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Dilemma: 2 turkeys/1 oven

For Thanksgiving this year I ordered 2 birds from a local farmer (12-14 lbs each) and will be hosting 24 people for dinner. I really wanted to buy local, and after much debate, tossed the notion of buying one gigundo 25 lb bird from the local supermarket. Now, my dilemma is this:

How to cook 2 birds, side by side, and still have enough room to do bake all of the side dishes. I can usually fit at least one in on the bottom rack with the turkey, and pop the remaining casseroles in while the turkey is resting. However, with 2 birds I will not have that luxury. (I should say that I have a 6 burner stove/oven combo so the oven is fairly wide, but not any higher than most ovens. The extra width allows me to bake a 13x9 dish alongside a roasting pan. If I have 2 roasters in there I lose all ability to cook any side dishes with the turkey, which leaves too many to do once the birds are out.)

I was considering the following alternate strategies:

1) Start one turkey an hour earlier than the other. That will free up oven space in the last hour but how should I hold the meat from the first bird at the appropriate temperature without drying out?

2) Roast one of the turkeys a day in advance, carve it, package and chill overnight and reheat on a baking sheet just before serving.

Please let me know your thoughts. I'm struggling here.

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  1. I guess my thought would be to do number 2, and let those cut up pieces be the "second helping"-- put them in when you take the first turkey out, then you have the resting time plus the "first helping" time for them to reheat--

    1. My first impulse would be to cook one of the turkeys somewhere other than the oven. Either deep fried or grilled or smoked. There are several threads floating around on the various alternative turkey cooking methods. That has several points in its favor...including the fun of trying something new and different without upsetting the traditionalists among your 24 attendees.

      If you don't have the equipment or desire to try any of those, then I would guess that roasting ahead of time and reheating would work fine, but I would reheat it moistened with some drippings or stock or gravy and covered with foil.

      3 Replies
      1. re: wawajb

        I have never grilled, smoked or deep-fried a turkey before and I don't particularly want to try that when I have another bird (and the rest of the meal) to attend to in the kitchen. I'd be afraid that I would ruin both and make the guests very cranky.

        As for the reheating suggestion - the moistening/foil tip sounds like the way to go.

        1. re: HungryLetsEat

          I used to cook my turkey on a charcol grill- a webber cooker with a dome. Very easy. However, you do need to replenish the charcol from time to time. If you don;t want to do that I agree that cooking one ahead of time is the best idea. After all, we all love our leftover turkey. Good luck.

          1. re: emilief

            I've done 2 turkeys before - one in the oven and the other on the grill. We used a gas grill - and marinated the turkey in a tandoori rub. We had over 30 people - and people ate up the tandoori turkey - it was the hit of the day. and everyone now asks for it each year. the grill gave it a great flavor.
            and it was super easy to cook both at the same time - both did not require much checking/low maintenaince.

      2. I'd try to do the side dishes some way other than baking. Mashed potatoes can be done in advance and put in a slow cooker. Perhaps you can borrow an extra slow cooker from a friend for a yam casserole. In fact, perhaps a friend has one of those old-timey Nesco roasters that are great for times like this. Someone might even have a larger toaster oven or counter top convection oven you can borrow.There are many vegetable dishes that can be done on the stove top. I'd have the pumpkin pie filling and pie crusts made up in advance and then fill and bake them first thing in the morning before putting in the turkeys.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rexsreine

          Thats how I always do it. I have almost a ritual of getting up early, in the dark peaceful hours of the morning, and doing my pies first. I don't want pies made any earlier than the very day I eat them so while they bake I'm prepping the bird and making the stuffing.
          As for the vegetables, they are also prepared as the bird roasts up to the point of cooking/baking and few require oven time. If they do they go in as the bird is resting.

          1. re: rexsreine

            Just today I reserved chafing dishes for Thanksgiving and noticed that party rental store also rents out smaller freestanding ovens.

          2. Is buying an electric roaster out of the question for you, or borrowing one? here is one that is very inexpensive. $28 how can you pass on that!
            I would work more at getting that item than trying to juggle two birds and keeping one warm. I don't think you can successfully do that without the right warming ovens anyway. Turkey is so easily dried out, and you wnat this to be a nice meal, without stressing on drying the turkey out.

            All the sides can be cooked ahead then needing only to warmed in the oven, easily rotated a few at a time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chef chicklet

              I have an electric roaster and have made many wonderful turkey dinners in it. With a few attachments or innovative modifications to it (ie. adding a wire rack at the bottom, adding some water and using foil pans on top), it also turns into a great way to keep foods warm until serving.

              When I first purchased it, I tried a few turkeys to make sure I liked the results. You might need to put the turkey under the broiler a few minutes to brown the skin of the turkey.

              I have also done ham for a crowd in the roaster.

            2. I have had a fried turkey and I have to tell you IMHO, it is fantastic. I have never made one myself though. They do sell the big vats of peanut oil and the big fryer pots at Lowes and Sams's. It is something that need to be done outside. If you feel adventurous or know someone who would like to do this sort of thing, it is worth trying. My friend does both every year. Her husband is in charge of the outdoor turkey.

              1. I vote for either staggering the cooking of the turkeys or cooking them side by side and doing things on the stovetop. My absolutely last choice would be to cook one turkey in advance and reheat. If you do the staggering thing, you can carve turkey 1 and get that mess out of the way while turkey 2 and sides are fininshing. I would just make sure to grab turkey 1 out of the oven as soon as it is done, so it is very, very juicy and then slice the meat and cover it well as son as you can. I might not even do too much reheating and rely on hot gravy.

                I think that you will end up with things on your stovetop whether you stagger or whether you cook the turkeys at the same time, as you will need a significant quantity of whatever sides you make. If you have a warming drawer, you can stagger cooking on oven-done sides as well. If they are piping hot, then the warming drawer may hold enough heat to help you.

                My best advice would be to write out a list/menu of what you plan to serve, starting from any appetizers/snacks before the meal. Make notes on your approximate prep times and cooking times and oven temps required. I have found that this helps in organizing and trying to figure whether a menu is practical, given space constraints. Also, anything put out before the meal, if you do that, should be cold--no hot appys--dips, crudite, cheese, spreads, etc. Any desserts should be made in advance. If you make cakes/pies and freeze in advance (I know some do not like to do this, but with dinner being for 24 and not knowing what "support staff" you may have, there may be no other choice), take out the night before and when the last turkey is out of the oven, turn the oven off and then put the cakes(assuming a coffee cake type thing, not frosted)/pies in the oven and let them warm with residual heat from the turned-off oven.

                I feel your pain. I have a single, relatively narrow wall oven. I broke down and bought a countertop convection oven that can hold a substantial casserole dish, precisely because it's hard to juggle everything in one small oven.

                1. I have deep fried turkeys in the past, the only thing with that is someone has to spend the time outside to watch it. Last year I cooked one in an electric roaster and one in the oven. The one in the roaster came out fine. I also put the roaster outside on a cardtable on my deck, just to get it out of the way. I needed the counter space. It drove the dogs nuts, but came out just fine.

                  1. #2.

                    I roast one turkey on Wednesday and the other on Thursday. Works like a charm. No one can tell that the meat was pre-cooked. I brine my turkey so it's very moist and juicy.

                    Whereas overloading an oven is a recipe for disaster.

                    1. I'd do alternative one. You can keep the bird warm for the hour by covering it in foil, and, then, covering it with several thicknesses of towels. I did this one year when my turkey finished considerably earlier than projected or desired. (I used beach-sized towels tucked securely under the roasting pan. The meat that year was particularly moist, even better than the usual 20 minute resting period.

                      Finally, if it's any consolation, we rarely have warm turkey on the table and no one complains or stresses. The members of our family who are the carvers are so slow that all the sliced meat rapidly cools off by the time the meat is brought to the table. I'd rather eat room temperature moist meat than warm dried-out meat.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Indy 67

                        I'd ratther have room temp moist meat too. There is no reason to assume that cooking a bird the day before will make for dry meat. I do it every year and it's nevr, ever anything but delicious.

                        Roasting 2 turkeys together will mean they will take longer to cook and you increase the chance of drying out the breast meat that way.

                        If you don't want to cook one the day before, cook on earlier in the day, maybe using a high heat method to cut down on cooking time.

                      2. I would not cook a turkey ahead of time or a day in advance. If needed, I would adjust your side dishes as needed to avoid using the oven. Either consider using a toaster oven or the grill if you need to side dishes, or otherwise, cook them in advance and reheat when the turkeys are resting. If you are comfortable with your grill, depending on the weather conditiions, you can maintain a fairly accurate temperature and use it as a "faux" oven.

                        1. What if you dissected 1 turkey into parts (legs/thigh + breast), and braised the leg combo...you'd only have a breast left which might also fit in with the big -whole- turkey.

                          1. Wish I'd seen this last week! Just found this site. Anyway I am in the same boat. but will do both turkeys in the oven. My sides are elsewhere. Squash is done & in refrig to be microwaved to reheat tomorrow. Stuffing will be in the crockpot-it's yummy & moist. Someone else is bringing green beans. Mashed potatoes will be doen in pressure cooker on stove. We're good to go!

                            1. Is 25 pounds worth of turkey really enough for 24 people?

                              1. I vote for using the grill. I treat my grill like an oven when I am tight on space in the kitchen. And it is an oven, except that it won't regulate it's own temperature by shutting itself on and off like an oven does. So you have to keep an eye on it and make sure the roasting temperature stays constant. If you have a gas grill with one burner that can be turned down to low, this should work. I once had to bake cakes and cookies and sticky buns for a county fair competition on my grill when my oven quit. I won a few ribbons anyway.