If you really want an easy turkey, buy it pre-cooked…
…pre-rolled up, maybe even pre-extruded, like these Foster Farms beauties. Nothin’ says EZ TurKY like a bird that looks like sausage.
If you really want an easy turkey, how about Turkey Spam? MM…Spam and Beans, Spam and Stuffing. What about Spam ‘n’ stuffing with your pre-extruded turkey roll?
There’s always a turkey spam/roll taco bar. Everybody likes a taco bar!
How about a hot fudge sundae bar? Skip the turkey and vegetables and make it easy and yourself and everyone. Everyone loves a sundae bar!!!!
It’s that time of year, when the foodie experts are full of helpful hints to make your holiday easier. And much of it isn’t going to make your life easier whatsoever. Either that or all this pre-cooking, pre-microwave, just-heat-up-at-the-last-minute by adding seven other things isn’t going to make it easier. So, here is my evaluation of all these “Easiest Thanksgiving Ever” hints that are designed to make your life harder.
Plus, at the end, I’ll share my amazing and impressive turkey flow chart, and that will make it all clear for you!
In the interest of full disclosure, KK and I often cook on Thanksgiving. We like the cooking challenge that turkey and stuffing offers. We invite good friends (and sometimes family too), and these folks bring excellent and complementary side dishes. There’s a little alcohol and a lot of high spirits (two kinds of spirits!) The real trick to cooking on Thanksgiving is practice and rolling with it, whatever happens. Disasters, frankly, are part of the fun. Something will be edible.
I also recognize that Thanksgiving can be stressful to other people, especially cooking that first turkey. I’m all for EZ Thanksgiving! What I want to point out is when EZ isn’t really easy.
For example, soup.
Soup is the Stoopidest Appetizer
The Food Network, whose living is made through publishing recipes and menus, always posts their Quick & Easy menu. They also post a lot of other menus which are way too complicated, so I suppose Quick & Easy is always …compared to what. But this year’s 2023 Quick N Easy starts with Pumpkin Soup. I’m sure it’s probably good pumpkin soup. But think about the logistics of soup. Suppose you do make this soup in advance, and you must if you’re trying to make T-Day easier. You try whisking in pumpkin puree to chicken stock. You’re going to need a blender of some sort. (Not EZ). Now, it’s Thursday afternoon, right before you serve turkey, stuffing, &c. Sit down, guests and have some soup! Soup needs to be served hot. Sit down, say grace, do the handholding thing to say what you’re thankful for… then eat your soup. What happens next?
Back in the kitchen, everything has either burned or started to get cold. You have to finish cooking after people have already gotten settled. This makes no sense.
No soup on Thanksgiving. Not to mention that this perfectly good pumpkin soup then has a tablespoon of red onions dumped in it. Yuck!
Don’t Fill Up
Almost all of these Thanksgiving menus have a bunch of appetizers. True, you might need something to hand out and munch on while the cook is working their magic with the “all hell breaks loose in the last 30 minutes” (see flowchart). But be careful about dips that have a lot of cream cheese or sour cream or any kind of cream base + a lot of crackers. Cranberry cream cheese with green onion? urk.
Stuffed mushrooms with sausage and cream? That you dip baguettes in? Where’s the easy part here? By the way, you bake this and serve it hot. So, again, logistics. A pre-baked mushroom sausage cream casserole that must be heated for your guests WHILE YOU ARE FINISHING TURKEY… I don’t get it. It does make me want to add a mushroom-sausage dish or maybe just a roast mushroom dish (so vegetarians can eat it) to serve with the meal. But that’s not an appetizer.
If you serve these heavy dips ahead of time, people are too full to eat their proper quota of stuffing. My EZ suggestion: Serve a sliced veggie tray with a couple of different salsas for an appetizer. That can all be prepared the day before. Don’t forget to add a few gherkins and olives. When I was a kid, the only time I ever ate gherkins and olives was on Thanksgiving. I thought they were holiday-themed, like peppermint.
Just Brine It Baby!
The first turkey I cooked with my dad (when I was like 20 and in college and at his house) was his first turkey, too. He had just divorced his second wife, and although he was a good cook, the lady always made the turkey. Until I was visiting one year, and he was bacheloring it (he married again, my mother’s sister…that’s another story…) Anyway, we accidentally cooked the turkey upside down. You know what? Tasted like turkey. Some people do it that way on purpose, we didn’t. But it was fine.
Roasting a full turkey is a daunting task. If you want to buy just a turkey breast or just a breast with a few drumsticks, that’s fine. It will take you less time, but you could be just as much at risk of overcooking the breast anyway. It may not be that much easier. If you really don’t want to cook the turkey at all and are eyeing that Spam or the Turkey roll, then get yourself invited to someone else’s house. Or go out to a restaurant.
Since we started brining the turkey, about fifteen years ago, turkeys have turned out better. To put my statistical six sigma process design hat on for a minute, I will tell you that the variation in result is reduced. That is EZ! The brining makes it less likely to overcook the breast, and even if you do a little, it won’t be as bad. Brining makes it last in the refrigerator longer without going gamey, so you can have turkey sandwiches the following Wednesday. It puts salt in the gravy and in the stuffing. Yes, we still stuff a brined turkey. We try to make sure the stuffing doesn’t have much salt to begin with.
My EZ dinner blog post here all started with a teaser from The New York Times. Claire Saffitz promised an easier dinner, but when I read her menu, it’s roughly what I serve now. Except that she was putting white wine in the gravy, making the mashed potatoes the day before (ew!), and making a small bird. Her suggestion, if you need more turkey, is to make two birds. How are they going to fit in the oven? Wouldn’t one slightly-larger be easier? I agree that we should pare it down. But we don’t agree on exactly how.
Stuff It. But Without Flippin’ Walnuts.
Also, I noticed a frequent suggestion that to make a stuffing easier, you should not start with baking your own bread. As someone who watches the British Baking Show slavishly, I know how hard it is to make bread, so it’s not something I do. Even if I was going to toast the stuffing, I’d start with someone else’s bread, and really stuffing in a box mix — not that Stove Top MSG-impregnated stuff but just good ol’ Mrs. Cubbins or Pepperidge Farm– that’s fine. No one should be baking bread to make stuffing. That’s not EZ, that’s just plain logical. (Geez, are you making your own bread for french toast, too?)
By all means, pre-toasted, pre-seasoned box stuffing. For the love of Mike, please don’t add any of the following: walnuts, oysters, raisins, corn chips, flippin’ walnuts, olives, or pepperoni to your stuffing. If you’re in New England, well, ok oysters. I don’t care for apples. Heavy cream, New York Times? Really? Sausage is extra work, but it’s not a violation for the stuffing made outside the turkey. The stuffing that goes inside the turkey is bread, celery, onion, and spices, that’s it. Yes, it goes inside the turkey. I don’t care what the pros say. The whole point of Thanksgiving is the stuffing cooked in the turkey. We have knockdown drag out fights over the last of that stuffing from the turkey.
All the other kinds of stuffing–some of which you need for the vegetarians whom you love dearly, and the people down at the end of the table–all of that is fine, too. You can saute leftover stuffing on Sunday brunch with poached eggs.
Dumb Time Management
Here’s the thing about all that doing ahead. It CAN be a good idea to back up some of the cooking to the day before or the day before that, just because the turkey and gravy dance is distracting. But don’t make mashed potatoes the day before! They don’t taste as good, and it really isn’t that hard to mash potatoes right before you serve them. I let the boiled potatoes sit in their hot water until the turkey comes out, and I’m making gravy.
And if you have everything made ahead, then all of it has to be reheated meticulously to be ready to serve. So now you have a choke in the assembly line with the microwave or the stove. That’s not EZ.
First, to be really smart about time management, don’t cook–as BudgetBytes suggests–an appetizer, cocktail, and seven side dishes plus the turkey. Set your guest’s expectations, Budget Bytes! Three side dishes, where stuffing inside the bird is one. If your guests expect more side dishes, then they can bring them. That’s EZ. I know someone who makes a rippin’ awesome corn casserole.
Secondly, you should let the turkey rest for a half hour before serving. Our moms and grandmothers didn’t do this on purpose–they needed time to make the gravy–but it turns out that it was genius. The bird will be juicier from sitting that 20 minutes before you carve it. Also, geez, never carve at the table. That’s asking for trouble.
And if you need some help on your time management, I recommend a flow chart. I have a friend who uses a spreadsheet. Same idea. Take your own piece of paper, think about what you are serving, and how long things take to make and plot it out. My flowchart here is my crowning achievement, but yours doesn’t need to be as complicated.
Truly Brilliant Life Hacks for Thanksgiving!
I got two more really EZ life hacks to make your Thanksgiving worry and guilt-free.
#1. Cookie sheet. We only figured this out TWO YEARS AGO.
When you take the turkey out of the oven, move it to a cookie sheet while it’s resting. Not a cutting board, not a platter. A cookie sheet is big enough, even for 25-28 lbs, and it will catch all the drippings. Then you work on scraping the freed-up roasting pan for drippings.
#2. Go make a donation to your local food bank. They’re doing a land office business right now helping out people not so lucky that they can decide whether they ought to bake their own bread or choose to keep those friggin’ walnuts away from the stuffing.
Mine is Alameda County, and I won’t even miss that $40. Where’s yours?
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! this year, I’m grateful for you!