Thanksgiving is just a week away and if you're hosting this year's feast your to-do list may be long but time is short. Stressful? You bet. But getting a head start on the cooking can help and so does sticking with recipes you know and love. Here are some tips from the pros.
7 days before. After stocking up on food and beverages focus on the bird. If you bought a frozen turkey figure out how long it will take to thaw. Plan on 24 hours of refrigerator thaw time for every 4.5 pounds, according to the National Turkey Federation That's 3 ½ days for a 16-pound bird. You may be tempted to cut corners by soaking the turkey in a sink filled with hot water, but that can result in bacteria growth causing you and your guests to get sick—guaranteeing a memorable holiday. Make pie crusts and freeze them, then mix the salad dressing and refrigerate.
6 days to go. Slicing, dicing, and carving with sharp knives is faster and safer, so sharpen your knives with the honing steel that came with your set. If you need new knives consider two standout sets from our tests, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Professional "S", $315, and the Ginsu Chikara, $75. And you'll need a reliable meat thermometer, like the top-rated Polder THM-360, $30, a leave-in thermometer, or the instant-read Taylor Weekend Warrior 806 for $16.
4 days prior. Is it time to start thawing the turkey? If so keep the turkey in its original wrapper, place it breast side down in a shallow roasting pan, and refrigerate. Placing it in this position allows the juices to flow into the breast meat.
3 days and counting. Relax and screen calls from cranky relatives—the fun is about to begin.
2 days left. If you prefer fresh over frozen turkey, now's the time to pick up your fresh bird. Cube bread for stuffing and place it in a single layer on a baking pan to dry out. Slice or chop vegetables then blanch. Refrigerate until ready to use. Some foods improve in flavor over time, such as certain dips and cranberry sauce. Take the pie crusts out of the freezer and put in the refrigerator.
1 day to go. Bake casseroles and roast vegetables. Make a starter gravy using chicken stock and turkey giblets. It's pie time—bake pumpkin and pecan pies but save the apple pies for Thanksgiving morning. Before calling it a day check if your frozen bird has thawed completely.
Thanksgiving day. Get out your meat thermometer. Roast the turkey until its internal temperature has reached 165 degrees F and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Keep in mind the meat continues cooking. Deglaze your pan with your starter gravy.
If at any point you have a question about your bird, call the folks at Butterball (1-800-288-8372). They answer more than 100,000 questions every holiday season—including what to do with a turkey on fire. Even if your bird isn't a Butterball, they'll talk turkey with you anytime between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central Time.
The day after. Eat leftovers and take a nap.