Sara Moulton Answers Your Thanksgiving Feast Questions

Chef Sara Moulton has the secrets to a perfect Thanskgiving dinner, and she's answering your questions on "Good Morning America"! Get her top tips on everything from cooking the turkey to great gravy and stuffing.

Cooking the turkey. We need to know how to bake it, brown it and be sure that's it's tender and juicy and not dry. Help! -- Inez from Jacksonville, Fla.

Sara's Method for Roasting Turkey

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

2. Preheat oven to 325 F. Arrange an oven shelf in the lower third of the oven. Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity of the turkey, reserving them for turkey broth (see turkey broth recipe). Drain the juices and pat the bird dry inside and out.

3. If stuffing, stuff right before roasting (see basic stuffing recipe). Return legs to tucked position, if untucked.

4. Arrange the turkey breast side up in a rack (preferably a v-rack), set in a heavy large roasting pan. Melt a stick of butter and brush the turkey all over with one third of the butter. Season with salt and pepper and cover the whole turkey loosely with foil. Pour two cups of chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan and roast the turkey in the lower third of the oven for 1 hour. Uncover and baste with another third of the butter. Recover the turkey and roast until approximately half way through the total cooking time. Uncover the turkey, baste with the remaining butter and roast, uncovered, until a thermometer when inserted in the thickest part of the leg thigh joint reaches 165 F.

5. Transfer the turkey to a platter, leaving the drippings in the pan for the gravy (see gravy recipe) and cover the turkey loosely with foil. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes, preferably 30 minutes before carving.

Defrosting a Turkey

In the refrigerator: Thaw the turkey breast side up, in its unopened wrapper in the refrigerator. Allow at least 1 day of thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey

In the sink: 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

Turkey Cooking Time in Hours
8 – 12 lbs.
2 3/4 – 3 hrs.
3 - 3 1/2 hrs.
12 – 14 lbs.
3 – 3 3/4 hrs.
3 1/2 - 4 hrs.
14 – 18 lbs.
3 3/4 – 4 1/4 hrs.
4 – 4 1/4 hrs.
18 – 20 lbs.
4 1/4 – 4 1/2 hrs.
4 1/4 - 4 3/4 hrs.
20 – 24 lbs.
4 1/2 – 5 hrs.
4 3/4 – 5 1/4 hrs.

*Internal temp. of turkey AND stuffing should both reach at least 165 °F **Source: USDA

Sara Moulton's Answers Your Thanksgiving Cooking Questions

Gravy Help! I want to make homemade gravy, but don't want to use the liver, gizzards, or giblets. Don't know what they are and really don't want to. I am sure there is a gravy recipe out there that you have with turkey that doesn't require using all the insides. Is there? -- Karen from Dublin, Calif.

The liver, gizzards and giblets add flavor. You can use just the neck to add flavor to a homemade gravy, which comes in all turkeys. You can make a simple turkey broth that can cook while the turkey is in the oven (see recipe below). And leave out the gizzards an, liver and giblets.

Recipe for Sara's Perfect Turkey Broth

Makes about 4 cups

The giblets and neck from one turkey (save the liver for another use, such as sauteing and serving on a piece of toast).
4 cups chicken broth (good quality canned is fine)
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, cut in half
1 celery rib, cut in half
1 small parsnip (optional), cut in half
1 thyme sprig
1 parsley sprig
1 Turkish bay leaf
4 cups cold water

Combine the giblets and neck with the chicken broth in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down immediately and simmer, skimming and discarding the scum (this is just the protein solids from the giblets and neck, but it will cloud the broth if you leave it in) that rises to the surface with a slotted spoon. After about 20 minutes, when there is no more scum rising to the surface, add the remaining ingredients and bring the liquid back to a simmer. Simmer the broth, adding water as necessary to keep all the ingredients submerged in liquid, for 2 ½ to 3 hours. Strain and skim off any fat that settles at the top (You can use that fat for your pan gravy).

Sara Moulton's Answers Your Thanksgiving Cooking Questions

How do you make turkey gravy from drippings? How do you separate out the fat? -- Gwen from Sacramento

Sara's No-Fail Pan Gravy

I recommend making 1/2 cup gravy per person. You need that much gravy to pour over everything, and for leftovers. So here is the formula: For each cup of gravy you will need 1 cup broth, 1 1/2 tablespoons drippings, fat or butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons flour (preferably the instant kind, Wondra, which is what your grandmother favored because it didn't cause lumps in the gravy.) Here is a sample recipe for 4 cups gravy serving 8 people:

6 tablespoons fat from drippings in roasting pan, and/or butter or a combination
6 level tablespoons flour
4 cups turkey or chicken broth

After you have taken your roast out of the oven, transfer it to a platter and cover it loosely with foil. While it is resting put the roasting pan on the stove. Transfer whatever liquid is in the roasting pan to a glass measuring cup and let it settle. The fat will float to the top. Skim off the fat and measure it. (Save the liquid as well to add later) If you have 6 tablespoons fat, add them back to the pan. If you don't have that much, add whatever fat you have plus enough tablespoons of butter to make 6 tablespoons fat total. Heat the pan over low heat and whisk in the flour. Cook the mixture, whisking for 5 minutes. Add the broth in a steady stream, whisking. Turn up the heat to moderately high, bring the mixture to a boil and simmer, whisking for 5 minutes. Whisk in any juices from the roast's resting platter as well as from the glass measuring cup. If the gravy seems thin, simmer it a few minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.

Note: You could substitute 1/2 cup white or red wine for 1/2 cup of the broth.

I always have a hard time making stuffing. I either get it too stiff or too mushy. Should it be cooked in the turkey or in a 9x13 pan or glass dish? -- Marian from Sanford, N.C.

Cooking the stuffing in the turkey makes the turkey cook longer. You can cook the stuffing in a casserole pan and use fresh bread not dry. You can cook the stuffing, while the turkey is resting. Cover the stuffing with foil for 15 minutes and then cook it uncovered for 15 minutes. Make sure the stuffing is properly moistened with butter or broth.

Sara Moulton's Basic Stuffing

Servings: 8
Difficulty: Easy
Cook Time: 30-60 min

2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
12 cups white bread (or whole wheat bread) (about 1 pound), cut into half inch cubes, toast the bread in your oven for 5-7 minutes at 400 degrees or until slightly golden.
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth (homemade or bought)

Cook onion and celery in skillet on medium heat with butter until soft. Transfer to bowl and add all the remaining ingredients and toss well. Either stuff inside turkey cavity or cook in a shallow casserole at 350 degrees, covered for 1/2 an hour. Uncover, and cook for another ten minutes to get crispy. Optional: Sara's Three Variations: Add 1/2 pound cook crumpled bacon, or add 1 pound sliced mushrooms that have been sautéed in 2 tablespoons butter. Add 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts and 2 golden delicious apples that have been peeled, chopped and sautéed in 2 tablespoons butter.

Sara Moulton's Answers Your Thanksgiving Cooking Questions

Show all of us how to make cranberry sauce? Please, Sara! -- Don and Sandy from San Jose, Calif.

Easy Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh orange, tangerine, or clementine juice
3/4 to 1 cup sugar or to taste
12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries (3 cups)
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange rind

Bring water orange juice and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally, until berries just pop, 12 to 15 minutes. stir in zest, then cool to room temperature and chill.

Though I have been cooking for 25 years, I have never been sure just where to put the thermometer. -- Beverly Davis from Long Beach, Miss.

The thermometer goes into the thickest part of the thigh and should not touch the bone. Sara's Turkey Carving Tips: For quality, let the turkey stand for 20-30 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities. To help make carving easier, use a straight and sharpened knife.

1. Cut band of skin holding drumsticks. Grasp end of drumstick. Place knife between drumstick/thigh and body of the turkey and cut through skin to joint. Remove entire leg by pulling out and back, using the point of the knife to disjoin it. Separate the thigh and drumstick at the joint.

2. Insert fork in upper wing to steady turkey. Make a long horizontal cut above wing joint through to body frame. Wing may be disjointed from body, if desired.

3. Slice straight down with an even stroke, beginning halfway up the breast. When knife reaches the cut above the wing joint, slice will fall free.

4. Continue to slice breast meat, starting the cut at a higher point each time.