Thanksgiving dinner requires a battle plan. The sheer number of dishes, coupled with a bird that takes anywhere from 2 1⁄2 to 5 hours to roast, can rattle the ablest home cook.
In fact, the bird bestows a great gift because it must rest anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes after it is removed from the oven. During the rest, the juices will settle back into the meat so they don’t spill out onto the cutting board when you start to carve. Thirty minutes after a 14-pound bird comes out of the oven, it will still be too hot to carve; an hour’s rest is optimal. Tented with aluminum foil, a bird will stay hot for up to two hours.
Here are some more tips to reduce your Thanksgiving stress:
Do not rely on a recipe to tell you how long to cook your turkey.
The size and shape of the bird, its precooking temperature, the roasting pan and the oven you are using are all variable. The best way to assess whether a turkey is done is to take its temperature: Insert an instant-read thermometer into the meaty part of the thigh, not touching a bone. It should register 170 degrees. The thickest part of the breast should register 160 degrees. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, go buy one before you start cooking. Any housewares store and most supermarkets sell them fairly cheaply.
Make as many dishes ahead of time as you can.
Any dessert that will be served chilled (such as puddings and mousses) should be made the night before. Ditto the cranberry sauce and the soup. Most oven-based Thanksgiving side dishes can be made ahead of time, an opportunity you should vigorously exploit. Make sweet-potato casserole, pumpkin pie, stuffing, etc., the night before and refrigerate them.
Prep ahead of time.
For dishes that need to be cooked closer to meal time, you can still prepare the components the night before: wash salad greens, make salad dressing, trim Brussels sprouts or green beans, chop onions, mince herbs. Be thankful for resealable plastic bags.
Side dish strategy.
Once the turkey is out of the oven, your side dishes can go in. Take them out of the refrigerator while the turkey is cooking so they are at room temperature when the turkey leaves the oven: It should take about an hour for most chilled dishes to come to room temperature. There will be no trouble heating them through by mealtime.
Limit yourself to one or two stovetop side dishes.
If one of these is a green vegetable, get a head start. For green beans amandine, for example, boil the beans in salted water until they are just tender. Drain and plunge them into ice water. When they’re cool, drain again, towel-dry and store in a resealable plastic bag overnight in the refrigerator. Take them out while the turkey cooks so they can come to room temperature. You will need less than 10 minutes to sauté them in butter with slivered almonds. (The same technique works with Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon, and broccoli raab with pancetta.)
If you want to serve a first course, plan one that either requires no cooking (such as salad) or can just sit, warming, on the back of the stove (such as soup).