Tip #1: If you’re just having a few people for your Thanksgiving, you only need a turkey breast or a small ham. I used a 7-pound turkey breast and when I got it home, it was frozen solid and in a mesh bag — you could have killed a man with that thing. After cooking, we’re going to get probably 20,000 calories and five pound of meat off of this guy. That’s plenty.
Tip #2: Start your bird at about 450 degrees and after about ten minutes, drop the temperature in your oven to 350. This sears the outside but still cooks the bird slow. Give yourself 20 minutes of roasting for every pound of bird, including bone and stuffing, that you’ve got in there. Then, give yourself an extra hour for basting and checking on internal temperature. Don’t pull the bird from the oven to rest until the meat temperature close to the bone is 160 degrees. Use a probe thermometer to get there.
Tip #3: Drape your bird in bacon. Oh, yeah. Actually, this is a good suggestion — turkey is naturally a relatively lean and dry meat and the bacon adds fat (as well as smoky, bacony flavor) and therefore moisture. If you do it right, your turkey will fall be so tender and moist it will fall apart when you use harsh language at it.
Tip #4: Use your pan drippings in the gravy. Mix it with chicken stock (or turkey stock if you can get it) and flour. Mix the stock and flour first, while the stock is cold, and then add only small amounts of flour to thicken until you get the consistency you want in your gravy because some like it thick and some like it thin.
Tip #5: If at all possible, try to have one chef in charge of the cooking and everyone else is “helping out” — which means they are acting under the direction of the chef. “Chef” means “chief” and cooking is not a democracy. Further to that end, do try to avoid having your wife get into a rivalry with the wife of the other couple you’re sharing Thanksgiving with about how and where things are going to be done. The Revolutionary Government in France was run by Committee after the Revolution, and things didn’t work out so well. One chef per meal, please.
Tip #6: You don’t have to wait until the food is served to break out the alcohol. Unless your family has a propensity to domestic violence, in which case I suggest no booze at all. But if you’re dealing with a lot of unnecessary social tension, a martini while the bird is roasting really takes the edge off.