Probably the scariest part of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey. It is after all, typically the center of attention, and what is on everyone’s mind. The good news is that thanks to technology the problems most likely to ruin your dinner have been solved. If you take out a bit of insurance, make a small investment, and lock your dog away from the kitchen/dining room, you can have success.
The first major mistake people make is not thawing the turkey properly. Eating a turkey that was cooked before it is not properly thawed can cause food poisoning. It isn’t something to joke about. My mother didn’t defrost her turkey properly when she made her very first Thanksgiving dinner as a newlywed. She left the giblets inside the partly frozen bird, and when my grandmother realized it, they ordered pizza for dinner.
The easiest way to solve this problem, is to buy a fresh turkey. Yes, they are more expensive, but if you are really worried, this is the way to go. Think of it as insurance. If you do buy a frozen turkey, you probably want to buy it no later than the Saturday before Thanksgiving and follow the instructions on the package.
The next problem is under-cooking your turkey. Again, this is solved thanks to a magic thing called the “turkey button”. It will pop when the bird is done. If your turkey doesn’t come with the button, I believe you can buy one, but not sure how difficult it is to install. Your other option to check if the turkey is fully cooked is using a meat thermometer. A decent meat thermometer is less than $25, and is something you can use throughout the year when cooking. Consider it an investment.
Another tip for making sure you don’t poison your guests is to not stuff your bird. You can put citrus, herbs, and garlic in the cavity, but cook your stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer) in a separate dish. I always thought stuffing loses it flavor if cooked this way, but honestly, it really doesn’t. In fact, it will probably taste better, because you can make sure you don’t overcook it.
So if you manage to both thaw and cook your turkey properly, the final hurdle is getting it to the table without dropping it or spilling the hot liquid in the pan, and keeping it safe from your dog (or cat). When you remove the turkey from the oven, do so with caution. Have a place cleared where you can place the pan after you remove it from the oven. Your counter is best, as that pull out chopping board may not be able to support your turkey, depending on how large it is. Make sure there isn’t anything in your path (like that dog) so you don’t trip and drop your main course. If you are using a disposable pan, do not lift it using the handles – you will need to support it from the bottom. And don’t drag it across your oven rack – it can rip the pan, and the juices can either burn you or start a fire in your oven (especially if you didn’t clean it). Finally, be sure to protect yourself. Make sure you have good oven mitts for each of your hands, and an apron to protect your clothes.
Once the turkey has been removed from the oven, it needs to rest for at least 25 minutes. If you cut it before this, the juices will run out and the meat will be dry. This gives you time to make gravy, heat side dishes, and basically try and get everything to the table at the same time. As you will be distracted, this is when your pets will move in. Little kids probably should be included in this category too, as some will be enthralled by the sight of the big bird, and should also be sequestered to another room until everyone sits down at the table.