Thanksgiving is all about tradition, so it's only natural that we field a lot of the same questions each year about the same things.
But it's okay. These things come up again and again for a reason! We've gathered some of the most common questions here for your easy perusal.
How big of a turkey should I buy?
The Agriculture Department suggests one pound of turkey per person. We've previously suggested about 1 1/2 pounds for each diner to allow for leftovers.
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When should I buy a turkey, and how do I store it?
When you buy the bird depends on whether you're going with fresh or frozen. A raw, fresh turkey should be stored for no longer than two days in the refrigerator. In theory, a frozen turkey can last indefinitely. But for the best quality, use it within a year. Of course, if you have yet to buy one for this year, you have nothing to worry about in terms of storage time.
Should I brine the turkey?
Brining helps poultry stay moist and tasty. (Kosher or self-basting birds should not be brined.) Some people choose to dry brine their turkey – rub it with salt, basically. In that situation, salt draws the meat's juices to the surface of the bird. The juices then mix with the salt, forming a brine that is then reabsorbed by the meat.
A few years ago, deputy Post Food editor Bonnie S. Benwick tried both methods and decided she preferred a wet brine, which required less effort and resulted in more uniformly moist and seasoned meat. When you remove the turkey from the brine, make sure you pat it thoroughly dry to get crisp skin. But consider this: You can also achieve a moist, flavorful turkey without brining at all.
What about just a turkey breast?
Even dark-meat fans can appreciate the moist, tender yield of a bone-in turkey breast. The key is in choosing a cooking method that will do it justice. A turkey breast can be just the ticket for a small group, as well as an alternative to roasting a second bird when you're planning to feed a crowd. A real selling point: It can be done in advance.
Should I roast a turkey breast for two people?
Size-wise, a turkey breast is definitely a good fit for a small crowd, though for a pair, you'll probably want to aim for something close to six pounds. Even then, you'll have some extra for subsequent meals.
To satisfy those who go for dark meat, consider getting a small whole turkey. You might have especially good luck with a local farmer.
If the ideas of a white-meat-only breast or too-big whole turkey don't appeal to you, there are other options. You might consider a duck, which is smaller, with rich, gamy flavor. Or go the ultimate route for single- or small-serving poultry and cook Cornish hens.
How can I make gravy in advance?
Roast extra turkey wings until deeply browned and crisped. Toss them into a pot of at least four cups of broth with your favorite aromatics: celery, onion, fresh herbs, a bay leaf, whole black peppercorns. For interest, add 1/2 cup of dry red wine or Madeira or unsweetened apple cider. Cook, strain, and discard the solids.
Then you can melt eight tablespoons of unsalted butter in a separate saucepan and whisk in 1/2 cup of low-protein flour, like Wondra or pastry flour, to form a smooth roux; it needs to be cooked over medium heat for a few minutes to lose its floury taste. Whisk in your enriched stock and cook until thickened, which should take more than 20 minutes. Season, cool, refrigerate or freeze.
Once the bird comes out of the oven, you might want to whisk strained pan drippings into the reheated gravy, then season with salt and pepper.
How do I make a perfect pie crust?
A few pointers: Keep things cool. Rotate the crust 90 degrees periodically as you're rolling it. Make your crusts in advance. And if something does go wrong, roll with it. Do your best, and call it a day. Smile, because, hey, you're going to be eating pie!
What can I make ahead?
- Cranberry sauce. Most cranberry relishes can be refrigerated for up to a week.
- Gravy. You can make your gravy (or most of it, minus the drippings) a few days early.
- Bread. Bake your bread or rolls a day or two in advance.
- Pies. Most pies can be made two or more days in advance.
- Turkey. Start brining the day before.
- Stuffing. Advance work depends on the recipe. Some stuffings can be made wholly in advance; others should be made up to the point of adding the liquid. Reheat or finish baking on Thursday.
What can I do with leftovers?
- Send home extras with your friends and family.
- Make a Thanksgiving hash.
- Blend vegetables into purée for soup.
- Layer other dishes into a type of terrine.
- Turn bread into croutons or bread crumbs.
- Mash pies into ramekins for a kind of custard.