Professionals share Thanksgiving meal secrets

Thanksgiving is a time to count our blessings, not meltdown over lumpy gravy

Thanksgiving is a time to count our blessings.

Thanksgiving is a time to count our blessings.

On the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared a first bounty of hunted meats and harvested fruits and vegetables in a style that was likely far less fuss and fanfare than what occurs in many American homes today.

On a day when families are supposed to take stock of their many blessings, and bestow some on others, it is likely some hosts over stress because the timing of the traditional turkey dinner with the fixings didn’t quite jibe with the arrival of aunts, uncles and cousins to the dinner table. The table cloth didn’t get ironed. The guests forgot the deviled eggs or the cranberry sauce.

Never mind the family chef who wants to bake homemade pies but has a demanding job and will have no time off until the nationally-recognized holiday.

If you fall into any of these categories, some Thanksgiving feast professionals have some tips to share.

Let’s start with the turkey.

Chances are that most families do not go hunting for their own turkey. Rather they likely visit a favorite supermarket and pick up a frozen one.

Some stores do sell already thawed turkeys just before the big day but it’s likely those will prove a tad more costly, albeit more convenient for the forgetful type.

For those who don’t want to order out a pizza or eat Chinese food on Thanksgiving, it is necessary to defrost the frozen turkeys at least a couple days before the main event. A proper rule of thumb: 24 hours for every four to five pounds of meat.

Professional turkey cooking experts are clear turkeys need to reach an internal cooking temperature of 165 degrees, and to tell that one needs to utilize either a meat thermometer, a pop-up device that comes with the turkey, or utilize a sharp knife and fork to test after the specified cooking hours to be sure the juices flow clear.

New trends in turkey preparation involve both smoking and frying. Name brand companies, including Char-Broil, offer equipment specifically geared to those cooking methods without posing a fire hazard. There are now even fryers that use no oil, and those turkeys boast a crispy exterior and juicy interior in far less time than the traditional roasted version.

With the turkey well in hand — and expected to be cooked on Thanksgiving Day — there comes the planning of the rest of the menu.

National chefs and food magazine experts suggest that to pull off a no-stress Thanksgiving feast requires nothing more than adequate planning. For those of us who may be procrastinators, this might not be the best news. So if you didn’t start planning a month in advance, and are down to just the last couple days, don’t panic. You still have time to space out preparations, or call your guests to bring a dish, so that there are no Thanksgiving meltdowns.

The Food Network offers a Thanksgiving countdown planner that suggests a couple days before the main event the cook might want to prepare some of the cold salads, hors d’oeuvres, and any homemade dessert or breads.

The day before one might want to make sure the house is stocked with beverages, be they adult-only or family friendly varieties, and do some of the preps for things like stuffing and vegetable casseroles.

If you’re really in a hurry, and just don’t want the fuss, local grocery stores sell very nice looking Thanksgiving theme paper products and throw-away table cloths that can make cleanup far easier than handwashing all of Grandma’s china.

Cracker Barrel General Manager Kirk Farley suggested dinner hosts keep things as simple, and convenient, as possible. Use crock pots, reheatable serving dishes and microwaves to assure food arrives on the table hot and ready to eat. Make certain the turkey is tasty by letting it sit for 15 to 20 minutes before one reaches for the carving knife, he said.

For those who simply don’t have the time, the space, or the inclination, to do the whole Thanksgiving deal, Farley said the national restaurant chain is open for business on Thanksgiving without reservations. They, too, offer heat-and-serve options that can range from the whole meal to a homemade pie or veggie casserole.

In Prescott, several restaurants, including the Hassayampa Inn’s Peacock Dining Room and the Prescott Resort, will offer a full Thanksgiving brunch or dinner for prices that can range from as low as $15 a person up to $45 a person. Reservations are required.

On Thanksgiving, there is just one more thing to do: Give thanks. Count your blessings.

My guess is the laughter and time shared with family and friends is what will mean the most this day. Lumps in the gravy, or the forgotten pie, just make for more family lore.