Does turkey make you sleepy? Should you use plastic pop-up thermometers? Is fresh pumpkin better than canned? Find out the answer as Bon Appetit dispels the biggest holiday food misconceptions.
1. The bigger the turkey, the better
When I was a kid, my mom took me to the supermarket a week before Thanksgiving and let me pick out the frozen turkey. I went for the one with the biggest breasts. Done laughing? Here's the thing, the ones with big breasts don't have much flavor. According to Rick Rodgers, cooking teacher and author of “Thanksgiving 101,” you should compare the size of the breast to the size of the rest of the bird. “Larger-breasted turkeys are new breeds that were created to produce a larger amount of meat — not a better flavor. The smaller the ratio of breast meat to whole bird, the closer the turkey is to the original model and the more old-fashioned its flavor will be,” he says. My advice, go with a fresh heritage turkey or crossbreed turkey.
2. Fresh pumpkin is better than canned pumpkin
“Canned" isn't a bad word. Canned tuna and canned tomatoes have a place in the pantry of any great cook. The same rule goes for pumpkin. Canned pureed pumpkin from the grocery store often produces a more reliable and consistent result — especially in baking. If you insist on using fresh pumpkin (and, let's be honest, preventing your guests from enjoying the traditional flavors of Thanksgiving) be sure to use sugar pumpkins ; the pumpkins you buy to carve at Halloween are watery, mealy, and not great for recipes. But I say long live canned pumpkin — at least one day a year.
3. Turkey makes you sleepy
If you find yourself nodding off on the couch after the Thanksgiving feast, don't blame the poor old turkey. While it's true that turkey contains tryptophan — an amino acid that's a precursor to calming, feel-good serotonin--there's not enough tryptophan in roasted turkey to tire you out. In fact, there's more tryptophan in cheese and chicken breast than there is in turkey. The real reason you're sleepy? It's likely the stress of the holiday, the hours spent cooking, the wine and spirits — and all the fat and calories you just consumed.
4. Stuffing is the same as dressing
Dressing and stuffing are similar, but not the same. The difference lies in how they are prepared. Stuffing is, obviously, stuffed inside the bird, while dressing is usually cooked in a casserole dish. I've always preferred dressing since it has more surface area exposed in the oven, which means you get more crunchy, crusty bits. Stuffing is wet and soggy in my opinion. But there's another reason why you should cease stuffing your bird. Over to my friend Alton Brown for an explanation. “Lot of things could go in there (the cavity of the bird) .... in fact, only one thing shouldn't: stuffing. Stuffing is evil. Stuffing adds mass, so it slows the cooking. That's evil because the longer the bird, the drier it will be. And since the cavity is a perfect haven for salmonella bacteria, you have to be absolutely certain that the cavity is heated through to 165°F, which means overcooking at least part of the bird .... which is evil,” he says. Uhh, looks like stuffing ain't such a good idea.
5. Pop-up plastic thermometers work
This one is easy (and I'll make it quick): Pop-up thermometers are unreliable. Not only do they pierce the skin and let flavorful juices escape, but they can also malfunction, leaving you with an under-or-overcooked bird. What's more, most are made to pop up at 180°F — at that point your bird is toast. Use a probe thermometer instead.