Updated on 11.21.07

Seven Quick Tips To Make Your Thanksigiving Dinner Cheaper, Tastier, and Faster

Trent Hamm

Many of you are sitting there browsing The Simple Dollar but thinking about tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner and wondering how you can make it even better. Here are some quick tips you can add to your meal to make it cheaper, tastier, and perhaps a bit faster.

For the first thirty minutes of cooking a turkey, put the temperature 50 degrees F (or 25 degrees C) higher than the directions recommend. After that, lower the temperature and follow the directions. Why do this? It makes the skin crispier and more flavorful and makes the turkey underneath slightly juicier, too. My family actually cooks the turkey at a very high temperature all the way through, reducing the cooking time, but it’s very easy for this to end in disaster if you’re not highly diligent with the turkey.

Use the bath tub for thawing/defrosting a frozen turkey. Really, nothing works better that I’ve ever tried. Fill a bathtub up with cool water (that feels nice and cool to the touch, but not quite freezing), then plunk the turkey (in the plastic wrap) in there late in the evening. You can defrost a pound of turkey every thirty minutes using this technique, so a fifteen pounder will defrost in about seven and a half hours. Don’t use warm water for this or else you’re begging for bacterial growth.

Stuff a turkey with ice. This goes a long way to improve the moistness of the turkey. Put several ice cubes in the cavity of the turkey just before you toss it in the oven and when you baste it mid-cooking, squirt some of the extra liquid back up in the cavity. It will form steam in there, adding moisture back to the inside of the turkey.

Stuff a turkey to flavor the meat, not to eat. I don’t recommend eating turkey stuffing, as I mention above, but if you’ve put ice in there, you can put in a lot of spices too solely to add flavor to the turkey. I usually put in two cups of chopped onions, two cups of celery, one teaspoon gfound sage, about a teaspoon of crushed black pepper, and a teaspoon of garlic salt. Put it right in there with the ice, and it’ll be amazing (the stuff will steam up in the cavity).

Measure every dry ingredient for everything the night before. Put them in baggies or cups and leave them out to use the next day. This makes the actual day far less chaotic. I also find that digging out all of the Tupperware you’re going to use for leftovers and matching them to their lids the night before is also very useful.

Set your table the night before, too. Many people like to use elegant dishes and nice place settings for Thanksgiving. You can save a lot of time if you just set the entire table the night before, place settings and all.

Serve appetizers. At first, you might think this adds expense and also adds effort to your day, but the actual effect saves money and time. You can make appetizers in advance, first of all, and just set them out for people to eat when it’s convenient. This will keep them out of the kitchen, meaning you can work more efficiently. Even better, it will take a serious edge off their hunger, meaning they’ll eat less at the actual meal where the food is more expensive per bite.

One final tip: don’t throw out leftovers. There are always things you can do with any amount of leftovers. Last year, I wrote about seven great things you can do with them, but my favorite is taking leftovers to shut-ins in the community, people who are unable to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner for whatever reason.

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  1. !wanda says:

    When your kids are older, they can do many of the tasks you suggest be done the night before.

  2. Laura says:

    Say what? DON’T eat the turkey stuffing? Blasphemy!

  3. vh says:

    Interesting idea about stuffing with ice! That’s a new one for me.

    In the stuff-for-flavor dept., try adding some apple to the mix. Apple & onion = a good flavor combination, and apples are also wonderful for moisturizing poultry.

    I like to stuff chickens with either cut-up apples or cut-up oranges before baking. Orange, in particular, lends a nice, subtle flavor to the white meat, and it really gives you a nice, moist cooked bird. Never tried that with a turkey, though–I buy unfrozen, unadulterated turkeys and yea, verily, I most surely do stuff ’em with my great-grandmother’s magnificent stuffing.

  4. J.D. says:

    Set your table the night before, too.

    HA! This (and setting out the dry ingredients) is known as “setting up a cat playground” in our house. We have four cats, and they would descend on the table setting like flies on, well, you know.

    I suspect this is also a sketchy thing if you have kids…

    But otherwise, yeah, good stuff. :)

  5. Amy says:

    We also stuff our turkey with cut up oranges as well as white onions, celery and fresh poultry herbs. Another tip is to cook the turkey upside down with the breast down in the pan. This will keep the breast meat moist and eliminate the need for basting.

  6. Dr. T says:

    Another option is to fry the turkey. The skin is nice and crisp and the breast meat is very moist. You never have to worry about dry turkey.

    Best thing about it is it only takes about 45 min for a 15lb turkey!

    just don’t burn down the house.

  7. JReed says:

    Brine the turkey…it really does work…look on the web for recipes. This was researched by Cook’s Illustrated over 12 years ago…I tried it and it truly does guarantee a tender moist turkey. Just by the store brand frozen turkey. Now just about everybody on the cooking shows is doing it.

  8. s says:

    I was confused about the comment of not throwing out leftovers. For me, leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving. I thought this was universal. To me, Thanksgiving is a 4 day event :). Maybe I’m just special.

    And regarding frying a turkey — DELICIOUS! And for those that cringe at thethought of deep fried anything, as long as you do it right, it isn’t actually any fattier (or very minimally so). The hot oil basically just seals the skin to make the inside moisture stay in. Similar to Trent’s tip of starting out extra hot I imagine.

  9. JT says:

    I tried brining the turkey this year…WOW, what an incredible difference it does make. It was the best turkey I’ve ever made or had and the guests were all eating up and complementing how juicy it was. It takes an extra bit of prep work but so worth it. I will never make unbrined turkey again!

    The tip about starting off roasting at a higher temp is good. Also rub the skin with butter and the skin will crisp and brown nicely.

    I had fried turkey once…man was that yummy…I don’t have a fryer and I would probably set my place on fire if I tried it though.

  10. Caeli says:

    The stuffing inside the turkey is the best part of the meal. If you’re not going to stuff the turkey there’s really no point in even making stuffing. And Thanksgiving is just not Thanksgiving without stuffing.

  11. Someone says:

    Who the heck throws out leftovers?!?!?!?

    And why wouldn’t you want to eat the stuffing?

    I’m very confused.

  12. Bill says:

    I use the grill to save space in the oven. no bending over to lifta heavy bird.. brining is great..plus I get to get out of the kitchen if it is too crowded..

  13. Jon Q. says:

    Another way to add some flavor –replace the ice cubes with frozen stock cubes (perhaps from homemade stock –use the carcasses of whole roaster chickens, etc) –that will add some more than just the water would.

  14. Katina says:

    I’ve stuffed chicken with rosemary but don’t know how it would make the turkey taste.

    As for setting the table the night before: you can set the table without fragile glasses, or no glasses, and then cover the whole thing with a tablecloth or sheet. I have cats too!

  15. sbt says:

    I consider myself a bit of an expert on turkey. My father used to raise about 200,000 of them a year, and our family cooked and ate turkey every Sunday.

    There are two big problems with cooking a Thanksgiving turkey:

    1. People listen to the “gourmets” Do not roast a turkey uncovered. They do that to make it a “beautiful presentation.” Most of us cut up the bird before we put it on the table, anyway. It is very difficult to get the dark meat done without overcooking the breast this way. It’s much better to do what your grandma did, and tightly cover the turkey with aluminum foil and/or a good lid. If you’re worried about the skin sticking to the foil, you can butter or oil the breast, or put the foil on after about 15 minutes. For a pretty golden bird, uncover it for the last 30 minutes or so. Wonderful, moist tender turkey will result.

    And trust the pop-up timers. Except for the very rare instances where they get jammed and never pop at all, they work! The timer is held in by a bit of plastic that melts at 180 degrees. Plastic melts, popper comes up. It’s science. Take the bird out of the oven.

    2. Buy a frozen, pre-basted turkey for great results with less fuss. Most commercially packed birds come already basted with a solution of broth and seasonings. Nothing overwhelming, just something to help keep the breast moist. It saves you the bother of brining or injecting or constant basting. And unless you buy from a local farmer, your frozen bird is just as fresh as the “fresh” birds you get at the grocery store. Turkeys are flash frozen in a freezer much colder than the one you have at home within minutes of processing and bagging. You can’t get any fresher. “Fresh” birds are held at 32 degrees for up to a couple of months, or simply frozen birds thawed out by the meat department. I wouldn’t pay extra for either.

    And about the stuffing. Just stick a thermometer in it before you take it out of the bird. It should read at least 160 degrees. If not, put it in a bowl and put in back in the oven for a bit, or use the microwave. No worries.

    Hope this helps.


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