Don't wake up on Thanksgiving morning and realize you forgot to buy a roasting pan. Check out these handy lists to make sure you have all the necessary equipment and pantry staples on hand.
We tested nine models readily found in kitchen and hardware stores of varying design, materials, and features by rolling out pie crust, yeasted rolls, cookies, and pizza dough. On our minds were leverage, maneuverability, effectiveness, and overall comfort and ease of use. And one pin had to be able to do all tasks equally well. After all, no one wants more than one pin in the kitchen.
So could any one pin really make a difference in your cooking? In one word: Yes. No matter the type of dough, testers universally loved the same slightly rough texture to the maple surfaces of our three favorite pins. Other lessons from this testing: pins too lightweight are ineffective, too heavy means less maneuverability, and handled pins spin in place instead of rolling over parchment-covered cookie dough.
We purchased eight popular brands of herb-flavored stuffing, and it was immediately clear from the ingredient list that fresh, natural flavors had been discarded for the usual suspects like MSG and high-fructose corn syrup. Chicken stock appeared in just three brands, and flavorful herbs were few and far between.
So how did they taste? Well, every brand was a far cry from the real thing. In addition to poor flavor (from bland and murky to strongly objectionable), the stuffings suffered from textural extremes—all were panned as either "pasty" and "gummy" or "dry" and "chewy."
In the end, the stuffings that made it to the top of our list were put there not because of their great flavor or texture but because they were "not objectionable." As one taster wrote, "The best, but so what?"
The technology behind this device is quite simple. A harmless compound with a known melting temperature is liquefied in the bottom of the timer device. A spring is compressed into the molten material as it cools and hardens. The timer is then inserted into the thickest part of the breast. When the material at the bottom of the timer melts again during cooking, the spring is free to expand, and the plastic stem pops up.
Most of these timers are calibrated to “pop” at 178 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature chosen to make sure that the legs, which take more time to cook than the breast, will be completely cooked through. Unfortunately, this also guarantees that the breast meat will be thoroughly overcooked. Since we recommend that you remove the bird from the oven when the breast temperature reaches 165 degrees, the popper in your bird will never get hot enough to pop, so don’t rely on them for an accurate reading. Our recommendation? Keep your turkey meat moist and buy your own inexpensive thermometer.
We tried several types and brands of premade pie crusts—both dry mixes (just add water) and ready-made crusts, either frozen or refrigerated—in recipes for chicken pot pie and custard pie.
The dry mixes and frozen crusts all had problems. But the one refrigerated contender wasn't bad. Though the flavor was somewhat bland, it wasn't offensive, and the crust baked up to an impressive flakiness. Better yet, this fully prepared product comes rolled up and is flexible enough to top a pie or line one of your own (nondisposable) pie plates.
Our advice: Make your own. (Pie crusts can be made in advance.) But if you can’t, opt for the refrigerator premade crusts.
In one word: No. We chose four gravy additives—two powders and two liquids, and prepared four gravies following the instructions on each of the packages. Overall results were dismal and tasters all complained that the gravies tasted artificial. While the theory behind the supermarket additives—a store-bought replacement for the time-consuming fond—was right on, the results were off base. Our suggestion: Build your own fond with fresh vegetables and leave these items on the shelf.
To see how disposable aluminum baking pans would perform, we made a batch of our New York-Style Crumb Cake in a disposable aluminum 8-inch square pan and our Sticky Buns with Pecans in a disposable aluminum 13- by 9-inch pan. When compared to batches made in traditional metal pans, there was a clear difference. The cake and buns made in the disposable pans had not browned and were unevenly cooked, and the caramel on the sticky buns was a lighter shade.
Another drawback of the disposable pans was that they were hard to transfer out of the oven, since they tended to be wobbly. Borrowing an idea for browning and crisping the bottoms of pies, we next put the filled disposable pans directly on a preheated baking sheet. This solved both problems. The baked goods now browned evenly, and the baking sheet made it easy to transfer the pans out of the oven.
If you have a dial-face thermometer, just immerse the thermometer in a slurry of ice water (boiling temperature calibration is not necessary), being careful not to touch the container and, using a pair of needle-nose pliers, adjust the screw on the underside of the dial face until it reads 32 degrees.
For instant-read thermometers, use this technique.
Modern commercial turkeys have been bred to have very little flavor. Today's turkeys are up to 70 percent white meat, and they grow fast, which doesn’t give them much time to develop very much fat (and therefore, flavor). Rapid growth may be good for farmers, but it's not so great for cooks. The female turkeys that most Americans eat on Thanksgiving are ready for market in just 14 weeks. (By contrast, older breeds of turkey, called heritage birds, need seven to eight months to grow to full size—roughly twice as long as modern turkeys.)
Does that mean that all modern turkeys are going to be equally bland, whether you pay $100 for a mail-order bird or a fraction of that for a supermarket option? To find out, we gathered five turkeys, including common supermarket brands, kosher turkey, a “natural” turkey, and a $9 per pound heritage breed bird from a gourmet retailer.
The heritage turkey was free-range and vegetarian-fed. In our last turkey tasting, we used a different farm’s heritage bird, which gave us outstanding results. This year’s bird was certainly good, but not so much better than other options from the supermarket to make it worth the effort and expense.
So are mail-order turkeys worth more than four times the price of a supermarket bird? Not always. But that doesn’t mean all turkeys are created equal.
If you don’t have a fat separator, we advise using a 1- to 2-ounce cooking spoon to skim the fat from the surface after it’s settled.
You can also use a baster. Plunge the tip beneath the fat and draw the liquid into the baster, then deposit the defatted liquid in another container.
Both of these tedious methods work, but an inexpensive fat separator is the best tool for the job.
We advise against cooking with salted butter for three reasons. First, the amount of salt in salted butter varies from brand to brand, making it impossible to offer conversion amounts that will work with all brands. Second, because salt masks some of the flavor nuances found in butter, salted butter tastes different from unsalted butter.
Finally, salted butter almost always contains more water than unsalted butter. The water in butter ranges from 10 to 18 percent. In baking, butter with a low water content is preferred, since excess water can interfere with the development of gluten. In fact, when we used the same brand of both salted and unsalted butter to make brownies and drop biscuits, tasters noticed that samples made with salted butter were a little mushy and pasty; they preferred the texture of baked goods made with unsalted butter.
After two elimination rounds in which tasters evaluated each product’s saltiness and flavor, we narrowed down the 40 (!) samples we found in our local grocery stores to nine finalists.
Our favorite broths were those whose list of ingredients included most or all of the components of the standard mirepoix chefs use to make sauces—that is, carrots, celery, and onions. In fact, you can almost predict how good-tasting a commercial chicken broth will be by counting the number of mirepoix elements listed.
So what chicken broth product should you reach for when you haven't got time for homemade? We recommend choosing a mass-produced, lower-sodium brand—and check the label for evidence of mirepoix ingredients. (The best-tasting brands get help from vegetables, a glutamic compound, or both.)