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Rach Answers Your Top Thanksgiving Questions

It’s the most delicious time of year: Thanksgiving! There’s nothing like cooking a big, festive meal for the people you love, savoring the flavors of the season, and…

Yikes! The turkey’s not right (What if you’ve never even cooked one before?!), your guests are arriving, and your stress levels are skyrocketing. Don’t panic!

Who better to help with your Thanksgiving dilemmas than Rachael herself? Here are answers to 8 of the top Thanksgiving hurdles you might face, so you’re ready to go even if things don’t go perfectly. And remember to take Rach’s advice that “we’re just cooking here.” Prep ahead of time, ask for some help if you need it, and enjoy!

Q: What can I prep/make ahead to save time the day of Thanksgiving?
A: There’s a lot you can do! I like to cook two small 10 pound birds instead of one large bird (Here’s how to do it!), so you don’t have to wake up so early in the morning to get the turkey in the oven. If you’re making mashed potatoes, you can peel and dice your potatoes a day or two days in advance, and store them covered in cold water. Any vegetables you’re going to prep (for example: Brussels sprouts), you can clean them and halve them the day before. You can also make a gravy a day or two before and place it in the refrigerator to keep. Just heat it up in a skillet and add your turkey drippings to it on Thanksgiving day. Same goes for cranberry sauce. It will hold in the refrigerator for about one to two days. Serve it chilled, room temperature, or heat it up for your meal.

Q: How do you make sure everything is done and ready at the same time?
A: Timing is always tough. Try to back-track the day. If you want to serve your meal at 6p.m., be safe and plan for 5:15p.m. or 5:30p.m. If you know your mashed potatoes are going to take you 30 minutes, you obviously want to get those going at 4:45pm or 5:00pm – then keep going from there. The more you can do ahead of time, the better. Timing is always a tough thing, but we’re just cooking here. It’s not rocket science. At the end of the day, ask for help. If you think something is not going to be ready, don’t be afraid to ask one of your guests to pitch in.

Q: Should you cook your stuffing inside or outside the turkey?
A: To each to their own! I have friends that stuff a bird and I have friends that don’t. One of my friends actually does one bird stuffed and one unstuffed. I personally like to make my stuffing in a casserole dish because the top gets nice and brown and crunchy, and I love those crunchy bits! (Try Rach’s Apple and Onion Stuffin’!)

Q: Any light appetizers you can suggest so people don’t fill up prior to the big dinner?
A: That’s on you! Just don’t put four, five appetizers out. Make sure there’s enough for a couple of bites for everyone – about one or two apps. Dips are really good, a cheese board, just don’t do anything heavy. If you run out of appetizers, that’s not the end of the world because you still have dinner.

Q: How do you know when a turkey is done?
A: Make sure you have a good thermometer and that it’s calibrated. These days, a lot of people have a digital thermometer – they are pretty trustworthy, and you don’t have to worry about calibrating them. Pull your bird out of the oven at 155 degrees F – carry over cooking will bump that turkey’s temperature up to 165 degrees, which is fully cooked for poultry. If you pull it out at 165 degrees or higher, it will carry over to 175 to 180 degrees, and then you’ll have a dry turkey.

Q: What happens if I start to carve the turkey and it’s still raw?
Make sure you to take the temperature in a few different places – such as between the thigh and leg, and the thickest part of the breast – to make sure the bird is cooked, which will help prevent the chance of carving a raw turkey. If it’s raw, your best option is to stick it back in the oven until it’s fully cooked. (See the question above about proper temperatures!)

Q: What if my turkey is dry?
In the case you do have a dry bird, chicken broth or turkey broth is your friend. After you let the turkey cool, slice it, then heat up an inch or two of broth in a shallow pan or skillet ’til it’s steaming or lightly bubbling. Simply grab the slices with some tongs and drag (or bathe) the turkey slices through the broth to help create some more moisture (and keep the flavor!).

Q: What’s a fresh spin on Thanksgiving leftovers?
A: What’s Thanksgiving without leftovers? Don’t miss my show or check out some great ideas in the November issue of Rachael Ray Every Day magazine to get some new ideas!

P.S. Got more questions? Rach’s magazine has a Turkey Talk Facebook group just for you! Join and get all the help you need for the perfect day!

Rachael Ray