Common Thanksgiving Mistakes and How To Avoid Them
Common Thanksgiving Mistakes and How To Avoid Them
Your mashed potatoes are gummy
When mashed potatoes are over-worked (which is easy to do), the starches in the potatoes quickly become stiff and gluey. Instead of using a masher, try using a food mill or a potato ricer. This inexpensive gadget presses cooked potatoes into small pieces, so all you have to do is gently fold in your warm milk and butter and voilá! A fluffy, smooth mash.
Your turkey is still frozen when it’s time to roast
This is probably the most common mistake that cooks make on Thanksgiving day. If you’re buying your turkey frozen, give it at least 36 hours to defrost in your fridge. The rule of thumb is usually 24 hours of defrosting time for each 5 pounds of frozen turkey. But if you forgot to start early and you’re in a real bind, you can submerge your (wrapped) turkey in a pot of cold water. Change out the water every 30 minutes.
Your turkey is dry, raw (or both!)
There are a few ways to avoid an undercooked (or overcooked) turkey. First and most necessary, invest in a good instant-read thermometer. We like the affordable and reliable ThermoPop from ThermoWorks. In the thickest part of the meat, avoiding any bones, test your turkey’s temp in both the breast and the thigh. You want to take your bird out of the oven when it’s hovering around 160 degrees—it will continue to cook as it rests. Secondly, don’t stuff your turkey. Not only is it unsanitary (the stuffing soaks up raw juices from the turkey that will not heat to a safe temperature without overcooking your bird), but the stuffing also absorbs all of the meat’s moisture, drying it out. Lastly, consider spatchchocking your turkey. By cutting out the bird’s back bone and then pressing it flat through the breast, the turkey lies flatter and cooks more evenly. You can have your butcher do this for you, but it’s an easy technique to learn.
The turkey skin is flabby
For extra-crispy turkey skin, be sure to pat your turkey dry with paper towels before it goes in the oven. This is especially important if you’re wet-brining your turkey. Any excess moisture on the surface will prevent the skin from browning and crisping.
You don’t have enough drippings to make your gravy
Easily the most stressful part of finishing up your Thanksgiving meal is making the gravy while hungry guests look on. Also, if you don’t have enough drippings from your bird, you have no choice but to serve a less-than-desirable, bland gravy. Avoid this whole situation entirely and make your gravy in advance! A few weeks before Thanksgiving, buy a bunch of turkey parts from your butcher (necks, wings, etc…). Roast the turkey parts and use those drippings to make your gravy. Bonus: you can also use those roasted turkey parts to make your turkey stock the same day. Freeze both the gravy and stock and defrost them when you’re ready. Then, if you’d like, you can whisk the drippings from your Thanksgiving turkey into your pre-made gravy for extra flavor, or freeze them for future gravy needs. Try this out with Anthony Bourdain’s make-ahead Turkey Gravy recipe.
Your gravy is lumpy
Never again should a Thanksgiving turkey have to suffer through a bath of lumpy, floury gravy. The real key is to whisk, whisk, whisk. There are two important whisking moments: First, when you add your flour to your fat. This is the first step of making a roux and you want to make sure that there are no unsaturated clumps of flour before you move forward. Make this easier on yourself by sprinkling the flour over the fat instead of adding it in one dump. The second most important whisking moment is when you add your liquid. Gradually add your stock while you whisk your heart out. Keep whisking while your gravy bubbles and thickens. If you get to this point and your gravy still seems lumpy, then either pass it through a fine mesh sieve or puree it in your blender. We promise we won’t tell.
You don’t have enough oven space
This all comes down to menu planning. It’s safe to assume that your turkey will require the oven for a solid chunk of Thanksgiving Day. So, plan your menu around that. Include a mix of no cook items (salads, store-bought biscuits), one or two things that can bake at the same temperature as your turkey (stuffing, potato gratin) and dishes that can be done on the stove (mashed potatoes, mac-and-cheese, slow-cooked greens).
You are basting your turkey
This may be the way your Mom did it, and how her Mom did it, but no offense to those ladies, they were doing it wrong. Don't baste. Basting your turkey gives your bird an even, golden brown skin, but it also causes your oven to drop in temperature each time you open the door. This can cause your turkey to roast unevenly. If you still want to get that picture-perfect skin, but without the tedious basting and loss of heat, try our super-easy Mad Genius tip for basting your turkey with cheese cloth. Try soaking a piece of cheesecloth in a flavorful melted butter, then drape the saturated cloth over the top of your turkey. The cheese cloth will flavor your bird, make it extra-juicy and give it a perfectly golden exterior.
Your pie crust is stiff
Pie is the cherry (perhaps literally) on top of every Thanksgiving dinner, but so many times the crust is stiff and lifeless. As good as your filling may be, if the crust tastes like cardboard, then the whole pie is a bummer. To make sure that you have that perfectly flaky crust this year, keep your ingredients, especially your butter, extra-cold. When you roll out your crust, you should be able to see pea-size pieces of butter studding your dough. It’s these bits that release steam and cause your dough to puff and create all of those amazing layers. If you are a warm-handed person, it also helps to stick your dough into the freezer every few minutes. Similarly, don’t overwork your pie crust. When you’re pressing your dough into a disk before rolling it out, it should just barely hold together. If you need some recipe ideas check out our favorite pie crust recipe.
You aren’t carving your turkey correctly
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to tell my Dad was that he’d been carving the Thanksgiving turkey wrong his entire life, but I couldn’t handle another thin shaving of sad, dry turkey (sorry Dad). Slicing down the side of the whole turkey breast always results in thin slices that dry out easily (also, then only a few lucky people get the turkey skin!). This year, try removing the breast from the bone, then cutting it across into thick slices. Everyone gets an equal amount of turkey skin and the meat stays incredibly juicy. Here’s a guide on the best way to carve your turkey.
You didn’t make enough food
I’m sure every person who has ever hosted a Thanksgiving has had that stress dream where there’s not enough food for the big day, but don’t worry. Figuring out what size turkey to buy and how many sides to make is easy. We suggest 2 pounds of turkey for every adult and 1 pound for every kid (to guarantee leftovers). If you’re having a big crowd, we also highly recommend buying two smaller turkeys instead of one massive one. Smaller turkeys cook more evenly, take less time in the oven and if you’re in a pinch, they can be roasted in a skillet or on a baking sheet. Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you with the rest of the meal:
- 1/2 cup of gravy per person
- about 1/2 pound of potatoes per person for your mash
- 1 1/2 pounds of green beans for every 6 people
- One 9-by-13-inch casserole of stuffing will feed between 10 and 12 people
- about 1/4 pound of Brussels sprouts per person
- 1 pie will feed 8 to 10 people