Thanksgiving Turkey Do’s and Don’ts
Author, instructor and recipe developer Rick Rodgers is a Thanksgiving expert. Recently he gave us some tips for a great Thanksgiving turkey. 11/12/18
Damian Giletto, Jennifer Corbett and Daniel Sato, Delaware News Journal
Getting the Thanksgiving meal cooked and on the table isn’t for the weak of heart. There’s a lot to do if you’re hosting a holiday meal.
Take the stress out of the day with some of these tested recipes, make-ahead dishes, and quick hacks.
Who better to help out than Rick Rodgers who is so well-known as a Thanksgiving expert that his nickname is “Mr. Thanksgiving?”
Rodgers is the author of more than 50 cookbooks, both under his name and as a ghostwriter for many celebrities and companies. His classic cookbook, “Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America’s Favorite Holiday with America’s Thanksgiving Expert” was written more than 25 years ago and is still in print.
In 2018, Rodgers, who was living in Delaware at the time (he has since moved to a nearby state), gave us some great holiday tips for a “Surefire Thanksgiving” that still apply.
Rodgers shared with us everything you need to know about turkey and his recipe for Dry-Brined Roast Turkey with Sage and Cider Gravy is a winner.
The cooking veteran also has lots of Thanksgiving tips and one of his best is this:
“I think you have to serve up a big bowl of nostalgia for Thanksgiving,” Rodgers said. “The trick is to use reliable recipes. People love tradition.”
His advice before you stray too far from customary dishes: “Know your audience. If you have a bunch of adults coming and they’re foodies, go to town. But if you have kids at the table and adults that don’t like surprises, tone it down.”
We also have some ideas that can help make your Turkey Day a little easier.
Rodgers has a terrific make-ahead idea that people might not know.
A filled, unbaked apple pie can be prepared, without its cream and sugar glaze, covered tightly in plastic wrap and then wrapped in aluminum foil, and frozen for up to 1 month. You then glaze and bake the frozen pie until golden brown for about 1¼ hours.
Here’s the recipe.
Wait, what? You bake it frozen?
Yes, but if you are going to freeze the pie, be sure to use a metal pie pan! Do not use not a glass or Pyrex pie pan. The baked apple pie can be made up to two days ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.
What else can I make ahead?
Mashed potatoes. Anyone who has had to make a mountain of mashed potatoes for a big holiday dinner knows that it can be quite a mad dash to get the potatoes on the table in a timely manner, Rodgers said.
“When faced with a crowd, I prepare this casserole the day before and bake it with the other side dishes. The copious amounts of dairy do the work to keep the potatoes moist during reheating.”
Here’s the recipe.
I’m tempted to buy gravy instead of doing it myself.
Making gravy puts fear in the hearts of a lot of people, Rodgers said. Just think of it as a sauce. You need fat and flour. You mix it up in your pan. Add liquid and you get gravy.
What are the secrets of great gravy?
Use a heavy pan, not an aluminum disposable one, to roast the turkey, Rodgers said. With a nice, heavy roaster pan, you’ll get beautiful, dark, heavy drippings. You won’t have to use a Gravy Master or a Kitchen Bouquet, which is caramel flavor coloring that a lot of people use to color their gravy. It’s optional. You won’t get beautiful, dark, colorful drippings in a thin, shiny, aluminum foil pan.
Here are more gravy tips.
What else do I need?
You should get a gravy separator if you want to make great gravy. You need to separate the fat from the drippings. With a gravy separator, the fat (the clear yellow part) rises to the top, and the dark drippings, where the flavor is, settle to the bottom.
If you were making a sauce, you would use butter and flour. The fat from the turkey substitutes for the butter. After you pour the drippings into the gravy separator, let it settle for about 3 to 5 minutes to let the separation occur. Then, pour the dark drippings out first in a measuring cup. When you see the clear liquid, you stop.
Why don’t you just use cornstarch instead of flour?
Cornstarch will make your gravy shiny and we want it nice and thick and luscious.
More Thanksgiving tips and hacks:
🦃 Food Network magazine suggests making two pumpkin pies. One can be served after the meal and the other can be sliced and sent home with family and guests. Who doesn’t like pumpkin pie for breakfast?
🦃 A good tip from Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten is to make your turkey stock well ahead of time. Hot, homemade turkey stock covers a multitude of cooking sins (like if you’ve overcooked the meat and need to moisten it in a jif) and will flavor the stuffing, especially if you don’t bake it in the bird. Buy and roast turkey wings in a pan with some onions, carrots and celery. Add them to a stockpot with cold water and some fresh herbs like parsley and thyme. Simmer for at least an hour, preferably more. Strain and store stock in quart containers in the freezer. You can also make the gravy now and keep it frozen.
🦃 Set the table a day or more ahead of time. You have enough on your hands in the kitchen. Get this task out of the way as soon as you can.
🦃 Buy more butter than you think you’ll need. You won’t regret it and you can store extras in the freezer.
🦃 This goofy turkey vegetable tray from TikTok is pretty funny. Adults appreciate the light, crunchy bites for appetizers, and the tray is a good way to entice kids to eat fresh vegetables.
🦃 Clean your oven a week ahead of time and sharpen your knives. Both will be getting a workout.
🦃 In 2022, Food & Wine put together an ultimate Thanksgiving guide. We like their tip of adding duck fat to the stuffing, and vegetables or putting it under the skin of the turkey before cooking for a giant flavor boost. Click here for more.
🦃 Don’t throw out the turkey carcass. Save it in the freezer to make a stock for soup. Better still, put it in a slow cooker, along with chopped onion, carrots, celery, and herbs like parsley and a bay leaf, set on low for 8 to 10 hours. Strain and use for turkey noodle soup (it’s even more flavorful than chicken)!
Holiday eats How to cook a perfect Thanksgiving turkey from cookbook author and expert Rick Rodgers
Must-make side dishes: Surefire Thanksgiving from expert Rick Rodgers: Make-ahead mashed potatoes, chutney
Great gravy! Surefire Thanksgiving from expert Rick Rodgers: The secrets of luscious, great gravy