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Thanksgiving Cooking Tips

Your Essential Cheat Sheet for Thanksgiving Dinner

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moist, juicy turkey

Perfectly Juicy Turkey

Stephanie Gallagher
Thanksgiving dinner can be a breeze with the help of these simple cooking tips. I'll show you easy ways to make a perfect turkey, simple tricks for tasty (and easy-to-make side dishes), ideas for jazzing up the traditional sweet potato casserole and more. I'll even give you a secret for making the creamiest pumpkin pie and a guaranteed-not-to-crack pumpkin cheesecake.

So what are you waiting for? Let's get started!

Thanksgiving Turkey Tips

Let's face it. Without turkey, Thanksgiving is the same as any other family holiday. (Even my vegetarian friends feel an obligation to get a tofurkey for Thanksgiving, despite the fact that they really prefer pasta.) These tips make cooking Thanksgiving turkey a breeze.
  • Thawing Turkey: To thaw a frozen turkey, place it in a container that has sides (such as a roasting pan) in the refrigerator. You will need 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. So a 12-pound turkey will take about three days to thaw.

  • How to Get a Moist and Juicy Turkey: The easiest way for a beginning cook to cook a perfectly moist turkey is to make an oven bag turkey. Be sure to use an oven bag that is specially designed for this.

  • Add Flavor to Turkey: A secret that adds incredible flavor and moisture to turkey is to rub a compound butter under the turkey skin. Simple chop fresh herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary and parsley) and mix with about 1/3 cup of softened butter. Rub under the turkey's skin before roasting.

  • A Fool-Proof Way to Know When a Turkey Is Done: A turkey is done when an instant read thermometer (compare prices) inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F. Technically, you can remove the turkey from the oven when it reaches 160 degrees, as it will continue cooking from residual heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. If you do this, just make sure to check the temperature again after 10 or 20 minutes. By then, it should rise to 165 degrees.

  • Cook a Frozen Turkey: You can cook a frozen turkey that has not thawed. The secrets: Don't thaw the turkey at all. Follow these steps for how to cook a frozen turkey to the letter. And allow plenty of time.

Tips for Thanksgiving Side Dishes

The best tip for Thanksgiving side dishes is to invite each guest to bring a side - less work for you. Here are some other great ideas.
  • Make Them in Advance: Lots of sides can be made a day, two or even three in advance. Try my make ahead mashed potatoes, cranberry Jello salad, green bean casserole and cranberry stuffing.

  • Cook the Stuffing Separately: You won't have to worry about the turkey becoming overcooked while you're waiting for the stuffing to cook through (both have to be cooked to 165 degrees).

  • Avoid Gummy Mashed Potatoes: Use a high-starch potato, such as a russet or Idaho. Make sure the potatoes are dried out a bit (return them to the pot after draining and let the heat from the pot dry them). This keeps the potatoes from getting gummy. Finally, use a food mill or ricer to mash them.

  • Try Something New on Your Sweet Potato Casserole: You can serve classic dishes like sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole, but find ways to switch them up. These sweet potato casserole toppings have lots of ideas that go way beyond marshmallows.

  • Skip the Canned Cranberry Sauce: Homemade cranberry sauce is a snap to prepare. Or try my cranberry relish or kid-pleasing cranberry salad with mini marshmallows.

Tips for Thanksgiving Desserts

There's no need to resort to store-bought pies. Here's how to make perfect Thanksgiving desserts every time.
  • When Your Pumpkin Pie Cracks: Cover it up! There's nothing like homemade whipped cream to finish off pumpkin pie. And it covers up cracks beautifully! To ensure a crack-proof cheesecake, use the unique method in this pumpkin cheesecake recipe. It works - guaranteed!

  • Get Creative: Make your pumpkin pie with one of these pumpkin pie toppings. You're still serving a classic Thanksgiving dessert, but in a while new way.

  • Ingredient Substitutions: Out of evaporated milk? Or pecans? You can substitute heavy cream, half and half and even whole milk for evaporated milk in a pumpkin pie. You can just as easily make a pecan pie with walnuts. Sure, it won't look the same, but it'll taste just as good.
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