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How to serve a perfect turkey on Thanksgiving

Enjoy the holidays this year. Susan Westmoreland of Good Housekeeping magazine shares helpful tips on how to buy, cook, and serve your bird.
/ Source: TODAY

On “Today’s Kitchen,” we look at ways to help you make the best turkey dinner this Thanksgiving. Susan Westmoreland, food editor of Good Housekeeping magazine, was invited on “Today” to show you some helpful cooking tools and to go over some tips for buying and cooking the best turkey. 

What to buyFrozen turkeys are widely available and often on sale during the holidays. Some are pre-basted to enhance juiciness. You can buy them well in advance of Thanksgiving, but you'll need to allow enough time for them to thaw (see below).

Fresh turkeys are preferred by many people but are usually more expensive, have a shorter shelf life, and may need to be special-ordered. Don't buy one more than two days ahead.

Kosher turkeys are available fresh and frozen. They're salted as part of the koshering process, so no additional salt is needed. This process makes the meat very tender and juicy, similar to the results you'd get from a brined bird.

How much to buyEstimate 1 pound uncooked turkey per person to ensure enough meat for Thanksgiving dinner and for sandwiches later on.

How to thawThe best way: Place frozen turkey (still in packaging) in a shallow pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds. A thawed bird can keep up to 4 days in the fridge.

Last-minute solution: Place a still-wrapped turkey in a large cooler or bowl and submerge in cold water. Allow 30 minutes of thawing time per pound and change the water every 30 minutes. Cook turkey immediately.

How to stuffThe best way: Bake stuffing separately in a shallow casserole in the oven alongside the turkey. If you prefer to stuff the bird, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure the turkey is fully thawed.            
  • Mix ingredients just before using and pack stuffing loosely into cavity to allow room for expansion.
  • Roast turkey about 30 minutes longer than an unstuffed one.
  • Check that the internal temperature of the stuffing reaches 165F.

How to roast

  • Place the turkey (breast side up) on a rack in a large roasting pan in an oven preheated to 325F. If you don't have a rack, place 2 or 3 large carrots crosswise underneath the bird to ensure good heat circulation.
  • For moist meat, cover with foil from the start-but remove foil during the last hour of roasting for browner, crispier skin.
  • Basting with pan juices isn't necessary, but it will help with browning after the foil is removed.
  • Roast turkey 3 to 3 3/4 hours for a 12- to 14-pounder. (That's around 15 to 17 minutes per pound for an unstuffed bird.) Use an instant-read meat thermometer to test doneness. Turkey should be taken out of the oven when the thickest part of the thigh (next to but not touching the bone) reaches 175F. and the breast reaches 165F. Keep in mind that temperature will rise 5 to 10F. upon standing.
  • If the turkey is fully cooked earlier than expected, wrap the entire bird and pan with foil and place a large bath towel on top to keep it hot and moist for 1 hour. Never leave at room temperature longer than 2 hours.

When in doubt
Having a turkey meltdown? Try these phone numbers and Web sites for help.

  • Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: 800-288-8372, November 1 to December 29;
  • USDA Meat and Poultry Hot Line: 800-535-4555;
  • Reynolds Turkey Tips Hot Line: 800-745-4000, November 1 to December 31;

If you're bringing a dish to a potluck

  • Don't forget to pack garnishes separately in a sealed plastic bag.
  • If you're preparing a casserole that can be frozen ahead of time, use this space-saving tip: Line a casserole dish with heavy-duty foil, spoon in the mixture, cover, and freeze until solid. Transfer frozen food into a large self-sealing plastic bag and keep in freezer until ready to reheat. Unwrap and slip back into the casserole dish just before heating.
  • Frozen casseroles will reheat more quickly if thawed overnight in the refrigerator-remember, it's not safe to thaw on the countertop.
  • To transport cold food, pack it in a cooler, canvas tote, or basket with several ice packs.

Here are the products:

A better basterTo pump up the flavor of your big bird, try the Sili Gourmet Silicone & Stainless Steel Baster/Injector Set, $20, from William Bounds. With one tool, you can inject succulent seasoning (in broth or wine) into the meat, then baste as you brush. The bulb stands upright on the counter, so it won't drip, and the set comes with its own cleaning brush.800-473-0504;

Super soup ToolTo infuse homemade soup with herbs and spices, put seasonings in the stainless steel Sili Gourmet Silicone Herb Ball, $15, from William Bounds. It's extra-large, so it can accommodate a crowd-size batch of chowder, and its long handle and silicone grip make it easy to remove from the hot pot. Come summer, use it to brew a jug of sun tea.800-473-0504;

No-stick rolling pinAlthough the Cuisipro Stay Cool Rolling Pin is pricey ($35), it's worth the dough. Fill this stainless steel model with ice water to keep dough chilled as you roll, which means less sticking-without having to add all that extra

Simple slicerWonder how we get the veggies so thin in our Root-Vegetable Gratin (page 165)? It's the work of a slicing device called a mandoline. It's probably not a tool you'd use every day, so we recommend the inexpensive Zyliss Easy Slice 2 Folding Mandoline, $35. It takes up less space in your kitchen, and you can select slicing options by turning a dial-no need to change blades. 888-794-7623;

Stain-resistant tableclothOn Thanksgiving, gravy and wine spills are practically a given.  But stubborn spots won't be if you use one of the new Reflections stain-resistant cloths from Bardwil ($13-$30) at department stores. Made of microfiber polyester in a variety of sizes and colors. 

Pot luck partnersWant to keep your sweet potato casserole hot without having to take up precious real estate in your host's oven? Turn to Corningware or Pyrex Portables, $26 to $50. These sets consist of one or two Pyrex or Corningware French White (shown) baking dishes with plastic lids, a hot/cold pack, and an insulated carrying case. Zap the pack to heat it-or freeze it if you're bringing, say, a cranberry salad-then place it in the case along with your dish. Two hours later, your food will still be ready for the table.800-999-3436;

Keep your buffet spread at the perfect temperature with BonJour Stainless Steel Serveware, $30 to $60. These insulated pieces come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including a divided dish. Food stays hot enough for everyone to help themselves to seconds-even thirds! To top it off, each has a lid with a vegetable-shaped more helpful information, check out Good Housekeeping's Web site at