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Ready for the Holidays?
Thanksgiving Dinner Checklist

Thanksgiving Turkey Thanksgiving Turkey
by John Raven, Ph.B.

With the holidays pecking at the door, we need to review a few things that will make food preparation easier and safer.

Let's start with the ever-popular Thanksgiving turkey. If you have a frozen turkey, it will take at least two days to thaw it properly for cooking. Every frozen bird comes with directions for thawing. The usual instructions are to place the bird in the bottom of the refrigerator for at least two days prior to the big day.

Deep-fried turkey

This has become very popular over the past couple of years. There are some safety issues here you need to be familiar with. First of all, the oil used in the fryer will be between 350 and 400 degrees. That is HOT. If any of the hot oil gets on your bare skin, you will carry the mark for a long time. You want to be sure to keep the kids, pets and clumsy adults far away from the frying operation. The frying is always done outside on a fireproof surface. Never try to fry a turkey in an enclosed structure of any kind. When you are putting the bird in the oil or taking the bird out of the oil, the burner needs to be turned off. If the hot oil comes in contact with open flame, it will catch fire and everything will burn. You want a suitably big fire extinguisher close at hand and be familiar with the operating instructions. You need to get yourself a good book on turkey frying or look instructions up on the Internet. Make sure you know what to do and why you are doing it.

For more information see my article on deep frying a turkey.

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Brined birds

The process of "brining" turkeys and chickens has gained a lot of favor. It is merely soaking the bird in salt water overnight before cooking. You will need a container large enough to hold the bird submerged in the brine and room enough in your icebox for the container. Mix a cup of salt with each gallon of water, stir to dissolve and submerge the bird overnight. It is said that brined birds are more tender and juicy. You do not brine a bird you are going to fry. The excess water will cause much boiling and roiling of the oil.

For more information see Patricia Mitchell's article on brining a turkey.

Old-Fashioned Roast Turkey

This is the traditional way to prepare the turkey. Take your properly thawed bird and remove the giblet package from the inside. The giblets are the neck, liver, gizzard and heart of the bird. The giblets go in a stockpot with onions, celery, carrots, black peppercorns and salt, and are simmered until very tender. Then the meat is chopped and used in the dressing or in giblet gravy.

The bird is washed with cool water inside and out. Remove any excess fat from the back end. Pat the bird dry with paper towels. Season inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you are going to stuff the bird with dressing, the dressing should be prepared a day ahead of time. You do not put hot dressing in a cold bird. You can use skewers and string to close the openings to keep the dressing inside. I prefer to cook my dressing on the side, so I put a whole peeled onion in the bird while it roasts. This provides flavor and moisture from the inside. You can also put in a peeled apple and some herbs of your choice.

Pop the bird in a 350F degree oven and roast him covered until he is nearly done, then remove the cover and let the bird brown to the desired shade. You can also use a foil tent. The little plastic "pop-out" deal that comes on some birds and is supposed to tell when the bird is done is not all that reliable. Use a good meat thermometer and take your reading in the thickest part of the thigh. You're shooting for about 160 degrees here.

Some folks swear by giving the bird a light coat of butter before putting it in the oven. You do need to baste the bird with some of the pan juice three or four times during the roasting process. If you need some liquid, pour in a little boiling water.

For more information, see Eleanor Bradshaw's article on cooking a complete turkey Thanksgiving dinner.


There are as many dressing recipes as there are cooks. The dressing can contain anything from prunes to water chestnuts. The traditional Texas dressing doesn't contain any exotics. My mama made some of the best dressing. She didn't have a recipe, but I watched her make it many times. You start with a large onion chopped fine. Two or three stalks of celery chopped fine. A pan of cornbread and five or six slices of stale bread that has been toasted to near scorching make the bulk of the dressing.

The onion and celery is sautéed in plenty of butter until it is transparent and tender. The giblets have been simmered tender, chopped and the cooking broth reserved. The cornbread and toast are crumbled and mixed together in a large bowl. The onion/celery mix is added along with the chopped giblets (I never liked the liver in the dressing -- the cat got that). Add enough of the reserved cooking broth to get the moisture content you desire, then add a little more as the dressing will dry some as it cooks. Mix it all up real good. Season with black pepper and celery salt -- not too much celery salt as it can get bitter if used in excess. It may need a little more regular salt. Have a couple of people taste it and get a consensus opinion. Bake the dressing in a suitable greased container. Internal temperature should reach 150-160. You cook it uncovered as you want a little crust on the edges.

See also Texas Cooking's recipe for Grandma's Cornbread Dressing and Gibet Gravy and Trish Bales' article on various stuffings for holiday turkey.

Giblet Gravy

In a large, heavy skillet, melt butter and add an equal amount of regular flour. Cook three or four minutes until the mix just begins to brown, stirring all the time. Whisk in reserved broth that has been strained and degreased. Start with about a cupful then keep adding until you get the desired consistency. Add chopped giblets and chopped hardboiled egg. Keep stirring until everything is good and hot. Season with salt and black pepper. Pour into your antique gravy boat and set it on the table.

Of course, in your spare time you have prepared the mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans and a couple of mince pies. Decorate everything with sprigs of parsley and slices of hard- boiled egg. Stand back and look modest when the compliments start to fly.

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