This post has been edited from the one originally published on Thursday, November 3, 2011.
If you followed the advice in my post last Thursday, perhaps you now have a general idea of how many guests you will be hosting on Thanksgiving. If not, it’s time to get on the phone and do some inviting! Do you have a good, balanced menu and have you taken guests up on their offers to bring something? This week we have a few more tasks that we can check off the list.
3 weeks before thanksgiving
- Order the Turkey If you eat turkey on Thanksgiving, it’s a good idea to order it now. I have always ordered a fresh, free-range, organic turkey, because in my opinion it has a tasty turkey flavor and is higher quality than most other alternatives. The only thing that may be better is a heritage turkey, which has a much stronger turkey flavor and supposed to be more moist. It will have less breast meat though and will be more expensive. If you want a heritage bird, you need to order this ASAP since they sell out fast. Avoid “self-basting” turkeys which are injected with anything from chicken fat to salt to chemicals. True, they are easier to cook, but I think they taste more like salt than turkey and they are just full of stuff you don’t want to feed your family.
Here are some questions that will help you decide what size to order:
How many ovens do you have? If you have one large oven that can accommodate two turkeys side by side and an extra oven to spare (you’re so lucky!), then you have the option of cooking two smaller birds versus one large one. But with two small ovens, you may not want them both being monopolized by turkeys.
Are your guests dark meat-eaters or white meat-eaters? You will get more white meat by weight from one large bird than from two smaller. Likewise, you will get more dark meat from two smaller birds than from one large one.
How big a turkey should you buy? The rule of thumb is one pound of turkey per person. So if you are expecting 16 guests, you should order a 16 pound turkey. That doesn’t mean that you will have 1 pound of meat per person, though. Personally, I think this is only a good rule if you don’t want leftovers, if your guests are not big eaters, and/or you have a good number of dark meat eaters versus all-white meat eaters. Two years ago I cooked two 17-pound turkeys for 20 adults and 5 kids and I had just enough leftovers for the five of us for dinner the next day. Last year I cooked two 18-pound turkeys for 24 adults and 5 kids and we had the same amount of leftovers. My point is that I think 1 1/4 pounds per person is a safer bet.
Do you have a bad back? What does this have to do with anything? A very large turkey is mighty challenging to keep pulling out of the oven to baste. I find two smaller turkeys much more manageable, if you have the oven space.
- Planning Your Table Decor I don’t do anything fancy for my table decorations, but it’s nice to make the table look special. Now’s the time to check your linens for stains and make sure you have enough napkins, plates and glassware. I generally like to do something simple with fresh flowers in autumnal colors and add in a few of the kids’ Thanksgiving art projects from years past. The top image is a collection of pins from my Thanksgiving Pinterest board. I just adore Jenni Kayne’s table setting which is the largest image at the top of the post and below. Check out all her lovely holiday photos and ideas on her Rip & Tan blog — beautiful! But you can put out bowls of apples and pears or gourds and nuts, add in a few votive candles and it will look lovely. If tablescape isn’t your thing, you can always order from your local florist or full service market. Just get on it this week. The succulents glued onto pumpkin arrangements last quite a while, so why not order them now to enjoy through Thanksgiving and not have to worry about doing it in two weeks. Last year, I needed a change from the succulents and pumpkins and I went to Trader Joe’s and bought lots of hydrangeas, roses, and snap dragons and ornamental kale from Whole Foods and I made the arrangements below with some leftover burlap I had. Rustic, pretty, easy and very affordable.
- Make your pie crusts and freeze them You can freeze them in disc form or roll them out, fit them into pie plates and freeze them, well wrapped.
- Make your homemade stock and freeze it I use over a gallon of chicken stock on Thanksgiving for soup, stuffing and gravy.
- Make your dry mixes for pie fillings, cornbread and other baked goods. Not only are there never enough ovens on Thanksgiving day, but there are never enough measuring cups and spoons either. I measure out the dry ingredients, store them in a glass jar and label each jar, e.g. “Dry Mix for 2 Pumpkin Pies.” I didn’t label them the first year I did this and let me tell you — pumpkin pie spices smell A LOT like apple pie spices.
- Check your inventory of helpful tools and appliances Here’s my list of Thanksgiving essentials:
- Instant-read thermometer — the only way to know if your turkey is ready.
- Roasting pan(s) and rack(s)
- Fat separator
- Twine for trussing
- Potato Ricer — for making the Perfect Mashed Potatoes