Conquer the turkey on Thanksgiving and everything else will fall into place. There's no need to stress about the little things on the holiday when you have a perfectly-cooked turkey everyone will enjoy. Plan ahead before things take a wrong turn, and you'll sail through the Thanksgiving holiday without a hitch. When roadblocks to the perfect holiday meal drop in your way, tackle them head on with the right tools. Knowing how to handle common turkey problems, big and small, will keep you in charge in the kitchen, and you will triumph over the Thanksgiving turkey every time.
Fixing Common Turkey Problems
How Much Turkey is Enough?
Before it even makes its way home with you, the turkey has you scratching your head. When buying a turkey, it's easy to buy one that is too large, because a good hostess never wants to run out of food. Have you ever been to Thanksgiving dinner where there wan''t enough turkey? Probably not.
When we pick out a turkey, we tend to forget about all of the filling side dishes, the appetizer, the desserts we're preparing, in addition to the extra food guests sometimes bring. Stop using tunnel vision when choosing a turkey size and focus on the whole meal. Reasonable portions average 3/4 of a pound to one pound of turkey per person. If you're buying fresh, you can go larger, up to one pound per person, because you can safely freeze the turkey leftovers.
Squash the Drumstick Battles
If your family members tend to go to battle over the two turkey drumsticks, buy some extra. Coordinate the total poundage between the whole turkey and the drumsticks to reach the right amount. Drumsticks weighing between 3/4 to one pound each should cook for 2 to 2 1/4 hours.
My Turkey is Frozen
There are a number of ways to avoid this problem before it occurs.
Fresh Wins Again
Fresh turkey to the rescue. Order a fresh turkey ahead of time and pick it up one to two days before Thanksgiving. Store it in the back of the fridge and you won't have to worry about defrosting a lump of frozen turkey.
Know The Right Thawing Times
Slow - Defrost the frozen turkey in the refrigerator. The USDA recommends allowing for one day for every four to five pounds of turkey.
Fast - Maybe you're having a last-minute dinner, you plumb forgot about defrosting your frozen turkey, or the stubborn turkey just won't thaw out. Don't worry, there is a way to safely fast track the thawing process. Submerge a still-wrapped turkey in a sink of cold water on the day you intend to cook the turkey. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook once thawed.
Your Timing is Always Off
When your biggest challenge is timing the turkey, there are a couple of preventive measures you can take.
Cook the turkey unstuffed
Stuffed turkey takes longer to cook, so cook the stuffing separately. While the turkey is resting, you could use the turkey juices to give the stuffing the same flavor. Bread stuffing takes less than 10 minutes to prepare as long as your onions and celery are already cooked.
Use a cooking chart
A cooking chart is a solid starting point for timing the cooking of your turkey. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and put the turkey in when the oven reaches that temperature. These cooking times apply to unstuffed whole turkeys only.
8 to 12 pounds - 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds - 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds - 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds - 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds - 4 1/2 to 5 hours
Source: USDA Timetable for Turkey Roasting
The best way to ensure your Thanksgiving turkey is cooked it to use a meat thermometer. You don' t want to cut into the Turkey with a knife, as you will loose some moisture. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the internal temperature of the turkey needs to reach a minimum of 165 degrees. Check the innermost thigh and the thickest part of the breast. Some people prefer the meat to reach a temperature of 180 degrees.
Turkey Problems: Quick Fixes
Turkey Meat is Pink
Pink is pretty, although it may be unsettling when it's the color of your cooked turkey. The internal temperature of the turkey is the best measure.Turkey meat may look pink even when it's safe to eat, according to the USDA. If you've cooked the turkey at the right temperature and for the right length of time, and the thermometer reaches 165 degrees or more, it's safe to eat.
Turkey is Dry
Heat up sodium-free turkey or chicken broth and pour it over the sliced turkey before serving. Not only will it boost moisture, it will warm up the turkey.
Turkey from Farm to Table, USDA, http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/turkey_from_farm_to_table/index.asp
Is Pink Turkey Meat Safe? http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/Is_Pink_Turkey_Meat_Safe/index.asp