Prepping for Thanksgiving Success

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump
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Thanksgiving can be a busy time for many people as they prepare a feast on their own or rush from dinner to dinner with a contribution to each meal. Whether you have one week or one day to prepare your dishes, this joyous time of the year can be quite stressful. As we prepare to gather around the table next week, there are ways we can decrease the stress of a big feast by prepping produce and even baking now. Here are ways to start prepping today to enjoy a great meal and better family time this Thanksgiving.

The Weekend Before:  First things first, decide on your menu. If using a frozen turkey, you may need to start thawing your bird the weekend before depending on the weight. In the refrigerator, place turkey on the bottom shelf in a shallow dish to catch juices and prevent cross contamination. Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey to thaw. This means a 12 to 16 pound turkey will take 3 to 4 days to thaw. After thawing, the turkey can remain in the refrigerator 1 to 2 days before cooking with the refrigerator temperature held at 40 degrees or lower.

Freezing casseroles and soups are a great way to prepare in advance if you have freezer space available. Freeze casseroles and toppings separately or add when reheating or cooking. All casseroles must measure 165 °F with a food thermometer to be done. Things such as rice, mayonnaise, sour cream, and raw vegetables do now freeze well. Also, seasonings can change taste when frozen.

Before thanksgiving is a great time to go through your refrigerator and toss any expired items and clean out leftovers to make room for your turkey and other dishes.

One or Two Days Before:  Make sure that you have everything you need including roasting pans, thermometers, and ingredients. If choosing a fresh turkey, do not purchase sooner than two days before cooking. To save oven space on Thanksgiving, pies and sweets can be baked the day before serving your meal. Although you can’t bake your veggie dishes before cook day, all vegetable dishes can be prepped and stored in air-tight containers. For example, mashed potatoes can be reheated in a sauce pan the day of, adding milk for creaminess. Fresh herbs should be washed and dried and stored in plastic baggies, but should not be chopped until the day of. Assemble casseroles and dressing and refrigerate without baking. Salad ingredients can be prepared and stored separately and assembled before serving on Thanksgiving. If making homemade cranberry sauce this can be made two days in advance.

Turkey Day:  Today is the day to pop that bird in the oven! If you forgot to thaw the turkey you can still submerge your turkey in a cold water (still wrapped), changing the water every 30 minutes for each pound of turkey. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing. If the bird is not too large, thawing in the microwave is another safe option. Thaw according to your microwaves instructions and cook immediately after thawing. For a 12 to 14 pound turkey, allow 3 to 3 ¾ hours to cook at 325 °F. The turkey is done when the internal temperature of a meat thermometer reads 165 °F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The stuffing should also reach 165 °F, but due to the risk of having undercooked stuffing or dry turkey, stuffing the turkey is not recommended. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes, remove stuffing in needed, carve and serve.

When there are two hours remaining on the turkey cook time, if not prepped the day before, vegetables can be prepped and left at room temperature. As soon as the turkey comes out, the vegetable dishes can go in, as well as other casseroles and dressing.

Use these tips to plan a successful and less stressful Thanksgiving meal. Don’t forget to enlist friends and family member for help and share in the joy this holiday brings.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, health, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Janice Roberts, MS at 910-997-8255.