Thanksgiving: How to make the perfect turkey
From thawing to seasoning to carving and serving, we’ve got you covered on how to make the perfect turkey for your Thanksgiving feast!
ProblemSolved, USA TODAY
Question: How large a turkey do you need if you are expecting 12 guests (but possibly 14 if, by then, Aunt Sue hasn’t broken up with her loser boyfriend who will bring his tag-along mother), one of whom will only eat birds raised on a gluten-free diet, three of whom are likely to get into a fistfight over the dark meat, and two others insist the stuffing be made from free-range bread?
Seriously, figuring out what — and how much — turkey and side dishes to make can be mind-boggling and sometimes frightening. We offer a cheat sheet to help you start planning for your Thanksgiving or other holiday dinner.
How much turkey per person?
- Aim for 1½ pounds of turkey per person, so for eight people, buy a 12-pound turkey, and for 12 people, buy an 18-pounder.
- The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. You’ll need about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. For speedier thawing, put the turkey in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and plan for about 30 minutes per pound.
- There are different trains of thought when it comes to cooking a turkey. Some say 325 degrees for the whole time. Others say 400 to 425 degrees for the first hour, then 325 degrees. Whichever way you go, use a thermometer; the meat should be 165 degrees.
- Using a standard oven, a 12-pound turkey will take 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees, and an 18-pound turkey 4½ to 5 hours.
- The turkey never should go directly from the oven to the table. Like most meat, it needs to rest before serving for the juices to redistribute. Cover the turkey with foil and a few bath towels layered over that (to keep it warm), then let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Want something different? Bakery stuffs an entire Thanksgiving turkey dinner in a pie
How much stuffing per person?
A 14-ounce bag of stuffing makes about 11 servings; a 6-ounce box of stuffing mix makes 6 servings.
How many pounds of potatoes per person for mashed potatoes?
A 5-pound bag of potatoes makes 10 to 12 servings of mashed potatoes.
How much green beans per person?
Two pounds of green beans makes 11 servings.
How much cranberry sauce per person?
A 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries makes about 2¼ cups of sauce; a 14-ounce can has 6 servings.
How much gravy per person?
Plan for ⅓ cup of gravy per person.
How many carrots per person?
A 1-pound bag makes 4 to 5 servings.
Side dish idea: Try Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions and maple syrup
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Tips continue after photo gallery
How much dessert per person?
- Pie: A 9-inch pie can be cut into 8 modest slices.
- Whipped cream: Dolloping whipped cream on those 8 modest slices will require 1 cup of heavy cream beaten with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (a splash of vanilla extract is nice, too).
- Ice cream: Á la mode doesn’t require much — 1 pint per pie should suffice.
Downsizing? What to make for a small Thanksgiving dinner (with servings per person)
What wine should you serve?
- Offer all colors and types of wine. Besides red and white, consider pink or bubbly. Sweet late-harvest wines go nicely with fatty foods like cheeses and paté, plus many fruits and desserts.
- Make sure you store wine in a cool spot (ideally 55 degrees). That slows down oxidation, extending the life of the wine. Try a dark place where temperatures don’t exceed 68 degrees.
- Sparkling wine is the only wine that should be served right out of the refrigerator. Take whites out 45 minutes before you’re ready to drink them. Reds should be taken out an hour before serving. They are best at about 65 degrees.
From 2018: National wine experts recommend Finger Lakes wines for Thanksgiving
6 tips to make Thanksgiving easier
- Before shopping for the Thanksgiving meal, clean out the refrigerator. Get rid of any unidentifiable leftovers and expired condiments. Make a plan to use whatever you can in the freezer and refrigerator.
- Store what you can — for example, apples, cranberries and potatoes — in a cool place. If it’s cold out, it could be the trunk of the car.
- Week of Thanksgiving, make use of coolers for dips, casseroles and other made-ahead items.
- On Thanksgiving, make a drink station in another room. Then a guest who wants to help can take on serving drinks.
- Use a microwave to keep a hot pot warm for a half hour or so, or use a heating pad inside an insulated food carrier.
- If you put foil on dishes, a cooler, which will also retain heat, would work.
Contributing: Associated Press