoes | Homemade Gravy | Carving the Turkey | Knife Sharpeners | Carving Knives | Carving Boards | Homemade Pie | In Conclusion
Roasting the Turkey.
First you need to determine the size turkey you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is one pound per person. If you love leftovers or have out-of-town guests that are staying through the weekend, bump it up to 1-1/2 pounds per person. It’s always better to have too much food than too little!
- For 8 people buy a 12-pound turkey
- For 10 People buy a 15-pound Turkey
- For 12 people buy an 18-pound turkey
- For 14 people buy a 20-pound turkey
If you're planning on more than 14 dinner guests, you may want to consider cooking two birds. It will allow for a shorter more reasonable cooking time, it will be easier to manage, and you'll have double the drumsticks! Make sure you either have another oven available for the second turkey or that your oven will accommodate both roasting pans.
The Roaster. You’ll need a sturdy roasting pan that is large enough to accommodate the size of your bird. A roaster with an inside measurement of 16” x 13” will hold a 22 to 25 pound turkey. Smaller birds 15 pounds and under will be fine in a roasting pan 14” x 10”. But remember, you can always fit a smaller bird in a larger roaster but not the other way around. Next year you may have more guests, so lean towards getting a larger high-quality roaster and you’ll be set for years. If you are buying a new larger roaster check to make sure that it will fit in your oven.
If you already have a roaster, pull it out before Thanksgiving week. Check to see if it is the right size for this year's turkey. Does it have sturdy and easy to grab handles? If your roaster is nonstick, make sure it isn't peeling or worn away. If you are in the market to replace or upgrade your roaster, we have a few favorites to recommend.
Our Roaster Recommendations.
Good. This 16” Stainless Roaster from Cuisinart features a stainless roasting rack, high sides and sturdy flared handles that are easy to reach.
Better. All Clad's 16" Hard Anodized Roaster includes a nonstick rack, sturdy upright handles, and high sides. While this roaster is very sturdy it weighs less than stainless versions making it easier to handle when cooking larger birds or roasts. This Roaster is on SALE through November 30th, 2020 for only $79.95, while supplies last!
Best. All Clad's 16" Stainless Roaster features high sides, a nonstick rack, and sturdy, upright handles. The 18/10 stainless is perfect for deglazing and making gravy and the flared edges make it easy to pour. This Roaster is on SALE through November 30th, 2020 for only $129.95, while supplies last!
Best Small Roaster. All Clad's 14" x 11" Stainless Roaster features the same quality construction as their 16" Stainless Roaster. This Roaster is on SALE through November 30th for only $99.95, while supplies last!
Best Covered Roaster. Chantal's Enamel on Steel 11 Quart Oval 3-In-One Roaster can accommodate a 22-pound turkey or two chickens! Use as a covered roaster, a high-sided open roaster or a low-sided open roaster. This Roaster is on SALE through the end of the year (2020) for only $149.95, while supplies last!
Best Copper Roaster. When you want to channel your inner Julia Child, splurge on this French Copper Roasting Pan from Mauviel. It features a tri-ply construction of polished copper for the exterior, a responsive aluminum core and 18/10 stainless steel interior surface. The handsome, oversized bronze upright handles make it easy to maneuver in and out of the oven. Come on, just say, oui!
Another Turkey Essential — An Accurate Meat Thermometer. Using an internal meat thermometer is key to tender and juicy meat that is safe to eat. We prefer probe-style thermometers because there is no need to open the oven door to see what temperature you’re at, which keeps the oven temperature constant.
Most of the probe-style models we offer also feature a timer to keep track of everything else you’ve got cooking.
They are easy to use, too. Slip the long metal probe into the innermost part of the thigh or the thickest part of the breast without hitting bone. The heat proof cord lets you close the oven door and place the control unit with display conveniently on your countertop. Set your desired temp and wait for the alarm! The USDA recommends 165˚F for turkey, but you can always cook it to a higher temperature if you so desire.
If you’ve struggled (like me) to get the dark meat cooked to your liking before the breast starts to overcook and dry out, try roasting the breast separately from the legs and thighs. Figure about 12 to 15 minutes per pound for the breast depending on the recipe and oven temperature you choose. I prefer thighs cooked to a minimum 185˚F. The internet is awash with recommendations and recipes.
Our Thermometer Recommendations.
Probe-style Thermometers. Polder’s Deluxe Thermometer & Timer combines electronic accuracy, durability, and fantastic ease of use, right out of the box! It features a wonderfully straight-forward design and comes preset with the USDA recommended temperatures so you can simply select the food you are cooking and the degree of doneness you prefer. There is also an open setting if you prefer to set to your own temperatures.
The CDN Programmable Probe Thermometer & Timer monitors temperature from as low as 32°F all the way up to 482°F and keeps time for 24 hours by the hour and minute.
A Few Other Styles of Thermometers. For a traditional leave-in style, the CDN Meat & Poultry Thermometer features a large 2" dial and a temperature range of 130˚F to 190°F. And if you're after an instant read model, the CDN Pro-Accurate Instant Read Thermometer is a good choice.
Side Dishes That Shine.
Mashed Potatoes. If this popular turkey side-kick is not on your to-do list, add it! Seriously, it's Thanksgiving, we NEED potatoes and gravy! We offer a few suggestions for creamier, more flavorful mashed potatoes that will make you proud to have them at your holiday table.
Better Mashed Potatoes. Several years ago, I learned a few tricks to making better mashed potatoes. While I realize everyone's tastes are different, we can all agree we want smooth creamy mashed potatoes that taste potato-ey. The following two tips achieve this. (I believe I discovered the first tip reading a November issue of my beloved Cook's Illustrated. The second tip I'm sure came from a food chemistry lesson from no other than our favorite food scientist, Alton Brown.)
Tip Number One. Don't peel your potatoes before you cook them. If you don't want skins in your finished dish, use a potato ricer instead of a potato masher and that will separate the skins for you. I also feel a ricer creates a smoother texture to the finished product. When you peel and cut your potatoes into pieces then cook them in water, all the flavor goes down the drain. I prefer steaming smaller sized (skin-on) potatoes rather than boiling as it affords a better texture along with a richer potato flavor. You can use a steamer pot or a steamer insert. One thing to note, we never use an electric hand or stand mixer, it can wreak havoc on the texture of your mashed potatoes.
Tip Number Two. Make sure that after ricing or mashing the cooked potatoes the FIRST ingredient you add is always BUTTER! Not just because we love butter, and we do, because adding butter before any other ingredient helps to prevent a gummy mess of your mash by coating the starchy potato molecules with fat. Trust me, it works. If you like using a ton of butter but don't want the mashed potatoes to become too salty, use unsalted butter.
After you've followed the first two tips you can stir up a little fun of your own! Add milk, half and half, cream, whatever you like followed by salt & pepper to taste. Add roasted garlic, sautéed leeks, minced chives, I could go on and on.
I would however, be remiss if I did not mention an unusual mashed potato ingredient that my mom swore by...READY? Mayonnaise. Yes really. A couple of heaping tablespoons of mayo always found their way into her pot of mashed spuds. No idea where she got the idea, but this family of potato farmers loved them! It most likely has something to do with the fat and starch like the butter-in-first trick. Google it, or you could always ask Alton Brown.
Homemade Turkey Gravy. Your gravy is only as good as the stock and the pan drippings you use. Pan drippings are best when you keep a bit of stock or other liquid in the bottom of the pan while roasting. Doing this will prevent burnt bits from making your gravy bitter. You can also add cut up veggies like onions, carrots, or celery to the liquid to add further depth of flavor. Since they'll be in the oven for a while, chop up larger chunks of veggies instead dicing.
When you’re not making your own poultry stock, Swanson Chicken Stock is my go-to supermarket brand. It’s widely available and makes a fine gravy when added to good pan drippings.
Before adding in the thickener it’s time to get rid of all the grease. Fat separators make it easy to get rid of all the unwanted fat while not wasting a drop of all that the savory goodness. Here is one of our favorites.
OXO 4-Cup Trigger Fat Separator is quite simple to use, pour your pan liquids through the strainer lid and allow fats to separate. A soft grip handle with trigger lets you pour your stocks and gravies from the bottom, leaving the fat behind!
When it comes time to add the thickener, another supermarket staple works very well: Wondra. This superfine, quick-mixing flour will reduce the chance you’ll develop lumps and as the label says, your gravy will be “deliciously smooth every time!”
Carving the Turkey.
A sharp knife is always a safer knife, so let’s start there. Take a close look at your carving and kitchen prep knives well before Thanksgiving week so you have ample time to sharpen them. All five Kitchen Kapers stores offer professional kitchen knife sharpening. If you aren’t lucky enough to live near a Kitchen Kapers, you CAN successfully sharpen your own knives. We carry an array of electric and hand-held manual sharpeners online that will get the job done. If you’re lacking a quality carving knife set or it’s just time to update or replace them, we also offer a full-range of carving knives and carving sets. You'll find a variety of price-points to fit everyone's budget online and in our stores.
Are My Knives Sharp? To tell whether your knives are sharp you can use any type of citrus you have on hand. If your knife won’t cut cleanly through an orange, lemon, or lime like it was butter, your edge needs to be sharpened. Here are a few of our most popular knife sharpeners.
Our Knife Sharpener Recommendations.
If you’re in the market for an electric sharpener, the new Wusthof Easy Edge Electric Knife Sharpener won’t disappoint. It features a belt-grinder design inspired by commercial sharpening equipment. The Easy Edge is created for Wusthof PET blades but is suitable for most high-carbon stainless steel edges. Two easy to use guides position blades perfectly for a precise 15 edge, while an integrated timing system ensures safe sharpening.
Don’t discount the effectiveness of a good hand-held sharpener. I keep it in my knife drawer and use it often to keep my knives in tip-top condition.
Here's a hand-held manual sharpener that is very affordable and very easy-to-use, Wusthof’s Two-Stage Hand-Held Knife Sharpener. This dual stage sharpener features a soft grip handle and is ideal for keeping a fine edge on all your knives and it's around $20. It features two stages, a coarse carbide stage to sharpen dull knives and a fine ceramic stage to give you a polished, razor sharp edge.
Our Carving Knife Recommendations.
Consider a Carving Knife Set and you’ll always have what you need. Our favorite set is the Wusthof Classic 2-Piece Carving Set which includes two essential carving pieces: an 8" Carving Knife with a Hollow Ground Edge and a 6" Straight Meat Fork. The Hollow Edge Carving Knife is ideal for cleanly slicing through larger cuts of meat, fruits or vegetables, and its unique edge helps prevent foods from sticking to the blade as you slice. The Straight Meat Fork is perfect for holding the roast as you carve and transporting meat slices from the carving board to a serving platter. It's also on 20% Off through 1/31/2021 or while supplies last.
If you're looking for just a carving knife, we love this top-of-the-line Classic 8" Carving Knife from Shun. It is unabashedly American in profile. Its contoured edge and fine upturned tip create the unique "up-down-up" line that helps it slice cleanly through boneless sections and maneuver nimbly around joints. There is no better choice for the Thanksgiving turkey (or any other roasted bird), leg of lamb, rib roasts, or even a delicate poached side of salmon.
Shop our entire Collection of Carving Knife Sets »
Shop our entire collection of Carving & Slicing Knives »
Carving Boards — Your Knife’s Best Friend. To keep from damaging your kitchen knives always use wooden, food-grade polyethylene or polypropylene, bamboo, or some wood fiber boards. Never use your knives directly on hard surfaces like marble, granite, quartz, or stainless countertops. It’s a big no-no. Glass boards are also not suitable for cutting but can make nice serving boards.
Our Carving & Prep Board Recommendations.
Carve up that gorgeous turkey on an equally gorgeous board, the J.K. Adams Farmhouse Carver Board. This generously sized (20” x 14”) cutting board is perfect for any carving or chopping job. Made from maple with a mineral oil finish, it features channels carved along the sides of the board to catch juices and to help keep your counter top clean.
This Set of 2 Bamboo Boards from Totally Bamboo is made from finely-crafted 100% Moso bamboo. Each board is lightweight for comfortable use, but also exceptionally durable. Perfect for everyday kitchen prep.
Joseph Joseph’s Set of 3 Pop Chopping Mats makes food prep so much easier and safer. The color-coded set helps you prevent cross contamination by keeping your meat, poultry, and vegetable prep separate. The flexible, lightweight mats can be lifted and bent, to direct food into pans and pots and food waste right into the trash. Each board features a 'hole' detail in the corner which allows you to join the boards together and hang them for easy storage.
Shop our entire Collection of Carving Boards »
Keep your wooden cutting and carving boards in peak condition with these Wood Oils & Creams.
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