A Timeline for Preparing the Thanksgiving Feast
If you’re in charge of getting the Thanksgiving meal to the table on time, you know it takes a comprehensive plan (and usually a few deputies) to ensure a successful feast. While it’s tempting to put all of your focus into monitoring the internal temperature of the turkey, appetizers need serving, salads and sides need making, casseroles need warming, and someone has to remember to make the gravy! With a little attention ahead of time, there’s no reason stress on Turkey Day. Here’s a timeline to keep you in check, starting on the Tuesday before the holiday.
Thanksgiving Turkey Timeline
Prepare a concentrated turkey brine.
We’re going to be using several gallons of brine when we get around the soaking the turkey (we need to make sure the entire bird is covered). Around the holidays, fridge space can be hard to come by, so make a concentrated brine to save storage space, and dilute when it comes time to brine. For example, if you’re planning to need 5 gallons of brine solution to completely soak the bird, you’ll need about 5 cups of salt dissolved. To save some hassle, dissolve those 5 cups of salt ahead of time, along with sugar and spices, into only a portion of the total volume needed -- say, 2 gallons of water. Allow the mix to cool, and store in the fridge until Wednesday. When brining time comes around, simply add in the 3 remaining gallons of water to balance the salt ratio. Note: Be sure to write down the amount of water you’ll need to add!
Rosso & Flynn Turkeys Arrive!
The celebration can officially begin! Rosso & Flynn Thanksgiving turkeys, delivered fresh from Smith & Smith Farms in Burlington, Texas. Gather the family around the kitchen to welcome the bird into its new holiday home, and don’t forget to have a celebratory bottle of wine handy. Note the weight of the turkey, as this will factor into cooking time.
24 hours before cooking time: Dilute brine and soak turkey.
Reserve turkey giblets in separate container. Remove the concentrated brine from refrigerator and add enough water to balance the salt ratio. In a large plastic container or brining bag, cover the turkey with brining solution, ensuring the entire bird is covered. Place back in the fridge and…
Prepare stock for gravy.
In a stock pot, combine turkey giblets with mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) and preferred spices. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to allow for a low simmer. Simmer for several hours, allowing stock to reduce but ensuring the contents remain submerged. If a fatty film develops on the surface, skim with a spoon. Allow stock to cool, and move to fridge for storage.
Prepare cold sides.
The ever-nagging issue on Thanksgiving Thursday comes in the form of side dishes, none too complicated by itself, but draining in combination. First, make sure you have a trusty sidekick ready to complete tasks when called into action, provide conversation to cut through the tension of the kitchen craze, and keenly interpret attitudes to determine when another glass of wine should be poured for the chefs. Second, complete as much of the cold side preparation as possible on Wednesday. Potato salad and pasta salad can be completed the day before (and might even get better in the fridge overnight), and casseroles should be assembled, though not heated, to save time when Thursday begins.
Remove turkey from brine, rinse, and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper inside and out. Safely allowing the turkey to approach room temperature will result in a more even cook.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Based on the weight of the turkey, determine an estimated cooking time (about 20 minutes per pound). Place turkey in roasting pan.
Turkey hits the oven. Enjoy a beverage.
For the next few hours, you’re relatively free to assist with side preparation, round up young and restless relatives, call your mother-in-law… but be sure to stay mindful of a few turkey skin care points. Basting the turkey a couple of times per hour will aid the skin to crispy brown perfection, but — if the skin appears to be browning too quickly, tent the tent with aluminum foil to protect the surface through the roast.
This time will vary according to the size of the bird, but after a few hours in the oven, the turkey is ready to be checked for internal temperature. This initial temp check provides some idea as to how much longer the bird will take to reach temperature, and also gives an idea of how quickly the more exposed parts are cooking compared to the deepest, slowest parts. Oven temperature adjustments can be used to prevent drying out the top of the breast before the inside can reach temperature.
3:10 PM or about 1 hour before removal
If your bird could use a little more crisp, remove the foil tent to expose the skin for the remainder of the roast.
4:00 pm or when deepest part of breast reaches 155 degrees
The recommended temperature for safely consuming poultry is 165 degrees. After removing the turkey from the oven at an internal temp of 155, tent the bird with aluminum foil. During a period of “carryover cooking,” the internal temperature of the deepest parts of the bird will continue to rise.
Tip: It’s now time to call helpers into action. Ensure the casseroles have made it to the oven, enlist nieces and nephews to begin preparing the meal presentation by moving salads, rolls, and condiments to the serving table.
When the turkey has been removed from the pan and tented, scoop a heap of the pan dripping into a glass, and place in the refrigerator for a couple of minutes. The fat will rise to the surface while the liquid drippings remain below. Scoop the fat from the glass into a pan and place over low heat. Estimate an equal amount of flour and combine over low heat to form a roux, adding liquid drippings when the mixture is too thick, or adding flour to a watery roux. Continue to stir over low heat until the roux reaches a deep golden brown color. Remove previously prepared stock from refrigerator and combine with roux. Continue to mix over heat to complete gravy.
4:30 PM or after 30 minutes of rest for turkey
When your gravy is complete, it’s probably about time to start carving the turkey and making final preparations. Once again check that helpers have set the table, and carve the turkey onto the service platter. Move gravy into serving boat, and move all items to buffet.
Take your seat at the head of the table, pour a glass of wine, and share a feast with the family.