A Thanksgiving Checklist for a Perfect Meal
For those of you who have not started their Thanksgiving prep, I put together this last minute checklist for just a few of the details involved with getting a great meal on the table this holiday. There are so many things to think about so please feel free to add them in the comments section. I’m sure everyone will appreciate all the help they can get. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving. – RG
Take the turkey out of the refrigerator
- At least 30-60 minutes out of the refrigerator before roasting. If you’re going to use the ice pack trick made famous by Harold McGee, leave them on for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Forget to completely defrost your turkey?
- Don’t panic! If you have a partially frozen bird, you can still defrost it much faster than leaving it in the refrigerator. A couple of things to remember. Immerse the turkey in the plastic wrapping in ice cold water and be sure to change the water and add more ice water every thirty minutes to avoid dangerous bacteria from developing . You might think it will go faster using hot water, but this is a bad idea and a huge risk. Please avoid. And if you use the cold water method, it’s important to cook the turkey as soon as it thaws.
Have Your Ingredients Ready to Cook or Mise en Place
- Before even thinking about starting to cook, and after you have re-read your recipe at least twice, make sure to get your mise en place. This means getting all of your ingredients on the counter within reach, measured correctly and equipment needed plugged in and ready to go. This will make your day go so much more smoothly, trust me.
Look over your menu
- Going over your menu and each recipe is essential on Thanksgiving morning. Read your recipes over at least twice! Figure out how long each recipe is going to take, allowing time for preparation, cooking, and if needed, resting. Figure out which platters and plates you will need for each dish and get those organized.
Set the table
- I know any other night I’m setting the table right before serving, but this is a once-a-year occasion, and a big one at that. Therefore, set your table in the morning and not only will you be more organized- meaning less chaos later, but it will also create a festive atmosphere. Make sure you have enough place settings and chairs for everyone coming, and also be prepared for that one guest that always brings his mother-in-law. If you’re using flowers or any type of decoration, make sure you have what you need to make the table look its best.
Get your pans ready
- Do you have a big enough pan for your large bird? What about a rack to place the turkey on? I particularly like V-racks, they are definitely worth investing in. You may have one that you use for chicken, but is yours big enough for your turkey?
Get all of your equipment ready
- Do you have all of your utensils for basting ready? Are your thermometer’s ready and charged? Remember, those remote or instant read thermometers need new batteries every now and then. You don’t want it dying on you while you’re roasting your turkey!
- Have you decided which wine you are going to serve? If not, check out your collection and pick out one. Make sure if you choose white to plan time to chill it before the meal. If you’re going with red, find time to let it breathe. You want to look for a wine that is a little lighter than you would typically drink so that you do not overpower the turkey. Saying that I always recommend choosing a wine that you really enjoy. You don’t always have to drink white wine with turkey or red wine with steak. Some good options for turkey are: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Beaujolias Nouveau or Pinot Grigio. If you do choose a Chardonnay, I would choose one that is not too oaky, as this could overpower your food.
- Remember a turkey usually needs 12-15 minutes per pound when roasting at 350 degrees F. This number increases if you are stuffing your bird. These numbers, however, are just estimates and the most accurate way to tell when your turkey is done is by checking the temperature. That’s why investing in a good thermometer is essential. Do not rely on those pop-up thermometers, as those pop up when the turkey is already done and too dry! Take your turkey out of the oven when it has reached between 150-160 degrees F in the breast meat, or 160-165 degrees F in the thigh. While resting the temperatures will continue to rise another 5 – 10 degrees F. The USDA recommends “A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.” In my opinion the breast meat will be dry at this temperature but you should know what they recommend and cook accordingly.
- For your side dishes, remember to plan them out accordingly so everything is hot on the table! If you make them midday or a few hours before eating, you can always reheat them in the oven or microwave while your turkey is resting. If you’re serving salad, do not dress until near the time you will be eating, otherwise you’ll have soggy lettuce on your hands.
Rest your turkey!
- It is so important that you let the bird rest after taking it out of the oven. Let it rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes before carving. This allows the heat to transfer throughout the meat and let the juices get soaked throughout the bird.
Most Important, have a very happy & safe Thanksgiving and remember to thank someone today who might not be expecting it.