Published November 2, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.
I forgot to defrost my turkey. My mashed potatoes are lumpy. We've prepared a Thanksgiving Q & A to answer to these and most other problems our members have encountered over the years.
Do I have to brine my turkey?
Brining is the best way to guarantee a moist turkey, but it isn't always the most practical way, especially considering limited refrigerator space. If you don't want to use any of our alternative suggestions (see below), our Roast Salted Turkey is as tasty as brined although not quite as moist.
I don’t have room in my refrigerator to brine a turkey.
Use a large cooler packed with ice or, better yet, reusable ice-packs. You can also use Ziploc Big Bags XL, which measure 2 by 1.7 feet. They usually retail for under $6 for four bags. They are designed for storing sweaters and pillows but are perfect for brining.
What’s the basic formula for brining?
One cup of table salt per gallon of cold water does the job for all sizes of turkeys. Brine for eight hours, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry.
I only use kosher salt, not table. How do I adjust the recipe?
Because kosher salt is less dense than table salt, and because one brand of kosher salt is even less dense than the other, the formulas must be adjusted. Substitute 2 cups of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt or 1 1/2 cups of Morton Kosher Salt for 1 cup table salt.
What about brining “flavor enhanced” birds?
No, don’t even think about it. Some birds, such as frozen Butterballs, have been injected with a flavored brine. These birds should not be brined a second time. Kosher turkeys are also treated with salt during the koshering process and should never be brined.
How long does it take to defrost a frozen turkey?
Allow four pounds per day in the refrigerator.
What if my turkey is partially frozen on Thanksgiving morning?
Place the turkey without the wrapping and giblets in a large bucket (or sink) filled with very cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes.
What if I need to roast a turkey quickly?
If it has been brined (or you have purchased a “flavor enhanced” bird), remove the backbone with a knife, whack the bird flat with a saucepan, and roast it skin-side-up on a rack in pan (a broiler pan works well) for 90 to 100 minutes at 450 degrees.
What’s your stance on stuffing?
Stuffing take longer to cook than breast meat and that usually results in overcooked turkey. However, if it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a stuffed turkey on your table, you can reduce the roasting time (and the risk of dry turkey) by heating the stuffing before spooning it into the cavity of the turkey. Heat the stuffing in the microwave on high power until very hot, (120 to 130 degrees) or 6 to 8 minutes. Another solution is to follow the butterflied turkey recipe above, placing the rack or broiler pan over a large disposable aluminum roasting pan filled with stuffing. Once the bird is done, remove the rack and put the stuffing back into the very hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes to crisp up the top.
I don’t have a roasting rack. What should I do?
If you don’t own a V-rack, cooking grates from a gas stove can be used to create a makeshift roasting rack. Wrap two stove grates with aluminum foil and then use a paring knife or skewer to poke holes in the foil so that juices can drip down into the pan as the bird roasts. Place the grates in the roasting pan, resting them against the sides of the pan so that the bottoms of the grates meet to create a V shape. Roast the turkey as usual.
Do I have to baste the bird?
Yes, but not while it’s cooking. Brushing the turkey with butter before roasting takes little to no extra work, contributes to browning, and adds a mild buttery flavor. Basting later in the process can turn the skin soggy.
Thirty minutes seems like a long time to rest the turkey after roasting. Is it really necessary?
Absolutely. Resting allows precious turkey juices to redistribute evenly in the bird for ultra moist, flavorful meat. Skip this step, and you’ll end up with a flood of juices on your carving board, not to mention dry turkey. Plan on 30 minutes of resting for most birds, and up to 40 minutes for very large birds. Tent loosely with foil during resting.
I hate carving a turkey. Any suggestions?
Start with a sharp knife. We suggest the Chef’s Choice Knife Sharpener (only buy the 3-slot, not the 2-slot model) but that will set you back almost $100. A cheaper alternative but not good with a really dull knife is the AccuSharp Knife and Tool Sharpener for a mere $11.71. If you use it regularly, the knife ought to stay sharp. We also suggest that you remove each breast intact and then slice the meat on the cutting board. An electric knife – Black and Decker is our favorite – actually does a great job.
How can I make cranberry sauce at the last minute?
Follow the directions on the back of a bag of fresh cranberries but add 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste).
How do I get really smooth mashed potatoes?
Use a ricer or a food mill for really smooth mashed potatoes. Never use an electric mixer (turns potatoes gluey) and a masher is fine if you like your potatoes a bit lumpy or “country-style.”
How can I hold mashed potatoes?
Place them in a slow cooker on the lowest setting. To serve, stir in some warm milk, half-and-half, or cream. Mashed potatoes will keep for at least two hours.
How can I hold hot dinner rolls?
Wrap in aluminum foil and place in a paper bag. They will stay warm for 30 minutes.
I want homemade rolls but don’t want to go to the trouble.
Stay away from the refrigerator section rolls. Go out and buy a pound of pizza dough, cut it into eight pieces, shape into balls, place on an oiled baking sheet, brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.
I love squash at the holidays but want to avoid peeling and cutting. How about precut squash?
Don't use it; it's usually dried out and woody. To help the process, use an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and strings without damaging the flesh.
What do you suggest for a cooking wine?
The problem with cooking wines is having something around all the time that does not quickly go bad. Forget about bottled wines unless you are willing to always open a new bottle. (Not a bad idea!) For the rest of us, boxed wines actually do stay fresh, even after two weeks. And the cost is lower, about $2 to $5 a “bottle.” Great for cooking.
I cannot serve alcohol in my food. What do I use as a substitute?
If a recipe calls for 1/2 cup white wine, you can use the following: one teaspoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar; 2 to 4 tablespoons of Verjus (the unfermented juice from unripe white grapes); or an equal amount of non-alcoholic wine.
Can I buy canned pumpkin instead of baking fresh pumpkin?
Yes, our taste tests revealed no significant difference between canned pumpkin and fresh pumpkin in our pies, but you want to purchase plain pumpkin, NOT “pie mix” or any other flavored pumpkin product. Our favorite brands are Libby and One-Pie.
Any ideas for transporting pies?
Use a clean 10-inch pizza box. If you have non-skid shelf liner, put this on the bottom of the box before adding the pie plate.
My pie dough always falls apart during rolling!
We've developed a new recipe for pie dough, Foolproof Pie Dough, which delivers an ultra-moist pie dough that guarantees successful rolling. However, if you want to use your family pie dough recipe and you're having problems, take the dough, put it into a medium bowl, add small amounts of water, and work into the dough gently with your hands or with a rubber spatula. When the dough holds together easily, form it into a 4-inch disc, dust with flour, and then roll it out. If you have the extra time, it is best to place the wrapped disc (plastic wrap) in the freezer for 15 minutes to allow the butter to firm up. The simple rule is to add plenty of water when making pie dough otherwise it will be impossible to roll.
The recipe calls for sour cream and I only have plain yogurt.
Yogurt can be substituted for sour cream one for one.
I don’t have brown sugar, just white granulated sugar.
If a recipe calls for one cup light brown sugar, use one cup granulated sugar plus one tablespoon molasses. For dark brown sugar, use two tablespoons molasses.
How do I know when to take the pumpkin pie out of the oven?
When the perimeter is set but the middle inch or two is still loose and a bit wobbly. It will continue to cook and set outside of the oven.