Thanksgiving Turkey How-To: Defrosting, Brining, Roasting, Carving and More!

VIDEO: Sara Moulton takes last-minute Thanksgiving cooking questions.
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Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

How Much Food Should You Buy?

How big a turkey do you need?

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person (depending on whether you want leftovers). Keep in mind that smaller birds have less meat, so you might want to go with that higher ratio.

How much stuffing should you make?

About 3/4 cup per person or per pound of turkey. Note: Not all of that stuffing will fit in the cavity if you are planning on stuffing the bird. You will have to cook some of it in a casserole separately from the bird.

How much gravy?

About 1/2 cup per person, which allows for leftovers.

You will need about 1 1/2 tablespoons of fat and 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour per cup of stock.

How much cranberry sauce?

About 1/3 cup per person.

What Equipment Will You Need

If you are cooking the traditional turkey dinner, you will need:

A large heavy roasting pan with handles.
A large V-rack to put inside the roasting pan.
A meat thermometer (a small instant-read thermometer will do).
Aluminum foil to cover the turkey if it gets too dark during roasting as well as to keep it warm while it is resting.
A fat separator.
A bulb baster.
Kitchen twine.
A good carving or chef's knife.
A carving fork.
A large metal spatula (I move the turkey from the roasting pan to the platter by sticking a carving fork in the cavity and putting a large spatula under the other end of the turkey, which makes it easy to lift)
Whisk for making gravy (preferably a flat whisk that can get into the corners)
Food mill, ricer or potato masher for making mashed potatoes.

Info on Brining Your Turkey

What Is the Basic Formula for Brining a Turkey?

Two cups kosher salt for 2 gallons of water. You can add sugar (up to 2 cups) and various spices, as well. Heat the water with the salt, sugar and spices, if using, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Let the brine cool and then pour it over the turkey in a large pot or in a heavy plastic bag. Let brine overnight or up to 12 hours, refrigerated. Drain, rinse well and dry well before roasting.

The benefit of brining? A moist, flavorful turkey.

The downside of brining? You need a large space in the fridge to put the turkey in the bag of liquid and the process is somewhat messy. The drippings will be too salty to use for gravy.

Don't brine a kosher turkey; it already has been salted.

CLICK HERE to send Sara Moulton your Thanksgiving cooking question!

How to Defrost a Turkey

It's best to thaw your turkey in a refrigerator that's 40 degrees or cooler. A good rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.

If you've run out of time, you can defrost the turkey in a sink filled with cold water. Thaw the turkey breast side down, in its unopened wrapper, in enough cold water to cover it completely. Change the water frequently to keep the turkey chilled. Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per pound for a whole turkey.

How to Roast a Turkey

If the turkey is frozen, thaw in the refrigerator or a sink of cold water (see procedure above).

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture also offers these tips for how to safely roast a turkey

Should the Turkey Be Rinsed?

Raw poultry shouldn't be rinsed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The reason is that when you rinse, you risk contaminating the sink and everything around it with salmonella bacteria.

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