Nov 24, 2020
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Thanksgiving math: How much to buy, how long to cook, how many it feeds
Johnathan L. Wright
Reno Gazette Journal
Ah, Thanksgiving. Is there any other meal during the year so freighted with expectations and so fraught with potential pitfalls? Nope. Not even close.
Think unruly children, extended day drinking, high-handed dietary restrictions, compulsory nostalgia, and relatives who love the stir created by divisive political topics, like a cat among the pigeons.
And never mind the general turkey terror of shopping, cooking and hosting.
A gorgeously roasted turkey commands the table at Thanksgiving, its loyal adjutants (aka side dishes) paying homage.
We can't help you with your family (or their drinking habits), but we can make planning and preparing the meal easier.
We consulted the experts (and drew on our own experience) to prepare this guide to Thanksgiving math: how much food to buy, how long to cook it, how many it will feed, how to store it properly and other essentials.
It's Thanksgiving by the numbers, according to the Reno Gazette Journal, a USA TODAY Network publication.
Plan for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person on Thanksgiving.
The rule of Thanksgiving thumb is to allow 1 pound of turkey meat per person. Want leftovers (or serving big appetites)? Allow 1 1/2 pounds. The following guide accounts for meat and bone weight:
For 8 people, buy a 12-pound turkey
For 10 people, buy a 15-pound turkey
For 12 people, buy an 18-pound turkey
For 14 people, buy a 20-pound turkey
If you're not cooking for a crowd, make a bone-in turkey breast. A 5- to 7-pound breast feeds about 4.
The USDA recommends thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator over several days.
To thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, as the USDA recommends, allow about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. You also can submerge the bird in a sink of cold water to thaw, changing the water every 30 minutes and thawing at the rate of 30 minutes per pound.
A brine uses kosher salt and sugar in a 1-to-1 ratio, usually no more than 1 cup of each. Feel free to add other seasonings. Brines typically are made by heating the salt, sugar and seasonings with a bit of water until dissolved.
This mixture then is diluted with additional cold water (volume will vary depending on the size of your bird) and with ice. The brine must be completely cooled before adding the turkey.
To add flavor, turkeys can be brined in a mixture of sugar and kosher salt. A Thanksgiving turkey also can be rubbed with kosher salt.
Turkeys should be brined for at least 8 to 10 hours, up to 72 hours. The longer you plan to brine the bird, the weaker you should make the brine. So, for a 10-hour soak, use 1 cup each of salt and sugar. For longer, consider reducing to 3/4 cup each.
Always keep the bird refrigerated during brining. If the turkey is too big, an ice-filled cooler works, too. If a turkey is purchased pre-brined, do not separately brine it.
Don't have the time or patience to brine? Try salting instead. In fact, plenty of folks say salting a turkey produces meat with far better flavor than brining.
Set the turkey on a platter, then rub a generous amount of kosher salt on all surfaces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. When you're ready to roast, rinse the salt from the turkey, pat it dry and place it in the oven.
Roasting times and temperatures vary widely by recipe.
However you roast, it's essential the meat is cooked to a minimum safe internal temperature of 165 F. To measure, insert a digital instant-read thermometer in the inner portion of a turkey thigh without touching bone.
Always use a digital instant-read food thermometer, not a pop-up thermometer, to determine if turkey has reached a safe internal temperature.
Never rely on the pop-up thermometers that come with some turkeys. Their readings are inaccurate. The following guide is for an unstuffed bird cooked at 325 F in a standard oven.
8- to 12-pound turkey: 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12- to 14-pound turkey: 3 to 3/4 hours
14- to 18-pound turkey: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18- to 20-pound turkey: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20- to 24-pound turkey: 4 1/2 to 5 hours
Convection ovens require some heating and timing adjustments. Either reduce the recipe temperature by 25 F and cook as directed, or roast at the recipe temperature and cut cooking time by 25 percent.
LET IT REST
After the turkey emerges from the oven, it needs to rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving so the juices redistribute. To keep the bird warm, tent it with foil, then layer on some kitchen towels.
A 9-inch Thanksgiving pie will serve 6 to 8 people.
ON THE SIDE
Carrots: A 1-pound bag makes 4 to 5 servings
Cheese: Serve 2 ounces per person as a pre-meal nibble
Cranberry sauce: Make about 1/3 to 1/2 cup cranberry sauce per person
Gravy: Plan for 1/3 cup gravy per person, with 1 extra cup for every 6 people
Green beans: 1 1/2 pounds of beans makes 6 to 8 servings
Press glastic wrap on gravy until serving to prevent a skin forming.
Mashed potatoes: Make at least 3/4 cup per person
Rolls: Figure on about 2 rolls (or cornbread slices) per person
Pie: A 9-inch pie feeds about 6 to 8
Stuffing: Prepare at least 3/4 cup stuffing per person, plus an extra batch
Refrigerate leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria growth. Store leftovers in shallow containers to decrease cooling time, thus reducing the time food spends in the unsafe range (40 F to 140 F).
Don't eat leftovers that have been refrigerated longer than 3 to 4 days. Freeze food to store it longer.