Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and this year’s celebration feels more special than usual. After what feels like ages, many Canadians will be able to gather with their loved ones for the holiday. As many of us may have not celebrated like we normally do last year, we may be feeling a little rusty when it comes to hosting. Or maybe you’re a first-time turkey chef! Regardless of skill level, I’m happy to share my top tips for hosting Thanksgiving dinner! And don’t worry – whether you’re cooking for 10 or just 2, these tips will help you stay organized and get that show-stopping meal on the table with ease.
Tip 1: Plan Ahead
Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is not that different than being ready for a busy Saturday night dinner service in a restaurant. As a chef, I always prepare as much as I can in advance (think stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, dressings, gravy, etc. – all things that can be prepped the day before or morning of) which makes everything easier to heat up come dinner time.
When it comes to the turkey, proper planning is key! If you have a Butterball turkey that needs to be thawed in advance of cooking, be mindful that your bird needs to go from freezer to fridge to thaw days in advance. For every 4 pounds, plan for 1 day of thaw time – so for example, a 12-pound turkey needs to be in the fridge for 3 days before it’s ready to be cooked! As for frozen turkeys, be sure to use Butterball’s Turkey Calculator to figure out cook time.
Once cooked, your turkey needs to rest for at least a half-hour before being carved, but you can keep it warm by tenting under some foil. Believe it or not, your turkey will stay hot for up to an hour if you keep it tented, and even draped with a (clean!) towel to trap the heat. This will give you time to get all the other sides prepared before carving the turkey.
Tip 2: Follow Basic Roasting Rules!
There are a few simple rules to roasting your whole turkey that will ensure perfect results. First, the best temperature to roast your turkey is 325°F Again, Butterball’s Turkey Calculator can be used to confirm the ideal roasting time, but always remember that 325°F is your magic temperature. Secondly, find the right roasting pan! Your pan should be no higher than 2.5” high and your turkey should be sitting on a roasting rack to ensure constant air flow around the bird – T-fal’s Ultimate Non-stick Roaster with Rack is a great option! Lastly, always check the internal temperature of your turkey to confirm it’s cooked to perfection – 165°F in the breast, and 180°F degrees in the thigh and stuffing is what you’re looking for to ensure a juicy dinner. When you’re using a Butterball turkey, the only time you need to open the oven is about 30 mins before the turkey is supposed to be done. Start checking the temperature at this time to make sure it doesn’t over cook. If your turkey is stuffed, you can also shield the neck and exposed stuffing with foil to prevent overcooking.
Tip 3: Keep it Simple
Thanksgiving Dinner is not the time to experiment! As much as we want to impress our guests, this meal is all about comfort and tradition. You may have seen a cool technique, interesting flavour combination, or inventive menu item and be tempted to show-off, but resist the urge. Not only is a traditional meal of turkey, mash, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, exactly what people want – it’s also manageable for you. Save your creativity for a dinner party in November, and at Thanksgiving, stick with the classics to avoid any stress.
Tip 4: Throw on a Fun Playlist!
When it comes to prepping for the big meal, I love to use music to keep me motivated, calm and mostly having fun while I’m cooking. When my loved ones start arriving, I’m sure to have my tunes already on to set the mood and start the fun. I’ve actually put together my favourite hosting tunes on Spotify, which you can find here in case you want to borrow these for your own gathering.
Tip 5: Use the Whole Bird
Pound for pound, whole Butterball turkeys are an affordable way to feed a crowd. But even when I host a smaller gathering, I opt for the whole bird because I know there are so many things I can do with the leftovers. First, I make a soup stock with the bones and carcass – this makes for amazing soups, stews, and sauces, and also freezes perfectly, so I make sure to make a big batch. Next, I like to shred the leftover meat (dark meat is best for this) to make batches of ragu, pot pies, and even empanadas – again all things that you can make in a larger batch and freeze. Finally, I love using leftover white meat throughout the following days as a quick and easy way to build the best turkey sandwiches and salads. By the time you’re done, that turkey will yield so many different meals after your Thanksgiving feast!
Tip 6: For smaller gatherings, try Easy Fresh
If you’re a couple, a young family, or an empty nester, you can still enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal on a smaller scale. Try the bone-in cuts of Butterball Easy Fresh, which includes breast, thighs, and drums. You can pick your preferred cut, roast it simply with salt and pepper, and often times it’s cooked in under an hour. This way, a full turkey dinner for two can be made in little time at minimal expense. Easy Fresh also makes for a cozy, comfort food dinner any time!