Thanksgiving Kitchen Tip Sheet

Whether this is your first Thanksgiving dinner or your 40th, our Test Kitchen experts have some ideas to take out stress and add more flavor. Print this at-a-glance list of quick tips and post it on your refrigerator to help your Turkey Day go as smoothly as possible.
Set the Stage
Cooking And Stirring

Well in advance, write down your entire menu and post it somewhere in your kitchen so you don't remember midway through dinner that the mashed potatoes are still in the refrigerator.

Prepare a cooking schedule and timetable based on your recipes and write it down. Post it in a visible place in your kitchen.

Clean out your refrigerator a few days before you begin cooking to make room for make-ahead dishes.

Set your Thanksgiving table the night before -- or earlier, if you don't use your dining room every night.

Assemble and organize your serving dishes and utensils a few days before. Pair them up and put a sticky note on each serving dish that tells you what's going in it so that in the last-minute frenzy of getting dinner on the table, you don't forget.

Turkey Tips

Defrosting a turkey: Defrosting time for your turkey depends on how big your bird is. Use these figures as a guide -- and always defrost a frozen turkey in its original wrapping in a pan in the refrigerator (don't count the day of roasting):

10- to 12-pound bird: 2 days 12- to 14-pound bird: 3 days 14- to 18-pound bird: 4 days 18-pound-plus bird: 5 days

Consider grilling your bird: Free up oven space for side dishes by cooking your turkey (unstuffed!) in a covered grill. (Although this can be done with a charcoal grill, a gas or propane model will be much less work.) An 8- to 12-pound turkey will take between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 hours to grill over medium coals. Be sure to grill indirectly (with the heat source coming from under each side of the bird rather than directly under it). You can bake your stuffing in the oven with the rest of the sides.

Turkey for a smaller crowd: Unless you really relish lots of leftovers, consider roasting a turkey breast rather than a whole bird if you're having six or fewer guests.

Herbs for stuffing: The best herbs for your stuffing are the ones you enjoy the most, though you may want to consider some of the sturdier, highly aromatic ones such as sage, thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, and flat-leaf Italian parsley.

For the shortest cooking time: Keep the oven door shut as much as possible. Slow, steady heat coaxes maximum flavor from the bird and produces a golden, crackly skin. Basting is not necessary, and may lengthen the cooking time.

How to tell if your turkey is done: A meat thermometer inserted into the thigh (but not touching bone) should read 180 degrees F and the stuffing should be 165 degrees F. The drumsticks should move very easily in their sockets and juices from the thigh will run clear when the thigh is pierced with a long-tined fork.

Continued on page 2:  Simple Starters and Sides