Have you started planning your Thanksgiving meal yet? It's about that time! To me it feels like once Halloween passes, things start moving super fast. What about you? Usually around the holidays we start to get questions about good dishes to take to holiday potlucks, how to navigate holiday parties, and allllll the questions about cocktails. Priorities. We rarely get asked about how to keep food safe for holiday meals though, and it is oh so important! The last thing you need on Thanksgiving is to send all your guests into a frenzy fighting over the bathroom! Am I right?
So, let's talk about a few strategies to keep your food safe and you sane, shall we?
Anybody sick of seeing this tip make a regular occurrence in all my posts yet?! Sorry, not sorry. Planning ahead is key here. This doesn't have to be crazy intense, just ask yourself a few simple questions to get the ball rolling.
1. Do you want to have a turkey for your main dish, or are you thinking of going against the norm and opting for a different protein option? Chicken, beef, or maybe even a vegetarian option?
2. If you do want a turkey, are you thinking fresh or frozen? If you go for fresh, you don't want to actually grab your bird until 1-2 days before you're ready to cook, but they'll go fast so make sure you reserve one soon! Local farms, delis, and grocery stores start taking orders early, so now is the time! DO NOT opt for a pre-stuffed fresh turkey. Although this may sound like a time saver, the last thing you want is stuffing that has hung out in a raw turkey for the last couple of days. Gag, I know. If frozen is more your speed, you can purchase that at any time, but earlier is still probably best. The closer we get to the holiday, the slimmer the pickings will become. Just remember, you'll need enough space in your freezer to store for a few more weeks. If you don't have enough space to store your bird for an extended period of time, think through your "go" date. In other words, when is the closest date to your meal that you can purchase and still be able to store appropriately.
3. Here's the big kicker.. what size bird do you need to buy? This is going to depend on how many guests you're planning to cook for. If you're just cooking for one or two, turkey breast tenders may be a better option to help avoid turkey leftovers for days and an expensive grocery bill. Use the quick reference guide below to help decide just how much you need to feed your group without going crazy!
4. What else do I need? Make a hit list of everything else you'll need to prepare your meal besides your bird. Sides, veggies, pans, etc. This will help avoid any last minute runs to the store mid cooking! One thing you'll definitely want to add to your list, if you don't have one already, is a meat thermometer. To make sure your bird is cooked through and safe, you'll want it to reach at least 165 degrees.
Time To Chill
Alright, so let's say you went with the frozen bird and he's been hanging out in your freezer for a couple weeks. When it's game time, how do you thaw him out? What's right and what's wrong? How long do you thaw? Oh so many questions! Have no fear, we've got your back!
You basically have two options for thawing, and some of it will depend on space. If you have room and a few days to spare, thawing in the refrigerator might be your best bet. If you're in a time crunch, or simply don't have the space available in your refrigerator because it's packed to the brim with casseroles and sides, thawing under cold water is gonna be your game plan!
Thawing in the refrigerator is simple. Keep your bird in the original wrapper and just place on the bottom shelf of your fridge. I also recommend placing it on a baking sheet or other dish if you can (a thick towel would work in a pinch as well) to catch the drips from melting and just in case any juices run from the package once thawed. If you do use a towel remember to wash it immediately to get rid of those raw turkey germs! The general rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours thawing time for each 4-5 lb. of turkey. The quick reference guide below will help cut the math out for you! You can keep your thawed turkey stored in the fridge for up to 2 days before cooking.
If you plan to use the cold water method instead, you'll need to plan out at least a few hours to allow for defrosting. You'll want to submerge your bird in cold water, and plan to change out the water and replace with fresh, cold water every 30 minutes. This method takes a little bit more oversight than just popping him in the fridge and letting him do his thang, but no worries - we got you covered! Check out the guide below to determine how many hours you'll need to plan for to allow your turkey to defrost. Once thawed, you'll need to cook immediately!
To Stuff or Not To Stuff
Today, a lot of us choose to prepare our stuffing as a side dish instead of cooking it inside the turkey as it has traditionally been done. If you do choose to stuff your turkey, you'll want to aim for a moist, not dry, stuffing and stuff it loosely (not compactly) into the cavity of your bird.
The Main Event
Just like the thawing process, the actual cooking time of your turkey is going to vary based on the size of your bird. We've included charts for both stuffed and un-stuffed turkeys below to help you plan your cooking time. Throughout your cooking you'll want to make sure to monitor the temperature. Don't skip this step people! You'll want to check the temp by putting your thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and in the thickest part of the breast. Remember - you want the temp to be at least 165 degrees! Once you pull your turkey out of the oven, let is stand for about 20 minutes. Then, you're ready to carve and eat!
Thanksgiving leftovers are my absolute FAVORITE! I don't really discriminate against any leftovers, but there's just something about Thanksgiving leftovers that I can't explain. I feel like they're super versatile and can be re-imagined into so many tasty things - especially the turkey! We'll be sure to have a leftover inspiration post for you soon! To keep your leftovers safe, you'll want to make sure you have them in the refrigerator about 2 hours after cooking. Store your stuffing and turkey separately, and make sure your turkey is cut or torn into small pieces. You'll want to make sure you either eat your leftovers or freeze within 3-4 days. I know, I know, who am I kidding. They'll be long gone by then!