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Timing the Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner

Updated on November 12, 2008

Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner can be intimidating. However, the main key to preparing a wonderful dinner is the timing. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is harder to time than your standard dinner because you are preparing so many more dishes. But before we get started breaking down the timing for your dinner you need to ask yourself a few questions.

  • What size turkey are you using?
  • Are you stuffing your turkey?
  • Are you using a giblet stuffing?
  • Are you serving candied sweet potatoes or mashed?
  • Are you serving biscuits or rolls?
  • Are you preparing cream gravy or giblet gravy?

Turkey Size

For a 6 to 8 lbs turkey use times as indicated.

For an 8 to 12 lbs turkey add one half hour.

For a 12 to 16 lbs turkey add one and a half hours.

For a 16 to 20 lbs turkey add two and a half hours.

For a 20 to 24 lbs turkey add three and a half hours.

When choosing a bird you will need to know the number of guests you will be serving. Multiply that number by 1 pound. For the purposes of our illustration let's assume we are having 6 guests. Therefore, we will be using a 6 pound bird. (For other sizes refer to the chart to the right.)

If you are stuffing the turkey with giblet stuffing you will need to begin preparations 6 1/2 hours before your guests arrive. If you are using a non-giblet stuffing you can begin preparations 4 1/2 hours before your guests arrive, because turkey giblets take two hours to cook. (Unless you are making rolls--see below.)

Simmer the giblets (except the liver), chopped onion and chopped celery in just enough water to cover. While you are waiting rip or cut your bread into pieces. Mix in the poultry seasoning and sage.

If you are preparing rolls, five hours before the guests arrive place the ingredients in your bread machine and set to dough. I usually use a basic white bread recipe with a touch of wheat flour.

Four and one half hours before the guests arrive stuff the turkey. Remember not to cram the stuffing into the bird. It won't affect the taste, but it will split the skin of your turkey. After you have stuffed the bird, if there is a flap of skin provided use it to close the back of the bird and tuck in the legs. If there is not a flap of skin you will need to sew the back shut. Oil your bird and place your roasting pan in the oven at 375 degrees.

I like to baste or brush oil over my bird every half hour. It might be a little obsessive, but I always have a moist bird. So, as they say, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Because cranberry sauce is usually served cold right after you put the turkey in the oven is usually a good time to prepare it. Mix equal portions sugar and water and bring to a boil. (Use about one cup water, one cup sugar for every two cups cranberries.) Use a little more or less sugar depending on how sweet you like your cranberry sauce. Add the cranberries and boil for 10 minutes. Pour the sauce into the serving container and refrigerate until dinner time.

It is now 3 1/2 hours until your guests arrive and time to baste the turkey. If you are preparing biscuits now would be a good time to prepare the dough. Sift together 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and a half teaspoon salt. Cut in 1/4 cup shortening. Add 3/4 cups milk. Kneed gently. Roll the dough to about 1/2 inch thick and cut into 2 inch biscuits. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet and set in the refrigerator until 15 minutes before the guests arrive.

It is now 3 hours until your guests arrive and time to baste the turkey. Now is a good time to peel and chop the potatoes. If you are preparing candied sweet potatoes, you can also peel and chop the sweet potatoes. Place the potatoes in a pan of water, but do not boil until a half hour before your guests arrive. The sweet potatoes can be placed in a baking dish and topped with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and perhaps a pinch of nutmeg. Place a lid over the dish and set aside until 30 minutes before the guests arrive.

It is now 2 1/2 hours until your guests arrive and time to baste the turkey. Also, if you are making giblet gravy begin simmering the giblets now as they need two hours two cook (except for the liver which should be added during the last five minutes of cooking).

Two hours before the guests arrive baste the turkey again.

One and a half hours before the guests arrive baste the turkey. If you are making rolls place them in the baking pan and cover with a cloth.

One hour before the guests arrive baste the turkey. If you are making mashed sweet potatoes place them in the oven to cook for 40 to 45 minutes.

Half an hour before the guests arrive baste the turkey one last time. If you are making candied sweet potatoes place them in the oven. Start the potatoes boiling. If you are making rolls place them in the oven as well. If you are making giblet, gravy chop the giblets. Add the chopped giblets, giblet water and three tablespoons of turkey drippings to a saucepan. Mix in a couple tablespoons of flour (more or less depending on how thick you like your gravy). Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to simmer. Do not forget to stir or your gravy will be lumpy. For cream gravy add turkey drippings, milk and flour to a saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Again, do not forget to stir.

Fifteen minutes before your guests arrive place the biscuits in the oven. Place your vegetables in a steamer and begin steaming. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven. Remove the skins and mash with butter and cream. Don't forget to stir the gravy.

Ten minutes before your guests arrive drain the potatoes. Add butter, and use a mixer to beat the potatoes until no lumps remain. (Using a mixer rather than mashing to potatoes makes for lighter fluffier potatoes.) Add the cream and continue mixing until smooth. Don't forget to stir the gravy.

Five minutes before your guests arrive place the marshmallows on the candied sweet potatoes. Don't forget to stir the gravy. Start placing the food on the table as your guests should be arriving soon.

I hope this timetable will help you have a relatively stress-free holiday.

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