Ten of the Most Asked Questions About Thanksgiving

Many of us are nervous about preparing such a major feast. Let us help! Here are some common questions –- and the answers.

By FamilyTime


Everyone has questions when Thanksgiving rolls around. How large should the turkey be? What makes the best stuffing? Can pies be frozen ahead of time?

We have collected the most commonly asked and provided the answers. The best advice, though, is to relax! Enjoy the day with your family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

1 What's the best way to get a jump-start on shopping for this holiday? I feel overwhelmed at the very idea!
A: There are lots of things you can buy ahead of time. Make several lists and keep track of what you buy. Canned cranberry sauce, pumpkin puree, chicken broth, and frozen vegetables are all good buy-ahead items. Potatoes, onions and squash can be bought a week or so in advance.

2 I'm having a large crowd for Thanksgiving dinner this year. Am I better off cooking one very large turkey or two smaller ones?A: Choose two smaller, fresh turkeys, each about 12 to 14 pounds, instead of one huge bird. Large turkeys take longer to cook, which often results in the outer meat overcooking and drying out before the inner meat is done.

We suggest cooking one of the turkeys early in the day, carving it and arranging the meat on a platter. Cover and refrigerate. Then roast the other turkey just before serving, place the platter with sliced meat in the oven to warm it and you'll have the whole bird for "show" and the other already carved. You can then carve the whole turkey whenever you need to.

Another alternative, is to buy one good-sized turkey and then supplement it with one or two turkey breasts. The breasts cook evenly and relatively quickly and since more people prefer white to dark meat, this works out very well

3 I plan to order a fresh turkey from the butcher very soon. How large a turkey should I buy?A: Figure on approximately 1 ½ pounds per person. For eight, you will need a 12-pound turkey; for 16, you will need a 24 pounder, which is about as large as they get (see the previous question about one or two turkeys). Buy a bird that is slightly larger than you need if you like leftovers. Make sure to order your turkey early because they go quickly!

4 Can I make a pumpkin pie and freeze it ahead of time?A: Pie is great to make ahead of time. Depending on the recipe, pre-bake the pie shell, fill it with pumpkin mixture and bake. When cool, wrap it in a double layer of plastic wrap and then an overwrap of aluminum foil, and freeze it for three or four weeks. Let it thaw at room temperature and serve it cool, or warm it in a very low oven (about 250°F.) just before serving.

5 Does it matter if I use "real" pumpkin when preparing a pumpkin pie?A: You can use fresh mashed, cooked pumpkin if you wish, however the canned pumpkin (not sweetened, seasoned pumpkin pie filling) will do just as well. A five-pound pumpkin will yield about 4 1/2 cups mashed, cooked pumpkin. A 15-ounce can of pumpkin will yield about 1 1/2 -1 3/4 cups.

If you are using fresh pumpkin, use an electric mixer to beat the cooked flesh -- any strings will wind themselves around the beaters and you can then wash them off. It's fun to make a pie from raw pumpkin, but it's a lot easier to use unsweetened pumpkin puree, sold in cans in every market at this time of year and very, very good. Most cooks we know use the canned product –- make sure it's plain with no added seasonings or sugar.

6 I love to bake assorted pies for Thanksgiving, but no one ever seems to eat them. Any suggestions? Can I make them ahead of time and freeze them?A: So you're tired of hearing "no thanks" or "I'll just have a sliver of each"! An easy solution to this is to make mini tarts or tartlets, using muffin tins. Try your hand at pecan, pumpkin, pear -- whatever your heart desires. Best yet, you can fill and bake them up to one month ahead and freeze them. Baked tarts, like a pie, will hold in the refrigerator for up to three days. Or, if you just want to do some of the work ahead of time, you can prepare the pastry dough and freeze it.

7 I want to make cornbread stuffing this year. Should I use cornbread stuffing mix?A: The cornbread stuffing mix is fine, but why not make your own cornbread? It's easy to make -– particularly if you make quick bread instead of a yeast loaf. Bake a few pans for a family supper, let everyone eat a square or two, and then freeze the ample leftovers. Wrap them well in plastic and foil. No need to thaw completely before crumbling the bread to make stuffing on Thanksgiving Day.

8 Can I make cranberry jelly, sauce or chutney ahead of time?A: Yes, you can prepare many cranberry sauces, relishes and chutneys several days in advance and keep them covered and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

9 When I make the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner, can I use the bag of frozen berries that has been in my freezer since last year?A: Cranberries can be stored in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer for up to one year, however you should pick through them before using and discard any that are not worthy of serving. Cranberries should have a bright, intense color -- discard any that are soft, shriveled or discolored.

10 Should I serve soup on Thanksgiving?A: There's no right or wrong answer – if you like to serve soup, no one will object! We suggest serving one made from pureed vegetables common to your region. Soups prepared from pumpkin, corn, carrots and winter squash are wonderful, but stick with a stock rather than a cream base, so your guests won't fill up on a heavy, rich soup.