Whether you're a first-time holiday host or an experienced chef, these practical tips from food columnist Harold McGee of CuriousCook.com will help you prepare your best Thanksgiving dinner yet.
Put Turkey on Ice
For a moist and delicious bird, put the turkey breast on ice before roasting: Take your turkey out of the fridge a few hours before you are ready to start cooking and let the legs come to room temperature. Fill two large zip-top bags with ice, and place them over the turkey breast to help balance the temperature between breast and leg while cooking. The breast should be cooked to around 150 degrees, while the legs should be between 160 and 165 degrees.
Bake Stuffing in a Dish, Not a Turkey
In order to be safe to eat, stuffing cooked in a turkey must reach between 155 and 160 degrees, a high temperature that can quickly dry out breast meat. Instead, try preparing the stuffing in a separate pan. For that "inside bird" flavor, add scoops of juice from your roasting turkey to the stuffing as it cooks.
All Thermometers Are Not Created Equal
Use a dial thermometer with a small probe to ensure the most accurate temperature reading. First place the thermometer in the front of the bird through the breast. Once the breast is done, check the thigh temperature. If the turkey needs to continue cooking, protect the breast from drying out with a loose tent of foil.
Go Easy on the Gravy Thickeners
Don't try to get the proper consistency of gravy in the saucepan; as gravy cools on the plate, it will get thicker and thicker. Instead, cook gravy just until it visibly thickens and clings to the back of the spoon.
Mash Potatoes by Hand
Electronic mixers are too strong and powerful to make fluffy mashed potatoes. Try mashing them by hand with a potato masher, ricer, or fork.