The Kitchn's Thanksgiving FAQ

The Kitchn's Thanksgiving FAQ

Faith Durand
Nov 23, 2011

It's the Monday before Thanksgiving, and we're excited for a whole week of holiday food, warmth, and good company. This is one of our favorite times of the year, and we love all the collegial chatter that goes on among all of us who love food and look forward to helping create a feast for our friends and loved ones. So we're taking a look back at some of the questions that come up this time of year and rounding them all up in one place.

This is both a resource and a roundtable for Thanksgiving talk — there are tips here for cooking your turkey and making your gravy, but also some thoughtful reader discussions on how best to accommodate gluten-free guests, and ideas for having a smaller or solo Thanksgiving. Read on, and if you have questions (or answers!) to add to this list, please contribute in the comments.

The Kitchn's Thanksgiving FAQ

Here's a look at some of the questions we receive most frequently from our readers about the great feast of Thanksgiving.

Some of these are for planning purposes (got a gluten-free guest coming to dinner?) and others are ones that pop up often during the last-minute flurry of Thanksgiving dinner preparation (what temperature should the turkey be, again?).

If you have another question to add, chime in below in the comment section! This is the time to talk all things Thanksgiving!

Planning the Meal

I'm having Thanksgiving alone this year. What should I make?
Do something special for yourself. A roast chicken breast with something extra — truffles perhaps? — and don't forget to make at least one traditional family dish.

How can I make a solo Thanksgiving feel special?

The meal goes by too fast. How can I slow it down?
Serve in courses, and try to engage folks in good dinner table conversation. Also, plan the timing of the meal around key football games.

Slow down the consuming of Thanksgiving dinner

What are some good appetizers for Thanksgiving?
Modern relish trays are excellent, as are dishes of shrimp and cocktail sauce, or roasted nuts. Small nibbles are best.

Good appetizers for Thanksgiving

I want to serve the meal in courses. Is this practical?
Sure, if your crowd is smallish (under 12) and you want to just plate a course or two, like the salad and perhaps a gratin.

Consider This! A Multi-Course Plated Thanksgiving Dinner
Smoked Turkey & Dinner for 12: Our Thanksgiving Report

I'm traveling a long distance to Thanksgiving dinner. What dishes travel well?
Rolls, pies, and other baked goods often travel well.

What Make-Ahead Appetizers Will Travel Well?
Ideas for Holiday Desserts That Travel Well?

A Meatless Thanksgiving Dinner

For vegetarian guests, what can I substitute for turkey as a main dish?
All the classics are good: Tofurkey and nutloaf, but also think of an Indian dish like biryani or grilled paneer.

Tofu Loaf
Stuffed Pumpkin
• Also consider sponsoring a turkey.

I have a vegan guest coming. What should I make?
Think of roasted vegetables, pumpkin stew (in a pumpkin of course!) and hearty rolls.

What Are Some Good Vegan Thanksgiving Dishes?

Accommodating Guests' Dietary Needs

What should I serve a gluten-free guest?
Be aware that cooking for a gluten-free guest is more complex than just avoiding flour. Communication is key: Ask your guest what they can tolerate, and how best to give them something they can eat. They will appreciate any gesture; it's very hospitable!

Good Gluten-Free Recipes for Thanksgiving
• Also helpful: A discussion of the best gluten-free flour substitutes.

Are there any low-sugar or diabetic-friendly Thanksgiving dessertS?
It's best to ask your diabetic guest what they can eat, and if a completely sugar-free dessert is necessary, buy it.

Looking for Diabetic-Friendly Desserts for Thanksgiving
Recipes or Ideas for Sugar-Free Thanksgiving Desserts?

Turkey & Gravy

How much turkey should I buy?
You should buy a big enough turkey so that there is 1 pound per person. (Read a discussion about this here.)

How long does my turkey need to thaw?
Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. It will need 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. So, for an average 14-pound turkey, that means you should put it in your fridge to thaw by Monday morning.

For quicker thawing, place the turkey in a cold water bath and change the water every 30 minutes until it's thawed. This method requires that you cook the turkey immediately after thawing. For a 12 to 16 pound turkey this will take 6 to 8 hours, while for a 16 to 20 pound bird it will take between 8 and 10 hours. Got a bigger bird? Plan on up to 12 hours to thaw.

Help! My turkey didn't thaw! Can I roast a frozen turkey?
Technically yes, you can roast a partially-frozen turkey, but it may cook unevenly. You also need to plan on up to 50% longer cooking times. Make sure to take the temperature of the bird in both thighs and the breast before pronouncing it done. Do not attempt to fry or grill a frozen turkey.

How long should my turkey roast in the oven?
Cook your turkey for 13 minutes per pound. So, a 14-pound turkey would need to roast for about 3 hours. However, leaving the legs untrussed and brining the bird will both contribute to faster cooking times. Start checking the bird's temperature at the halfway mark and frequently thereafter. (See more about cooking a turkey here.)

What temperature should my turkey be at?
Take the turkey's temperature in the thigh and the breast. It should be at 165°F.

Look, I just need to know how to cook this turkey.
How to cook a turkey: The simplest, easiest way

How do I keep a cooked turkey warm?
Plan on leaving the turkey at room temperature for no longer than an hour, and carve at the last moment before eating. Also check out this post:
What's the Best Way to Keep a Turkey Warm?

How do I make gravy?
After you have roasted the turkey, pour out all the pan drippings and fat. Cool them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then skim off the fat and add 1/4 cup flour to each 1/4 cup fat and cook them over medium heat until they become golden and toasted. Whisk in 2-3 cups pan juices and broth and cook until thickened. Taste and season as necessary.
• Also see step-by-step instructions here for making gravy.

Side Dishes

I don't want sweet potatoes with marshmallows!! What are my options?
Try one of these more grown-up sweet potato gratins instead:

Sweet Potato Gratin with Caramelized Onions
Sweet Potato Gratin with Smoky Breadcrumbs

How do I make light and fluffy mashed potatoes?
Steam peeled potatoes until tender then mash gently and whip with cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. (Do not use a food processor or blender.)

How To Make Mashed Potatoes
Non-Gummy Mashed Potatoes: A Foolproof Technique

How do I keep mashed potatoes warm?
In a slow cooker or in a double boiler.

How to Keep Mashed Potatoes Warm (or Reheat Ones You Made Ahead)

How do I make cranberry sauce?
It's hard to beat the Ocean Spray recipe. Simmer one 12-ounce bag of cranberries with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water for about 10 minutes. Add lemon zest, orange zest, or rosemary to spark it up a bit.

This is one of the easiest parts of the meal! It's easy to do ahead:
Spiced Cranberry Sauce

I want something green on the table!
A simple salad of arugula with lemon juice and olive oil is a great way to start a meal, or to break up the progression of heavy Thanksgiving dishes.

Help Me Find a Green Vegetable Dish for Thanksgiving!


What should we drink with dinner?
If you want something beyond water to go with your Thanksgiving meal, then American Pinot Noir is a very good choice.

Pinot Noir and Thanksgiving Turkey: Excellent Bedfellows
Cheap Wine: Best Pinot Noir Under $20
• Also consider dry hard cider, like Crispin or Aspall's.

How about some pre-dinner cocktails?
Cranberry juice with Prosecco or Cava makes a festive drink. Add a sugared cranberry (here's how to make them) or sprig of rosemary for garnish.

12 Thanksgiving cocktails


My pie crusts always shrink or look bad. What can I do?
Chill them thoroughly. In fact, you can make up your pie and then freeze it to get it out of the way. Bake off as normal the morning of Thanksgiving and you're set (just add a little extra baking time).

Help Me Make More Beautiful Pie Crusts
4 Tips for Blind Baking Pie Crust
For Convenience & A Better Crust: Freeze Unbaked Pies

I'm tired of pumpkin pie. What else can we have?
I freshen up my pumpkin pies with a graham cracker crust (so much less work, too!). But also consider some of these desserts in the link below, like cranberry bars and pecan pie.

Beyond Pumpkin Pie: 15 Delicious Thanksgiving Desserts

Dessert feels like too much after such a big meal. Can I scale it down?
Sure! Make mini pies in muffin cups, or serve teacups of whipped mousse or pudding for just a bite or two of something sweet for those who want to forego a larger slice of pie.

10 Mini Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes

The Holiday Table

Help! I need last-minute inspiration for decorating the table.
Line up a row of mini pumpkins, scatter some bright red fall leaves underneath, and presto — festive table.

Need some simple, easy ideas for decorating the Thanksgiving table?
6 Simple DIY Thanksgiving Centerpieces
Five More Ideas for Holiday Placesettings & Table Decor
Thanksgiving Centerpieces: Four Fresh Ideas
For the Cook's Thanksgiving Table: Flowering Kale
Flowers on the Table: Go with Several Small Arrangements

Also check out all these photos of our readers' tables from previous years:
Happy Thanksgiving! Our Readers' Thanksgiving Tables (2010)
A Feast of Photos: Your Holiday Tables and Food (2009)
Readers' Thanksgiving Tables (2008)


How long can I keep Thanksgiving leftovers?
Throw away anything that was at room temperature for 2 hours or longer, especially meat and egg-based dishes. Refrigerate or freeze everything in shallow containers that will let the food cool quickly. Turkey should be eaten within 3 to 4 days. Gravy is good for only 1 or 2 days. Frozen leftovers will be good for 2 to 6 months.

Got more questions?

Here's a roundup of some past questions from our readers about Thanksgiving Day.
Turkey To Pie: Thanksgiving Questions from Our Readers

Also leave questions here — we'll be discussing holiday food all week!

(Images: Denise of Chez Us, via our 2008 Pie Bakeoff; Emma Christensen; Faith Durand; reader Eileen; reader Elena)

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