Some thanksgiving questions from a newbie
First time really hosting thanksgiving for the whole family (12 people!) and I'm excited, but have some questions.
1- Cooks Illustrated said we could just use the broiler pan, instead of purchasing a roasting pan (and then trying to figure out where to store it the other 364 days of the year): http://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/ND99_ISturkeyroasting.pdf . I am planning this approach, (probably lining the grate with foil to catch spills), but am now getting paranoid that it won't work.
2- Planning to do this sweet potato recipe (someone on chowhound recommended it, it is delish!): http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/spicy_roasted_sweet_potatoes.aspx . Thoughts on whether all or part of it can be made ahead of time?
3- Planning to dry brine monday night, pat dry first thing Thurs. am, and then let it dry off in the fridge for a few hours, before heating the stuffing in a microwave (per Alton Brown) and popping it in. Do I then use time estimates based on a stuff bird or an unstuffed bird? Any reason this wouldn't work with gourmet's "turn up the heat" approach? http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s...
And finally, would it be better to give it less dry brine time and more air drying time, but drying starting Wed. night?
Definitely dry brine it starting on Monday, for the dry brine you want 3 days for your turkey; if you were wet brining less time would work, but wet brining and dry brining aren't the same. I start my dry brine for Thanksgiving on Sunday night, and start drying it in the fridge on Wednesday night to get a crispy skin, but if you can't do that (since Sunday night is almost over!), you can do a cheat that I've done and sit the turkey in front of a fan on Thursday when it's coming to room temp, that will dry it off even more and get the skin crispy.
Re First Thanksgiving---Somebody already gave good advice to do as much as you can ahead of time, but remember that applies not just to cooking. If you are hosting 12 people you are probably be going to use dishes and silver and glasses that you don't use every day, so check them out in advance. If they've been sitting in a cupboard all year they may be dusty, in which case load everything into the dishwasher and run it a couple of days ahead of time. If you plan to use silver, get it polished days early. Also look at your tablecloth and give it any necessary attention. It's a nightmare to find all your equipment out of shape at 11 AM on Thursday. Also, unless you have a particular wish to use cloth napkins, buy some of the "dinner" paper napkins that are bigger and heavier. Big important advice: positive correlation exists between how much you do ahead of time and how sane you will remain on the day. The inverse is also true. More: before you start serving dinner, get your kitchen cleaned up---clear the decks. After dinner, if you are using silver run a dishpan full of hot soapy water and put your soiled silver in it as you clear the table. This will protect it from salt corrosion and will also reduce the likelihood of it being accidentally dumped in the garbage or disposal by your eager helpers.
My broiler pan grate sits above the pan so any fluid from a cooking bird should drain to the bottom; if yours is like that, no need to buy a separate rack unless you just want to spend the money IMO. You might want to drain the pan 1/2 way through the cooking process just in case your bird produces a lot of liquid (save for gravy if you're planning it.)
Do I understand you that you're going to stuff the bird once it's cooked? If so, I don't see why someone would cook a bird all the way then stuff it once it's cooked..to me, the purpose of cooking the stuffing in the bird is so the bird flavors the stuffing while it cooks which won't happen if you stuff it once it's cooked.
If you mean that you're going to put hot stuffing into a cold bird, to me, that's a recipe for food poisoning (and I take a lot of chances in the kitchen)
1. Whatever else I think of CI, I don't think they'd steer you wrong, although there is an obvious thing to think about, like size of your turkey compared to size of your broiler pan. If you're planning on dry brining, as you mentiond, you won't really have the wet brine extra liquid issue. I wouldn't have any qualms about using a broiler pan for a smaller 12-18 # turkey. Wet brining a turkey, from my experience, tends to result in a fair amount of turkey stock from the roast collecting in the bottom of the roasting pan; how deep is your broiler pan? While mine is big enough for a 20# bird, the pan is only about an inch deep, making siphoning stock periodically very important. It's also not a good idea to stuff a wet brined turkey.
2. I would make the sauce for the potatoes, and peel them, the night before, combine and bake the next day. That's as far as I'd go for anything in advance with them. I'm sure you could bake them off and reheat, but freshly baked in a nice glaze is better, imo. If you think you're going to have an oven traffic jam, bake them over earlier in the day, and reheat gently while the turkey's resting.
3. You're putting hot stuffing into a cold bird? Better hot stuffing into a room temp bird and get it into the oven. Depending on the size of the turkey, it can take at least an hour to come to room temperature. As far as timing, I don't really depend on a clock, maybe loosely, but use a instant read or probe type thermometer, whatever you've got, to tell you when the turkey's done. I start checking the turkey about a half hour before I think it'll be finished. There's no sustitute for a thermometer to really know when it's done. A stuffed turkey adds an additional 5-7 minutes per lb to the roasting time. Since you're heating the stuffing first, the roasting time will be skewed just a bit. I like to start turkeys out at a high heat followed by lower, but I can't see why the Gourmet heat blasted turkey approach wouldn't work. I take Harold McGee's word on things frequently.
As far as dry brining, seems like posters average dry brining for a 3-4 days, and air drying for at least 24-48 hours. Here's a few links with some ideas and suggestions:
Good luck, I hope your turkey turns out great.
I can't answer the 2 or 3, but I always use my broiler pan for turkey. I don't use the grate, just the bottom part, with a cheapie V rack in it, or if the turk is too big for my little V rack, I make a rack with scrunched up aluminum foil (there's a photo of that technique over at Serious Eats).
re: Produce Addict
I am a cynic when it comes to Cooks Illustrated, so keep that in mind. That said, i would NOT use the grate in the broiler pan, but as onrushpam suggests, use either a "v" rack or make a rack out of aluminum foil, OR set the turkey on a series of large raw whole peeled carrots. The advantage of all three methods over setting the turkey on the grate of the grill pan is to minimize contact with hot searing metal. The purpose of all three rack variations is to reduce contact of the turkeyls skin with the pan so that it doesn't sit in oil while roasting AND so that the skin doesn't stick to the pan. Every broiler grate I've ever seen has alsmost as much surface contact as the pan and simply has slots to allow fat to drain. NOT ideal for a turkey or any other fish or fowl you're broiling with skin on.
2. I've read the sweet potato recipe and can't see any real reason why it can't be reheated, but don't expect any "crispy" dark roasted edges to be the same texture as fresh from the oven. But hey, if you have limited oven space, and that's your reason to cook ahead of time, why not? Chances are no one at table will have had sweet potatoes/yams perpared that way before so who's going to know the difference except you? For Thanksgiving dinner, you've got to go with the flow... '-)
3. Frankly, I've cooked a lot of turkeys in my day and I am no big fan of brining. If you're buying a supermarket turkey such as a Butterball instead of spending a gazillion dollars on an organic free range turkey that had a new pedicure weekly, that type of turkey is alread "pre-brined," in that it is injected with salted or seasoned fluids that make it about as juicy as it can possibly get. Dry turkey is ALWAYS from overcooking, and has little to nothing to do with whether a turkey was brined. So it's up to you...
The hardest thing about hosting a first Thanksgiving is pacing yourself. Take a deep breath and relax, do as much as you can in advance, and have a couple of extra cans of mixed nuts to put out just in case the timing goes askew. Have a great Thanksgiving! You're building memories!