You may have 99 problems, but Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be one. We sat down to talk turkey with some of the pros at Pampered Chef, and they taught us how to fix these 10 common Thanksgiving dinner problems. They have all the troubleshooting tips and info you need to get a fantastic feast on the table without breaking a sweat.
How much turkey do I need?
Plan on getting 1 pound per person—or 1½ pounds if your crew has heartier appetites, or you want to make sure there are leftovers.
My turkey is still frozen! What do I do?
You should thaw your turkey (in its original wrapper) in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every 5 pounds. If you have a 10-pound turkey, it should thaw for 2 full days.
To thaw more quickly, place your turkey breast-side down (in its original wrapper) in a deep sink filled with cold water—or a big bucket if you need your sink empty. Change the water every 30 minutes, and allow 30 minutes per pound. That same 10-pound turkey will take 5 hours to thaw.
Remember … never thaw your turkey at room temperature!!
How do I brine a turkey?
Brining will enhance the flavor and keep your bird nice and juicy. Look for a turkey that says “all natural,” “no additives” or “minimally processed” on the label. Get a good oven cooking bag (don’t substitute for one that might not be food-grade!) and brine away. Keep your turkey in the fridge while it brines—up to 18 hours—and rinse the whole thing thoroughly.
You can amp up the flavor by adding garlic, peppercorns, citrus zest, or fresh herbs. Yum!
Do I need to baste my turkey?
Basting helps the skin get crispy, brown and beautiful, but you can get almost the same results by rubbing your bird down with oil or butter before cooking.
When you baste, you lose a lot of heat each time you open your oven—meaning it can take longer to cook thoroughly. If you’re going to baste, take the whole pan out and close the oven door to prevent all that heat from escaping. And make sure to use a quality baster!
How can I tell when my turkey is done cooking?
The best and most reliable way to tell if your turkey is cooked through is to use a good thermometer. Insert it close to, but not touching, the thighbone. The internal temperature should be at least 165°F—remember, your bird will keep cooking for a few minutes after you take it out of the oven. Let it rest for 20 minutes before serving!
What if my turkey burns?
If it’s just the outside of the turkey that appears burned, cut off the extra-crispy pieces and serve pre-cut slices.
To prevent overcooking before it happens, loosely cover the breast with aluminum foil when your turkey is about two-thirds done. Check the temperature about 30 minutes before you expect it to be fully cooked.
How do I get the turkey from the roasting pan to the carving board?
First, use a baster or tilt the turkey upward to remove any excess juice. Then, pierce the turkey between the thigh and wing at the base of the breast meat with your meat lifters. Get a good grip on the handles, lift the turkey up and over, and place it on your carving board.
How do I get EVERYTHING done?!
Plan, plan, plan. Get your menu together as far in advance as possible (get a bunch of Thanksgiving recipes here!), then figure out which dishes and ingredients you can prep in advance. Some side dishes and desserts can be made several days in advance (thank you, freezer), and others can be made a few hours earlier in the day. Your turkey should rest for 20 minutes after it comes out of the oven … all that cookin’ is hard work! Use that time to reheat your pre-made sides in the oven.
If you’re seriously stressing, think about making it a potluck feast. Ask your guests to bring their favorite dish … just make sure to ask what each person is bringing, so you avoid a table with only turkey and salads.
How can I keep my mashed potatoes from getting gluey?
To get all science-y, hand mixers tear the starch molecules and turn perfectly good spuds into a gluey, inedible paste—yuck! Hand mashing keeps those starch molecules in place, so your side dish is creamy and delicious. Make sure to use the right masher!
For even better potatoes, try this easy gravy recipe:
What if my stuffing isn’t done when my turkey is?
Even though the image of a turkey overflowing with stuffing is totally iconic, we recommend cooking your stuffing separately.
If you insist on stuffing it anyway, cook your turkey until it’s done, remove the stuffing and place it in a separate baking dish. Cook it in the oven until it reaches 165°F (the same as your turkey), then serve and enjoy!