If you’ve always visited family for the holiday, but this is the first year you’ll be making a feast at home, we’re here to help! We have some tips for navigating your first big Thanksgiving meal.
Choosing a Turkey
If you’re buying a frozen turkey, make sure you buy it several days ahead of time so you have time to thaw it. (Although it’s possible to cook a frozen turkey, we don’t recommend it.) Or buy it fresh at Oryana and skip the thawing process. Just make sure you have room in your fridge to store it. (This is a great time to clean out the fridge.) As far as deciding what size to get, even if you end up with a bigger bird than you think you need, you can freeze the leftovers and/or make lots of delicious dishes using the turkey meat.
Equipment, Utensils, and Dishes
Purchase a turkey roasting pan and rack for the pan, like this one. If you don’t want to buy a pan, you can always get a large foil pan. A food/meat thermometer is very useful for knowing when your turkey is finished roasting. You don’t want to over or undercook your bird! You’ll want a cutting board large enough to cut up the bird (or a large serving platter.) Along that same line of thought, make sure you also have a large, sharp knife to cut the meat. If you want to put everything on the table, make sure you have enough serving bowls. (Or just have everyone load up their plates directly from the cooking vessels before sitting down.) To serve your gravy, get a gravy boat, although a liquid measuring cup will do in a pinch. Don’t forget a potato masher. Optional but nice: cloth napkins, a centerpiece for the table, a real tablecloth.
Have fun looking around online for holiday side dish recipes. If you feel pinched for time or don’t feel confident, there is no shame in buying canned cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing, frozen veggies, and ready-made pie (all of which we have!) But just so you know, homemade cranberry sauce is super easy and fast and you can make it several days in advance. Mashed potatoes are also super easy, as is stuffing. If you want to tackle the classic green bean casserole from scratch, here is a great recipe. We gathered some great recipes for side dishes HERE.
Side Note…OVEN SPACE!
Your turkey will most likely take up the entire oven so plan accordingly with your baked side dishes, rolls, desserts, etc. Also, if you will be heating several things at the same time, make sure the oven temperature is the same for all the dishes! You will have about 45 minutes for cooking or reheating in the oven while the turkey rests.
To save time and have something foolproof, pick up a pie or other great dessert from either of our stores. Or grab a pie from the frozen section. If you want to try your hand at pumpkin pie, here is a nice recipe. We also put together a great collection of recipes for desserts.
How to Cook a Turkey
Cooking a turkey is not difficult or complicated. A web search will yield many different methods to flavor turkeys by brining, rubbing with seasonings, etc. and tricky roasting techniques, like turning the turkey every 15 minutes, but you can get a perfectly tasty bird by simply salting it generously and roasting it in the oven. If you do want to brine your bird (soak it in a salty brine to make it really flavorful and help prevent it from drying out), here’s how to do it. But here is a straightforward, super simple recipe for Roast Turkey. We highly recommend that you take a stab at making your own gravy from the pan drippings instead of buying gravy or making it with chicken broth. You will not regret this! Also, don’t forget to let your turkey ‘rest’ after you take it out of the oven. This is important!
Basic Holiday Timeline
To keep everything organized and turn out a great meal for your scheduled time, we offer this holiday meal countdown. But here are some main points to keep in mind:
- Purchase frozen turkey the weekend before so it will be thawed in time. For fresh it’s ok to wait until the day before, but they’ll be available starting Saturday.
- Figure out what you want for side dishes by Monday or Tuesday so you can shop for ingredients.
- On Wednesday you can start working on some of your side dishes, like stuffing and vegetables dishes, or make a dessert. If you wait to make everything on Thursday, it might be overwhelming.
- On the big day – Figure out what time you want to serve dinner and then count backwards for when you need to get the turkey in the oven. Allow time for the turkey to rest (about 45 minutes). This is when you’ll make your gravy, reheat some of the sides you made the day before, and finish your mashed potatoes. This will be the busiest time of the day! So make sure the table is already set and all your serving dishes and utensils are out, and your beverages are ready so you won’t have to run around accomplishing those tasks.
After the Meal
Roasted turkey freezes well. Just remove the meat from the bones before packing in plastic bags or airtight containers. Leftover meat, gravy, potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce make an excellent casserole the next day. Just layer some chopped turkey with gravy in a greased casserole dish, followed by a layer of stuffing, and topped with a layer of mashed potatoes. Bake it at 350°F for about 30 minutes and serve with cranberry sauce. Yum! Here are a few more ideas for what to do with your leftovers.
We also highly encourage everyone to toss the turkey carcass and bones into a large stock pot or slow cooker and make turkey bone broth for a flavorful soup! Follow this broth recipe or simply cook the bones in water overnight, or 24 hours. Strain and use right away or freeze to make delicious soups later.