Skip to main content

THANKSGIVING: How to buy, prepare and cook turkey & trimmings (FAQs)

Written By | Nov 22, 2014

LOS ANGLES, Ca, November 21, 2014- Thanksgiving is here again and even though we’ve made turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and all the other Thanksgiving favorites time and time again it seems we still ask the same questions concerning these dishes every year.

READ ALSO: Thanksgiving perfection: Steps to plan the perfect holiday

To help you navigate your way through Thanksgiving, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked Thanksgiving questions and the answers to guide you through this years dinner.

Let’s get started.

Turkey FAQS:

Should I buy a fresh or frozen turkey?

If you buy a frozen turkey today it may take up to 3 days to thaw in your refrigerator.  Do not thaw outside as bacteria can and will grow.

You can always choose to buy a fresh turkey and though they will cost more, the flavor difference is well worth it. If you have not ordered a fresh turkey yet, do so today!

My turkey is frozen, what do I do?

Remove the turkey from the packaging and fill your sink with water (room temp) and soak your bird in it. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. The water must stay cold to the touch and must be changed frequently to wash away bacteria and replace warming water.

My fresh turkey is slightly frozen what do I do?

Don’t panic, this is normal. Remove the turkey from the packaging and fill your sink with very cold water. Add the turkey to the water and soak it for half an hour, again changing the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.

A secret to crisp turkey skin is that the bird must be 100% dry before you season and cook it.  Try to make sure your turkey is completely thawed 24 hours before it heads to the oven.  Wrap it, or place it in a large roaster bag without sealing it and place in your refrigerator where it can completely dry.

Should I brine my turkey?

YES, YES, YES, unless you have health issues. Turkeys are usually flavorless and tough with out brining.

Should I baste my turkey?

Yes, you should baste your turkey, our trick is to keep a pot of stock, wine and aromatics on the stove top warmed so you can fill your baster and quickly squeeze it over the turkey with out letting out too much heat.

READ ALSO: Cooking frozen Thanksgiving turkey from brining to bag roasting

How much turkey should I buy?

The rule of thumb is 1-1-1/2 pounds per person. Of course take your guests into consideration, if you have big eaters you may want to up that number.

There is never enough dark meat for my family, what should I do?

Buy two small turkeys and roast them both, so you have enough of everyone’s favorites.

Everyone wants white meat for sandwiches and there is never enough? 

The night before, roast a turkey breast, or two depending on the number of guests you plan to have, and have it ready to slice for sandwiches.

What temperature should I cook a turkey to?

The temperature of the turkey when done should be 170 degrees and make sure to take the temperature in the inside thigh region and do not go all the way to the bone.

How do I slice a turkey?

The best way to slice turkey is to cut the meat from the bone. Remove the thighs and legs first then the wings, and lastly the white meat. The best way to do this is to run your knife along the bone freeing the meat.

After the meat is removed from the bone just slice everything across the grain into nice pieces. Whole Foods offers this easy to follow video for perfect slicing and presentation of your holiday platter.

Should I stuff the turkey the day before or right before cooking?

It is best to stuff the turkey right before cooking it to ensure no bacteria grows in the stuffing.  Before stuffing your turkey, make sure it is completely dry inside and out having sat loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours after brining or thawing.

However, our favorite way is to stuff the bird with aromatics –  oranges, onions, celery, carrots, bay leaf, thyme, sage and marjoram and cook the stuffing in a separate dish.

Stuffing Questions:

What kind of bread should I use?

A mixture of corn bread and white bread is best.

How should I cut up the bread for the stuffing?

The best way is to cut it into small cubes. After multiple different tests the best way was always with a small dice.

Can I use store bought stuffing or is that cheating?

No it’s not cheating, my childhood favorite was always Stove Top Stuffing but you can also try Mrs. Cubbison’s. They also make a fantastic brining kit.

Mashed Potato Questions:

What kind of potatoes should I use?

Yukon golds are fantastic for mashed potatoes but they can be more expensive and harder to find, so in that case you can always use the common russet potato.

My russet potato has large bruised spots, can I still use it?

Yes just cut it off and it will work just fine.

Do I need to soak my potatoes in water before I cook them?

So this a great question, if you peel your potatoes the night before you can absolutely and should put them in water. However, do not use that water to cook them the next day. Thanksgiving day you should use fresh new water to cook them. If you peel them right before cooking them you do not have to soak them in water.

How do you get the lumps out of potatoes?

Use a ricer, which pushes cooked potato through small holes breaking up all lumps.

I’ve heard you should heat butter and milk before adding them to potatoes, is that true?

Yes, you should absolutely heat your milk, cream and butter before adding them to mashed potatoes. The potato will absorb the warm liquid which will then make your potatoes light, fluffy and delicious.

READ ALSO: Healthy sweet potatoes are a tasty Thanksgiving side dish

Sweet potato questions:

How do I fix over cooked sweet potatoes?

Sadly you can’t fix them. Once they are over cooked they won’t look very pretty but the good news is they will still taste great so you can whip them like mashed and  them into a dish top them with some marshmallows and make it a casserole.

Should I soak sweet potatoes before I cook them?

You don’t have to soak them if you are cooking them immediately, but if you are peeling them the day before then yes you should store them in cold water.


Cranberry sauce questions:

I’ve never made cranberry sauce, is it hard?

Cranberry sauce is the easiest dishes you will make for Thanksgiving. It seriously needs only 3 ingredients to be good- cranberries, sugar and water. There are more elaborate recipes, but if you’re worried you can make it the easy way the first time.

Can I make cranberry sauce ahead of time?

Yes and please do. Cranberry sauce is even better the second day. So make it, label and store it until you need it. Cranberry sauce lasts up 4- 5 days.

READ ALSO: Recipe: Easy fresh Thanksgiving cranberry sauce

Green bean questions:

I really don’t like green beans that are al dente which is all the rage, how do I cook green beans that are soft and old school?

Green beans that are overcooked are delicious. Try adding cubes of a good fat like bacon or pancetta to them then add them to boiling salted water and cook them for at least 45 minutes covered.

READ ALSO: THANKSGIVING: Easy minted peas and green beans recipe

How do I cook green beans to al dente and should I put them into cold water?

Typically green beans cooked to al dente is around 8-10 minutes depending on the temperature you cook them to, and yes if you want them to stay that nice green beans then definitely shock them in a cold ice bath. However do not leave them in there for a long period of time or they will turn into mush.

READ ALSO: THANKSGIVING: Two green bean casserole recipes – scratch or can

Do I need to remove both ends of the green bean?

The general rule is to remove just the stem end, but if you’re looking for consistency or the other end looks bad than just cut both of them off.

For more great Thanksgiving tips, tricks and recipes go to CDN Thanksgiving section or


We also want to know what your Thanksgiving questions are so please email chef Mary at


Mary Moran

Upon graduating from the California School of Culinary Arts in 2002, Chef Mary Payne Moran began her professional career shelling crabs at the world-renowned restaurant, Michael's in Santa Monica. Simultaneously, she launched her own company, Hail Mary’s, founded upon the belief that good food nurtures the soul, and began catering weddings, parties and large corporate events. In the fall of 2008, Mary began teaching her culinary skills to others. Currently she can be found at Hollywood School House teaching her after school cooking class, and teaching her popular "Vegetables or Not Here I Come" assembly. Most recently, Mary has launched another division in her company as well as a chef she is now also a Certified Nutritionist for high profile clients. She helps her clients discover their healthy way of eating. Mary has recently been published in the Los Angeles Magazine, & The New Jersey Star Ledger. Daily she addresses cooking aficionados through her blog - Cooking with Chef Mary as well as her how-to webisodes on You Tube.