All Your Last-Minute Thanksgiving Questions, Expertly Answered

PHOTO: Dont be frazzled in the kitchen this year -- find the answers here for your top ThanksgivingGetty Images
Don't be frazzled in the kitchen this year -- find the answers here for your top Thanksgiving cooking questions.

Thanksgiving, as fun and delicious as it always turns out to be, is fraught with stress and doubt in the days leading up.

What’s the best way to cook a turkey? How do I accommodate for my gluten-free guests? Which stuffing recipe is the best of all?

We know you have lots of questions, which is why we decided to find out exactly what those questions are on Facebook and get them answered for you. Read on for answers to your most burning Thanksgiving questions from Chris Gesualdi, a chef instructor at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education.

How long does it take to thaw a 22-pound frozen turkey? And what’s the safest way to defrost a turkey?

A 22-pound frozen turkey should thaw for three to four days in the refrigerator with something underneath it. The safest way to thaw is in the refrigerator; the temperature out of the refrigerator is in in the bacteria danger zone (41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, where bacteria is most likely to grow). To stay out of the danger zone, the bird has to stay either below 41 or above 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is it best to start cooking the bird upside down, then turn over? Why would you do this?

It’s best to leave the breast up. This is the presentation side, so you’ll get the best color right away and have more control over what’s happening in the cooking. If it starts to darken too soon, cover it with foil. The less you handle the turkey, the less chance of tearing the skin.

Should I really trust the pop up to know when the turkey is done?

Yes, it works. It pops when the turkey reaches the right internal temperature so it’s a perfect gauge of doneness.

After the pop up, you should let the turkey rest and carry-over cooking with residual heat. Take the turkey out 1 to 1.5 hours before serving and it will be perfectly done. Don’t be afraid to reheat if it gets cold.

PHOTO: Turkey cooking in oven. Juan Silva/Getty Images
Turkey cooking in oven.

Are you supposed to cover the turkey with foil while it’s roasting?

Cook the turkey uncovered at first to allow it color. If it starts getting dark too quickly, then cover it with foil.

How long should you rest the turkey? Doesn’t it get cold?

Let the turkey rest for a minimum of one hour and up to 1.5 hours. With this timing, it should be the perfect temp to eat when you’re ready. It won’t get too cold, but worst case scenario, you can always reheat it.

Reheating won’t overcook the turkey; it will get it hot again first before it starts cooking more. The best way to reheat is to flash it back in the oven at the same temperature you cooked it originally and take it out as soon as it’s warm, about 15 minutes if it’s cold and less if it’s at room temperature.

What tips can you give to make the turkey extra moist?

Start by brining the turkey. Brine it overnight in a simple brine: for every gallon of water, add 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar (sugar can be substituted for any sweetener, such as honey, molasses, brown sugar, etc.). By brining, you add moisture to the turkey before you even cook it. Also, normally when you brine, you don’t have to add salt to the turkey while cooking later.

Another tip to keep the turkey moist is to baste it while it’s cooking. Basting helps the turkey color evenly, adds flavor and keeps it moist.

PHOTO: Anthony Caturano, chef/owner of Prezza, shows how he brines, roasts, and carves a turkey at his home in Saugus, Mass., Nov. 10, 2011. Yoon S. Byun/Boston Globe/Getty Images
Anthony Caturano, chef/owner of Prezza, shows how he brines, roasts, and carves a turkey at his home in Saugus, Mass., Nov. 10, 2011.

What can you use to thicken gravy if you have family that needs gluten-free?

Cornstarch or arrow root are good options. Another quick and gluten-free way to thicken gravy is to whisk in mashed potato.

Always make sure to make a slurry when making gravy to prevent lumping (which happens when you add starch directly to the stock). To make a slurry, combine the starch with cold liquid.

For instance, if you have 4 cups of stock, use 4 tablespoons of a starch (flour, cornstarch, arrow root, etc.) and 4 tablespoons of a cold liquid (stock, water, milk, etc.) and combine until smooth, then add to heated stock. When it comes to a boil, it’ll thicken.

How can I get my mashed potatoes to lump less? What about from turning into glue?

The number one rule to make sure your potatoes aren’t lumpy is to make sure they are 100% cooked before mashing them. To make sure they’re done, first, stick a knife into them; it should go through with ease. Slice it to confirm that it’s soft enough. Then, take a taste to see if it tastes done and finally, smear it to make sure it smears to a puree texture. If all these work, then the potatoes are done.

To keep the potatoes from turning gummy, mash them while they’re hot, especially if you’re using a machine to mash.

What’s an easy recipe for Brussels sprouts?

You can never go wrong with the Barefoot Contessa. Try her recipe below.

Ina Garten's Balsamic Roasted Brussels: Click here for the recipe.

Quentin Bacon; Clarkson Potter
Ina Garten's balsamic-roasted Brussels sprouts are shown here.

What can I add to my stuffing besides sausage to give it an extra blast of great flavor?

Try adding dried fruit, nuts, apple, herbs or mushrooms, such as in these recipes below.

Emeril Lagasse’s Wild Mushroom Stuffing: Click here for the recipe.

Sara Moulton’s Midwest Sausage and Dried Cherry Stuffing: Click here for the recipe.

Emeril Lagasse’s Apple Pecan Stuffing: Click here for the recipe.

What are some mini desserts that can be made so people have a choice or can enjoy more than one thing?

Tasting Tables No-Bake, Mini-Pie Buffet. Todd Coleman/TastingTable.com
Tasting Table's No-Bake, Mini-Pie Buffet.

Pie is a Thanksgiving favorite, and the good news is that you can serve mini pies in a fun and interactive way. Just follow the directions for this pie bar from Tasting Table.

Tasting Table's No-Bake, Mini-Pie Buffet: Click here for the recipe.

Do leftover pies need to be refrigerated?

This really depends on personal preference, but it will stay good for longer if you refrigerate it. But, if you make the pie well, then there shouldn’t be leftovers.