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Thanksgiving is EASY Part 1: General Rules and Turkey

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Remember that tear-jerking story-song, Rocky?

She said, "Rocky, I never cooked Thanksgiving before, don't know if I can do it... but if you'll let me lean on you, and take my hand, I might get through it..."

Thanksgiving is actually much easier than a lot of dinners I've cooked. It's one of the easiest. People just become intimidated by the sheer size of everything, and the fear of being judged. Just think of it as cooking a giant chicken. Gone are the days where you have to get up a hundred times all night to baste the turkeys. Overcooking turkeys dried them out. Don't let the charts and graphs freak you out. They are there for reference. And remember, everyone at the table is just so relieved they didn't have to cook, you can get away with murder.

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So let's do this thing!

Rule #1 Delegate! People always ask if they can bring anything. Tell them what you want. Thanksgiving works best as a potluck. The only things you can't delegate are the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Rule #2 Shortcuts. Don't freak out over things like the pie crust. Marie Callendars makes a perfectly good frozen pie crust. And if it really freaks you out, buy it. Marie Callendars also sells pies. Canned cranberry sauce? Buy the "whole" cranberry kind, mix in a little orange zest. Or just don't make it. The only thing you have to do is make turkey and mashed potatoes. You can do that.

Rule #3 Alcohol. Unless you have issues here, ask everyone to bring a bottle of champagne. It makes things automatically festive, and no one notices if the food is screwed up. All the guys will pass out in front of the game, and champagne is not the kind of alcohol that encourages fighting, like, say, whisky does.

Rule #4 Shop Tuesday. Prep and cook side dishes and dessert Wednesday. Make turkey and potatoes Thursday. I like to wait and shop late at night, because the store can be crowded and stress you out. If you wait til Wednesday, some things like whipping cream will be sold out.

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Rule #5 Appetizers - cheese and crackers, fruit, hummus, whatever you don't have to make. Tell people to bring them if you have run out of other things to delegate. If you need help in the kitchen, put appetizers in the kitchen. Then when people come in to snack, say, "Hey - do you mind mashing these potatoes?" See, they fell right into your trap. If you want them out of your hair, put appetizers in the living room and they will stop coming in every 10 minutes to ask when dinner will be ready. Put an ice chest out there too if you really want to be left alone.

Rule #6 DO NOT BUY A FROZEN TURKEY. Most Thanksgiving disasters involve undercooked turkeys that just won't cook. You should have already bought a frozen turkey by now if that was your plan. They take forever to thaw. If it's just a little hard, and it's all they have left, buying it today might be OK. Put it in a big sinkful of warm water to help defrost faster. Never leave it in the sink over 2 hours. And never thaw it on the counter.

Shopping List (Check things off if they are already in the pantry)

1 turkey (1 pound per person)
butter (Buy 2 pounds. You will need it for lots of things)
onions (You will need around 3 for everything)
garlic (1 head)
1 package or bunch fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper (invest in freshly ground pepper and a nice salt. It's a holiday)
aluminum foil

Optional:
Turkey temperature gauge
Aluminum roasting pans (Buy two. Use one inside the other. They aren't that strong.)
Champagne
Basting brush

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TURKEY

1 turkey
1/4 pound butter
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces (quartered)
5 peeled cloves of garlic
2 or 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

See chart below to decide when to start roasting. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Take turkey out of package inside a clean sink. Reach inside and pull out a bag of innards. No one likes these. Throw them away. Overachievers can make giblet gravy, but we are going to throw them away. Pull out the neck. If you like, you can wrap this in tin foil and it will be done about an hour before the turkey. Some people like to snack on it. Rinse turkey under cold, running water and put it in roasting pan.

Melt the butter. It takes a little under a minute in the microwave. Divide butter into a few little teensy bowls. Rub the turkey, inside and out, with melted butter. Put that bowl of butter in the sink now, because it has touched raw turkey. Put onion, garlic, and rosemary (you can also use fresh thyme, or sage, whatever) inside of cavity of turkey. Stuffing the turkey with stuffing causes uneven cooking and salmonella.

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Cook turkey, uncovered, for one hour. Brush with more butter and turn the oven down to 400 degrees. You can baste the turkey in its own juices with a spoon if you feel like it. If you are brushing on the butter with a brush, wash the brush every hour or so. I use paper towels because it is less work. Make sure the pan does not dry out. Add water or chicken broth if the pan looks dry.

Cook turkey another half hour, then brush with more butter. If it seems like it is browning too soon, cover with aluminum foil. If it is not browning fast enough, remove foil. Repeat every 30 minutes. Don't reuse melted butter; melt more if you have to. Throw out the bowl of melted butter and use a fresh bowl every time. No poisoning people allowed, even if your uncle does make you crazy. It might be a good idea to buy a temperature gauge just in case: The turkey is done when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F, and when the breast meat reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F.

12 to 14 lbs..............3 to 3 3/4 hrs
14 to 18 lbs........3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
18 to 20 lbs........4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
20 to 24 lbs..............4 1/2 to 5 hrs

Done. See, easy! Let cool 20 minutes, which is perfect because you can tend to the side dishes.

Photo courtesy of Liz via Flickr.

Mashed potatoes and green beans
Stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce
Pumpkin Pie