by Ingredient

A Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner table.jpg

Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated with a feast. You can give thanks to the bounty of the earth without the day turning into a disaster by planning ahead.


Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated with a feast. You can give thanks to the bounty of the earth without the day turning into a disaster by planning ahead.

Factors in planning Thanksgiving Dinner.

Long term

1. The first consideration is how many people are going to attend. If you need to send invitations, do so a month in advance. Do you have enough eating utensils and plates for everyone?

2. Next ask yourself who will be attending. An all-adult dinner most likely will be different than one that includes the kids. Additionally, food preferences and allergies need to be taken into consideration.

3. Now decide where the dinner will take place. Is there room for everyone to sit around your table? Will you need a separate "children's"table? Do you need to rent or borrow extra seating or tables? Will dinner be buffet style, with folks sitting with tray tables? (Those more interested in watching the football game will like this option.)

4. Your budget is an important factor in planning your feast. If limited, you may want to plan on a "pot luck" dinner with guests bringing different dishes. Generally, the host will provide the main dish. Another option is to spread your grocery purchases over several months.

5. Next, decide on your menu. Remember the earlier considerations and choose your Thanksgiving recipes. Make a complete checklist of all the ingredients you will need not forgetting the spices, gravy makings, condiments and cooking aids. (Remember many stores are closed on Thanksgiving, so shop early.)

Almost the big day

Defrost the bird

To thaw the your bird, without risk of salmonella, it needs to remain refrigerated but out of the freezer. You must allow 3 to 4 hours per pound, or three days for a 10 pounds and twice as long for a 20 pounder. Most birds are purchased frozen, so make sure you buy it in time for defrosting. What size do you need? Two pounds for each adult and one pound for each child, plus two pounds is average. If you relish the leftovers or are big eaters add a few pounds.

Make any dishes that can be served cold or reheated the day before. You probably only have one oven and four burners to use at a time. Also, this gives you time to at least welcome your guests. Prepare your stuffing, sauces etc the day before your cooking begins. See Stuffing Glaze Cranberry sauce (if you don’t buy it canned.

Determine the cooking times for your thanksgiving recipes, so that you know when to start each. With proper timing all the hot food should be finished at the same time. If you have too many hot dishes and room in the oven, some can be placed there to keep them warm. Also, a microwave can zap things back to the proper temperature, if required.

Lets talk turkey.

Dressing the bird. This means preparing the bird for cooking. First rinse the inside with cool water and remove the packet of giblets and the neck. You can sauté the giblets and add them to your stuffing or gravy, or give your pet a treat. If you are stuffing the bird do so. Remember the neck cavity as well as the body can be stuffed with the same or a different recipe. Wrap the ends of the legs and the wings with aluminum foil to prevent them from over browning. Place the bird in a deep baking pan with an aluminum foil “tent” covering the bird or in a roasting pan with the lid on.


Set the oven temperature at 325 degrees and preheat oven.

Place covered bird in the oven.

Cooking time averages 3 hours for an eight to ten pounds. Add fifteen minutes for every additional pound. (If less than 8 pounds figure on 20 minutes per pound) Add 1/2 hour if the bird is stuffed.


Cooking times can vary so it is best to check the meat with a cooking thermometer even if using a pop-up indicator. The temperature should be checked in the thigh (not touching the bone) and is done when it reaches 180 degrees. The stuffing should be at 160 degrees.

A half hour before the meat is finished remove the foil tent or lid so the skin browns. During the last 15 minutes the oven temperature can be increased to 400 degrees to aid the browning.

To baste or not to baste. Basting is not necessary. Some believe it adds moisture to a normally dry meat. Many brands are self-basting, which makes it easier. Of course you can baste using a turkey baster or brush during the last half hour of cooking. A better alternative is to stuff butter, or herbed butter under the skin and coat the interior of the bird before stuffing.

However numerous sources have shown that basting does not add moisture to poultry meat. The basting liquid never penetrates the skin and simply runs off and back into the pan. For more information see our Roast Turkey Survival Guide

Meat alternatives

Remember the Thanksgiving Day is for feasting. Any meat, poultry, fish or other main dish can be served. Also, if you or any of your guests are vegan (vegetarian) see Vegan recipes. (The Vaganburger recipe can be modified to produce shaped meatballs or a meatloaf.)

Side dishes and Salads Start your own traditions with your favorite side dishes and salads.

Standard fair includes:

  1. Mashed potatoes and gravy, but there are many ways to prepare potatoes and gravy.

  2. Sweet potatoes or yams.

  3. Any vegetable, but those associated with fall like squash and zucchini add an autumn feel to the feast. See recipes for your favorite vegetable. One that gets the kids to eat carrots is by substituting carrots for yams in the Candied yam recipe.

As easy as pie

Pie is the traditional and often expected desert to complete you Thanksgiving Dinner. First choose a crust from variety of crusts available. Chocolate crumb or graham cracker crumb crusts are simple to prepare and are ideal for no bake pies. The traditional rolled dough piecrust need not be much more of a challenge. Just follow a few easy tips to prepare a delicious, flaky crust.

Handle the dough as little as possible. Oils in the hands will reduce the flakiness. Use knives or a pastry cutter to “cut in” the shortening. The pastry cutter is a huge timesaver to produce the even grains of the mix.

Liberally flour both your rolling pin and the surface onto which you are rolling the dough.

Use floured plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or butcher paper as the surface for rolling the dough. It makes it much easier to pick up the pastry and flip it into your pie plate.


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