It’s not going to be perfect. Ever. Well, how the heck would I know? I’ve never done it. Nope. Never had to cook Thanksgiving.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, having been a food writer now for 16 years or so. But it’s always been John’s family’s show, so I just show up with a semi-hot dish or three, stand next to the appetizers and try to figure out how to help without getting in the way, just like everyone else.
In fact, the only year I was semi-in charge, when John’s sister had to work and the turkey was in the oven, she came home to a house full of smoke, a baking soda-coated mess on the bottom of her oven, her beloved corn casserole burned permanently to the bottom of her pan, and a we-hoped-cooked-enough turkey on the stove.
But here. Here is the guide I’ve lovingly prepared for all of you who actually have to do it. Enjoy. I’ll be over next to the cheeseball and Cranberry Chutney.
BUY THESE THINGS, JUST IN CASE
— Value-sized bundle of rolls of paper towels
— 12 to 24 inexpensive plastic leftover containers in various sizes
— A roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil
— Zip-top freezer bags, quart- and gallon-size
TIPS TO HELP, JUST IN CASE
— To cook a turkey in half the time: Spatchcock it, meaning split it in half, and flatten it on a baking sheet. For instructions, visit http://bit.ly/2zbWpta.
— Oven won’t hold everything? Consider enlisting your slow cooker, or a guest’s slow cooker or electric roaster. Toaster ovens will fit small baking dishes and toast bread (for stuffing) as well. See the recipe for Slow-Cooker Corn Spoon Bread.
— Burn something? Get it out of the house immediately. Don’t leave it in the garbage. Open any windows in the kitchen and turn on any available fans. Put a pot of water to boil on the stove. Put the lemon slices or whole cloves into the boiling water and let sit until the smell dissipates. (www.wikihow.com)
— If you’ve burned garlic in a pan, start over. The acrid smell will permeate and ruin an entire dish.
— Lumps in the gravy? Put it in the blender. (Be careful with hot liquids in blenders. Keep the lid somewhat ajar with the gap pointing away from yourself to avoid steam buildup and a gravy explosion and painful burns.)
— No room on the table for the food? Make the dinner an impromptu buffet where diners fill their plates and sit down.
— Every time you put something in an oven, turn on a timer. Don’t assume you’ll remember it’s in there. Luckily, everyone’s phone has a timer on it these days. If you have an iPhone, tell Siri to set a timer for you. When the timer goes off, and you don’t know why, check ovens, pots on the stove.
It’s too late to thaw a turkey in the fridge, which means you need to try doing it in the sink, which is a hassle, but doable.
— Fill a sink with cold water: 40 degrees or lower. Add ice if you have to.
— Allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of turkey. That means 10 water changes for a 20-pound turkey, so, get going.
— If you don’t keep the water at 40 degrees, salmonella might be multiplying faster than, well, fast.
— You’ll need to weigh the turkey down because it will want to float, and it has to stay submerged. Perhaps a big pot of water? Anyway, if your sink is too small, we’re talking bathtub time.
— Do not try to cheat with warm or hot water, either. Because salmonella. Don’t try the microwave, either. That’s a train wreck.
For more on this unpleasant topic, visit http://bit.ly/2AVbn3Y.
— Jennie Geisler can be reached on Twitter: @ETNGeisler.