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Plan a Thanksgiving Meal to Remember

We all know Thanksgiving is a time for family togetherness, but it's also the perfect time to discover or embrace your culinary passions. The celebration, after all, is really around the dinner table. Make this year's meal something to remember. Whether you cook a classic menu or create new traditions entirely.

Classic Thanksgiving Traditions ...

It's no secret that the centerpiece of an American Thanksgiving meal is typically a golden turkey. A classic menu is almost always sure to please a crowd. A traditional Thanksgiving menu usually includes the following elements, which you can prepare according to your tastes:

  • Turkey, Stuffing, and Gravy
  • Potatoes, mashed, roasted, or au gratin
  • Green Vegetable or Green Bean Casserole
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Rolls or Cornbread
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Pie (Apple, Pumpkin, or Pecan)

... And New Holiday Renditions

If classic bores you, don't be afraid to try something new. Add a special soup, a festive salad, or search for creative twists on the standard holiday fare.

Turkey Talk: Roasting the Perfect Thanksgiving Bird

No matter how you celebrate the fall harvest, almost everyone agrees that Thanksgiving means turkey. At its best, turkey is a delicious holiday treat--juicy, tender meat with a crisp and flavorful skin. Cooking an enormous bird for a crowd, however, can be intimidating for even experienced cooks. Follow these steps to take the terror out of roast turkey.

How to Pick a Turkey

The rule of thumb when buying a Thanksgiving turkey is to estimate one pound of meat per person. If you have a little extra time and money to spend, consider getting your turkey from a nearby farm. In addition to supporting the local economy, you get the freshest meat possible and won't have to worry about defrosting. Fresh turkeys should remain refrigerated until cooked. If you buy a frozen bird, follow the tips in step two.

How to Defrost Your Turkey

You can defrost a turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water. In the fridge, you need approximately 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Cold water thawing takes only 30 minutes per pound of meat. You must change the water every 30 minutes, however, and refrigerate or cook your bird immediately after thawing.

Prepping Your Bird

To add extra flavor and tenderize your turkey, consider taking the time to marinate or brine it before roasting. The jury's still out on which method creates a tastier bird, so try one this year and the other next November and let your family decide!

  • To Marinate: Use a fork to make holes over the whole turkey. Put the bird in a large, sturdy plastic bag, add the marinade (homemade or purchased), close the bag, and let your bird marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Be sure to discard leftover marinade before cooking the turkey.
  • To Brine: Prepare the brining solution, mixing 2 cups of table salt with 2 gallons of cold water in a large, clean container. You can add dried herbs to the brine, and some chefs also use brown sugar, a few cloves of garlic, or even dried red chili peppers. Submerge the turkey in the brining solution and refrigerate for 6-8 hours. Before cooking, thoroughly wash the turkey, removing all remnants of the brine.

Stuffing - Let Your Creativity Reign

While you can buy stuffing mixes, the homemade alternative is much tastier, and not as hard to prepare as you might think. There are a myriad of stuffing combinations, including a few creative twists. Here are a few:

  • Apples & Cranberries
  • Dried Fruit and Nuts Marinated in Orange Juice
  • Wild Rice & Cornbread
  • Sausage & Chestnuts
  • Oyster Stuffing

Many pros recommend always cooking stuffing outside the bird to prevent salmonella poisoning. In this case, you can still put an aromatic inside the bird to enhance the flavor, such as a satchel of herbs, a combination of fruit, or a Mirepoix. If you cook the stuffing in the bird, make absolute certain that you check the internal temperature to ensure it has cooked completely.

Whatever method you choose, preparing stuffing the day before Thanksgiving is a great way to save time on the big day. Just remember to keep the wet (vegetables, fruit, broth, etc) and dry ingredients separate until it's time to cook them.

Roast a Moist Turkey

Sure you can deep fry or grill, but for most Americans, roasting is the way to enjoy this Thanksgiving staple. Use a roasting pan with low sides and add � cup of water to the bottom to help with clean-up after the meal. Roast at a minimum of 325° F until the internal temperature registers 165° F on a food thermometer. Be sure to check the meat's temperature both at the thickest part of the breast and on the inner thigh and wing to ensure that the whole bird is thoroughly cooked. If you've stuffed the turkey, make sure that the center of the stuffing has also reached 165°F.

Carving Your Bird

Letting the turkey sit for 20 minutes after removing it from the oven allows the juices to set and makes the carver's job much easier. While it's intimidating to slice into such a masterpiece, the best way to learn to carve a turkey is to practice! Using a sharp, straight knife helps you with this delicate task.

Experts also recommend removing the drumstick and wing before cutting into the highly coveted breast meat. Once you do, cut a vertical line along the center of the breast--there should be a cartilage ridge down the center. Next, cut a horizontal line along the breast bone, starting from the outside and moving toward your vertical cut. Do this for both sides. Then, slice the breast meat at a slight slant from the outside of the breast to the center. Layer meat on a slightly warm platter, and serve soon to prevent the meat from drying out

The Most Important Thanksgiving Lesson

Whether you opt for an elaborate feast or a casual dinner, your Thanksgiving meal will be special because you share it with loved ones. Give yourself time, relax, and enjoy your time in the kitchen. Whether you're a pro trying new things or a first-time cook planning your first feast, savor the process and take pride in your hard work.

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