Thanksgiving is only two weeks away, and plans are being made everywhere for the nation’s most gluttonous holiday. I really don’t approach Thanksgiving from that angle, but when you consider the vast amounts of food we prepare for one single day of celebration, it isn’t hard to go overboard.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holiday’s and I look forward to hosting the family at our house every year. Being the host usually means that you are in charge of cooking the turkey; which is no small feat. As the centerpiece of the dinner table, nobody remembers the good turkeys, but everyone has memories of when the turkey turned out bad. Over the next two weeks I’ll give my personal tips and recipes for helping make Thanksgiving a success at your home.
First step is securing the turkey. Traditionally the two weeks before Thanksgiving, supermarkets will put the birds on sale as a loss leader to get people into the stores. Watch the supermarket fliers carefully for who has the best value, although competition is fierce and most stores will only be within a few cents of each other.
What kind of turkey should I buy? While supermarket turkeys may be your best value, they are often not the most tastiest. The modern supermarket turkey has been bred to have abnormally large breast sections at the expense of dark meat sections. White meat lovers may rejoice but your best flavor almost always comes from the richer dark meat portions. For a different type of bird, many natural and bulk food stores, like The Planted Seed in Wausau offer organic free range turkeys. These birds, raised in open pens grow slower and are have more developed and muscular leg and thigh sections.
How big of turkey do I need to feed all my guests? If you enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers, the general rule of thumb is to buy 1.5 pounds of turkey for each guest. This handy chart will help you estimate weight ranges for your turkey:
- 8 Guests : 12 – 14 pound turkey
- 10 Guests : 15 – 16 pound turkey
- 12 Guests : 16 – 18 pound turkey
- 14 Guests : 21 -22 pound turkey
- 16 Guests : 24 pound turkey
The larger birds may be more difficult to come by. If you have the oven space, an option may be to cook two smaller birds. One family I know utilizes a pair of Nesco roaster ovens to cook two turkeys for the 18 guests that fill their house, leaving the oven open for the wide variety of side dishes.
How soon should I buy a turkey? Frozen turkeys require at least 3-5 days to defrost in the refrigerator. A larger bird may take up to a week. I usually take my 14 pound turkey out of the freezer on Sunday and still find some frozen parts in the center on Thanksgiving day. While defrosting in the refrigerator is the safest method to thaw the bird, you can quickly defrost the turkey in a cold water bath.
How do I quickly defrost a turkey? The cold water bath will thaw a frozen turkey in as little at 6-8 hours. It requires a large basin, tub or container large enough to hold the turkey and water. A large cooler or ice chest works great for thawing turkeys. Place the turkey in the water and fill with water no warmer than 40 degrees. Monitor the thawing process and replace the water when it rises above 40 degrees. If you live in a colder climate, you can leave the turkey and container outside or in the garage to keep it cool during the defrosting process. Thoroughly clean the container with soap and hot water afterwards to eliminate any bacteria.
Coming up next Wednesday, some great turkey recipes that will astound your guests and make you look like a master chef.