The Food Lab »

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

The Food Lab Answers All Your Thanksgiving Questions

It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.

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[Doodle: Robyn Lee]

AHHH so many questions from last week. As promised, here are all the answers!

Turkey Talk

On Turkey, Grilled

I have a 22.5" Weber kettle with the rotisserie attachment and a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker. I have made good turkeys using both (and just in the kettle without the rotisserie), but wondered your opinion on the best method. I leaning toward spatchcocked in the smoker at roasting temp using your salting method.—mnvader

Where the heck do all you folks live that it's warm enough to grill turkey for Thanksgiving? Or do you just brave the elements and grill in the snow?

My personal take on grilled turkey would be to do it just like I do my barbecue chicken. You want to go low and slow so that there's plenty of time for smoke flavor to permate the bird without overcooking the meat. At the same time, you need ht legs to cook faster than the breast. Best thing to do is to set up a two-zone fire, with all the coals piled along one side of the grill. Place the turkey over the opposite side skin-side-up with the legs pointing towards the coals, cover, and let'er cook until she's up to 150°F in the breast.

As I've pointed out in my brining guide, most flavorings other than salt are not much more than a surface treatment—not a particularly effective way to get flavor into the bird. I'd dry-brine my turkey with salt and sugar, let it sit for a couple days in the fridge, grill it, and finish it by basting it with a sweet and sour sauce to glaze and give it some color as it grills.

Also, make sure you check out Josh's great Guide To Grilling Turkey?

On Turkey, reheating

If turkey is roasted well in advance of guests arriving, or there is a delay, what's the best way to re-heat? To what temperature?—SaqibSaab

If tented with foil and left in a warm place, a turkey should stay warm for at least a couple hours—at least internally. The real danger is the skin getting soggy and the surfaces getting cold. The best way to fix this? Just pop it in a 550°F oven for 7 to 15 minutes until the skin is crisp and piping hot again. The rest should take care of itself.

On Turkey, portioning

What's the meat to bone ratio per lb on a turkey? Does it vary based on the size?

Context: Last year we did Thanksgiving for 35 people. Two 14 lb birds had probably 3 lbs of leftovers (with backbone). This year we're doing Thanksgiving for 60 people and want to keep it at two birds, but increase the weight, without getting too massive of a bird that would dry out (thinking 18 lb). How much of that would be bone, how much meat?—SaqibSaab

As a general rule, larger birds will have plumper breasts (a higher meat to bone ratio), so you'll want to use a little bit less turkey per person by weight. Two 18 pounders might be a little too skimpy if you're the type who likes leftovers (I do). I'd aim for 3/4 pounds of live weight per person to be safe.

On Turkey, Basted

What's you're stance on basting? Does it actually do anything? It seems counter intuitive in producing a crisp skin. —alligator king

It's kind of like getting drunk on a date. It can be good or bad; It all depends on the specifics of the circumstance and precisely what you're after.

Chefs love basting because it helps you to get a pretty, even coloration on pan-roasted meats, but more importantly, because it makes cooking much, much faster. This is very important in a restaurant situation when the chicken is waiting at the pass and your steak is still in the pan. Baste it with hot melted butter, and you can shave a few precious minutes off of its cook time by cooking from both sides simultaneously.

At home, the benefits are not quite as clear. Regardless of what some older books or wives may tell you, those basting juices will not get into the meat any more than pouring water over an inflated balloon will turn t into a water balloon. What it will do is affect the way the surface cooks.

If your pan drippings are largely water-based, then spooning them back over the roast will definitely inhibit browning. It'll also deposit various flavorful dissolved solids back onto the surface of the meat, which can make for a tastier end product.

If, on the other hand, it's largely fat-based, it'll enhance browning by giving the hot air in the oven a medium through which to transfer its energy to the turkey's skin.

Whether to baste or not is a judgment call. If the turkey looks like it needs better browning and there's fat down there, baste away (or just brush on some oil). Most of the time, you don't need to worry about it.

On Turkey, Roasting in Parts

I need a few extra turkey parts, so I'm going to do a few turkey drumsticks in addition to the regular turkey. Whats the best way to roast turkey drumsticks? —ESNY1077

Just throw'em on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil and some chopped vegetables as if you were cooking a spatchcocked turkey. They'll roast up crisp, and the dripping juices will get flavored by the veg and can then be used to enhance your gravy.

Oh and something else, any ideas on how to roast a turkey in sections so as to get everything fully cooked and the skin all crispy? In my family (extended included), only a single person actually enjoys white meat so we figured that we could buy a whole bunch of turkey legs and maybe one (or two) breasts so the whole family gets what they actually like.—nomdeplume

Didn't I just answer this question, silly? Read above.

We ordered a 15-20 pound turkey from our butcher this year. I know this is bigger than most recipes (including your recent butterflied turkey recipe) advise, but what is the best method for cooking a bird of this size?—withaph

Roast it in parts! You should have no problem fitting it on one rimmed baking sheet (or two, stacked in the same oven).

What's the best way to roast a turkey in parts? It's the other way round for me - the wife and kid love white meat, while I eat the dark. I'm considering your spatchcocked turkey recipe, or cutting the turkey into pieces if I can get some guidance.—thebarkingdog

Finally, a new-ish questions! You already know how to roast it, but here's a quick video on how to break it down. In this video, I end up removing the breasts, tying them together, and wrapping them in skin. This step is unnecessary if you want to skip it—just roast the whole bone-in breast right alongside the legs.

[Photographs and Video: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and Robyn Lee]

On Brining

Brining (even though it appears to be evil) is commonly done with poultry and pork, but why isn't it done with beef? Could I for instance, brine a standing rib roast?—RagingRio

Good question, and the answer is largely a matter of taste. You definitely can brine red meat, but as I pointed out last week, brining can make your meat a little... spongy and wet. With dense-grained white-fleshed meat like poultry or pork, this effect is not too pronounced. Many people don't mind it. With something looser grained like a beef steak or a lamb chop, it can make the meat seem downright grainy and wet.

Think of the texture of corned beef, for example. It's just not what most people look for in a steak, where a bit of chew and bite are desirable traits.

Instead, I strongly advocate salting your steaks well in advance. I'll salt my steaks at least 40 minutes and up to a couple days in advance, same as I do for my beef roasts.

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Just like salting a turkey or a chicken breast, salting a steak will act to not only increase moisture retention and tenderness, but it'll make sure the meat is seasoned just a little beyond the surface. A good thing if Flavor Town is where you'd like to be headed.

On Turkey, drying

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Regarding turkey prep. No brine (wet or dry), so do you simply air dry in the refrigerator? And if so, for how long?—uuta0003

Actually, if you spatchcock your turkey, there's really no need to do anything other than pat it dry with paper towels. It will come out crisp. I guarantee it.

That said, a rest in the fridge overnight to dry out a bit won't hut. Don't go longer than a night, as turkey skin, unlike chicken or duck, has a tendency to get leathery when it's over-dried.

On Turkey, Crispy Skin on

We are making our turkey in my MIL's style this year. She stuffs and slathers the whole turkey with cornbread dressing and covers the whole thing with foil while it cooks in a low-and-slow fashion (not that low, and yes, we temp test EVERYTHING...no I do not eat the inner stuffing!) The turkey comes out super moist. The dressing soaks up the drippings and is out of this world. However, no crispy skin :( Is there a temp we could roast the turkey at for a few minutes at the end to get some crispy dressing bits and to crisp up the skin without drying out the breast meat? I don't want to ruin the texture of the meat!—omnomnom

Pull it out of the oven, let it rest, then bang it back into a 550°F oven just before serving for 7 to 15 minutes. The extreme temperature should crisp up the exterior without doing much damage to the meat underneath.

On Sous-Vide, practicality of

My family is really bad about arriving and eating on time. So, sous vide to the rescue right? I'd love some suggestions for a full on sous vide thanksgiving spread. —Rosewood

Turkey is tough to do sous-vide since it's so large, but you can break it down into parts and cook them individually. Legs are best done at around 160°F for 36 hours or so, while breast you can do at 140°F for around 8 hours. You can store the legs int he same water bath as the breasts while they cook and leave everything there all they way up until you serve it.

Similarly, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes can be made ahead of time, cryovacked, and stored in that same hot water bath, as can gravy. For casseroles or roasted vegetables that require a hot oven, you're best not trying to bother with sous-vide. Just cook them, then leave them covered in foil in a low oven to keep'em warm. Even out of the oven, a hot casserole should stay hot covered in foil for at least 45 minutes or so.

On Roasts, resting of

Recipes call for roasts to rest for a specified period of time, after they come out of the oven, before carving. Shouldn't it be till a target temperature is reached? (e.g. 110-120F?) Obviously an estimated time would be helpful in scheduling the other dishes.—Bill Woods

Absolutely right! The timing thing often annoys me too. A good rule of thumb is to let your steaks and roasts rest for 1/3 of the time that the took to cook. A better rule of thumb is to stick your thermometer in them and let them rest until they are a couple of degrees below the temperature at which you pulled them out of the oven. So if you pull your turkey at 150°F and it carries over to 155°, let it rest until it's down to between 145 and 150°F before you start carving.

On Brining, reduced salt

I know you are down on a wet brine, but is it effective to use a less salty solution for a longer period of time?—koblinski

The effectiveness of a brine is due to its salt content, so a much less salty brine won't work all that well. It certainly won't solve the problem of spongy/wet meat. The lowest I'd go with a brine is a 5% salt solution.

On Turkey, Buffalo

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I know this might sound crazy, but what about Buffalo turkey wings instead of chicken wings?—Jim-Bob

You're not crazy, you're nuts. But the good kind of nuts. How about an entire buffalo-fried turkey instead?

On Brining, effectiveness of

At my old kitchen job, we'd brine turkey breast all year round. Everyone but me would put spices and garlic and lemon in the brine. I just did salt, sugar and water because I remember reading that the flavor molecules in spices and herbs don't transfer to the meat. (also, we would then roast the turkey slathered in a lemon herb sauce, so any subtle flavor added by herb brine would have been lost.)
Now, was I correct? Or does adding garlic, spices and herbs to brine make a difference?—zorazen

You're both right, in a sense. True, that the larger flavorful compounds found in most foods will not penetrate far into the meat of a bird, particularly when there's salt in that water (see more on the science of brining here), so it's largely a waste of effort to flavor your brine.

You will get some amount of flavoring on the outer surfaces and some of the interstitial spaces within the turkey, but it's essentially a surface treatment. Shave off those outer few milimeters of the breast, and what's left will taste exactly the same as a turkey soaked in a non-flavored brine. Back when I worked at Cook's Illustrated, I actually tested this, brining turkey breasts in a dozen different brines using the more flavorful ingredients I could find. After trimming the outer layers off, nobody could detect any difference at all in the meat.

Point is, while those flavorings might be adding a bit of flavor to the exterior, they're doing it in a mightily inefficient way, both ingredient-wise, and time-wise. Better is to simply make a flavorful sauce or glaze that can be applied to the bird as it roasts or after cooking. It'll have a far greater impact on flavor, particularly when you take into account the time, effort, and ingredients put into it.

On That Loving Feeling, Losing of

Kenji, after last year went off without a hitch, things have sort of fizzled out between me and my turkey dinner. Without the constant threat of ruining something, my turkey and I have lost the EXCITEMENT. Any ideas on how we can spice up the kitchen like we used to?—jebruns

Crank up some romantic tunes and cook in a pair of these suckers, with nothing else:

[Image: Spreadshirt]

Potato Primer

On Potatoes, Crisply Roasted

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For roast potatoes, every time I make them (as close to your recipe as a short-attention-spanned person like me can get) the only side that seems to be browning is the side in direct contact with the pan, necessitating me to carefully flip the potatoes to make sure they get evenly crispy. I know that this is probably a stupid question - but is this supposed to happen?—nomdeplume

Yes, the side in contact with the pan will always brown more than the other sides because your pan (most like aluminum) is a much better conductor of heat than the air above your potatoes. There's not really a way around this, but next time, try roasting on parchment or non-stick foil, which will make flipping much easier.

Personally, I don't mind a little unevenness in my potatoes. It gives them character. (P.S. here's that recipe).

On Mashed Potatoes, ricerless and reheated

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I checked out both of your mashed potato recipes yesterday--fluffy and creamy--and noticed that they both call for a ricer or food mill. This is one kitchen item I've resisted buying b/c I have a small kitchen and don't think I would use it that often, but I otherwise have a well-equipped kitchen (mixer, processor, etc.) Any recommended mashed potato methods that don't involve the ricer?—LizLemon

Just use a potato masher, or the whisk attachment on your stand mixer. That's my go-to method for large batches. Just dump the cooked potatoes in the mixer bowl with your dairy, then whisk away. It'll whip up nice and fluffy.

Is there any way to make the mashed potatoes the day before without them getting all gross?—croooom

It's all about how you reheat them. If you like a lot of dairy in them, it's important to reheat them without allowing them to break, which means gently, even heating. This can be tough to do stovetop. Your best bet is in a covered dish in the oven, stirring occasionally, or better yet, in the microwave. Mashed potatoes reheat very well in a microwave

On Mashed Potatoes, Ultra-smooth

I have tried making mashed potatoes three times using methods like the one from your article, and those of Modernist Cuisine/Heston Blumenthal. I go for the super creamy kind. The problem I have is that they always end up a little grainy, almost like grits to some extent. I'm not sure if this is normal or not, or if it's caused by over cooking/under cooking/starch/etc. The last time was a bit better after cooking the potatoes SV like Heston recommends then boiling them for longer than I normally would but they were still a bit grainy.—PaulC

The trick to getting the smoothest possible mashed potatoes is to press them through a tamis, a french tool that looks like a giant snare drum with a screen instead of a drumhead. You put your cooked potatoes on top, and press, press, press, press them through with a spatula. The skins get stuck and removed, and what emerges from the other side is perfectly smooth potato puree. It's a [ain in the butt, but that's how restaurants get that ultra-smooth texture.

On Baked Potatoes, Reheating

My twice-baked potatoes are awesome. Since I don't want to prepare 12 of them the day of, how far in advance can I bake/stuff/wrap and refrigerate them without compromising the texture prior to the final bake on Thanksgiving Day?—AcaciaWildwood

They should be fine for at least a few days in the fridge. Just make sure to let them cool completely before wrapping them and putting them in there so that condensation doesn't collect and ruin them. Alternatively, store your filling separately from your shells, and pipe or spoon it in to re-bake the day of.

On Ultra-Crispy Potatoes, Deep Fried

Any thoughts on modifying your Ultra-Crispy Roast Potatoes to use a deep fryer in place of the roasting step? I can see a few possible benefits--browning on all sides at once, faster cooking time, and freeing up more space in the oven for other side dishes. Any recommendations on time and temp?—Steve Dombek

Heck yes! That's how April Bloomfield does her awesome potatoes at The Spotted Pig. Just follow the exact same recipe up through the par-cook/roughing up stage. Rather than roasting, let them cool (you can store them for up to three days in the fridge). Right before serving, deep fry at 375°F in hot peanut oil (or duck fat!) until golden brown and crisp, about 7 minutes. NOBODY WILL COMPLAIN ABOUT THESE POTATOES.

Other Sides

On Stuffing, sausage nubbins in

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I tried your stuffing recipe last year and loved it, but I felt like the sausage came out a bit on the dry/hard side. Is there a way to keep the sausage a little more tender?—caroliiine

You mean this stuffing recipe?

You could either try getting a fattier sausage, or alternatively, brown the sausage, remove it with a slotted spoon, finish the remaining steps, then fold the sausage back into the stuffing right before baking.

On Stuffings, noodle-based

Can you recommend me a noodle based stuffing? Or if you don't know any, can you hypothesize on what kind of noodle would hold up in stuffing (tried glass noodle, did not cook evenly due to lack of moisture).

Also, do you make/buy special thanskgiving meal for your dogs?—meridiansour

How about some kugel?

On Stuffings, Alternative

Would you rather have a stuffing made with White Castle sliders or Popeyes biscuits?—adrockuw

My wife would kill me if I didn't say Popeye's, so I'll say White Castle.

On Brussels Sprouts, awesome

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I have had a few delicious brussels sprouts dishes in restaurants (Like Ilili in NYC) that I'm pretty sure call for frying them quickly in hot oil and tossing with other ingredients while still warm. Is there a practical, do-ahead way to have such a side dish on a Thanksgiving menu? I can't run to the kitchen in between courses to fry sprouts. Also, would broiling the sprouts close to the heat source achieve a similar effect? Thanks!—May_be

FRIED BRUSSELS SPROUTS ARE THE GREATEST THING EVER. Seriously. It's how I'm doing mine this year, and how I'll be doing them from now on.

They can be done in advance. Just fry them according to the recipe, drain them carefully, and store them. Reheat them on a sheet tray in a hot oven and dress them just before serving. They will be as delicious as Jesus' kneecaps (right after he's showered).

On Brussels Sprouts, Advanced Preparation of

I would love to know about prepping brussells in advance. If I wanted to prep them most of the way in advance, could I blanch, shock in ice water, and drain, then through in for a very quick saute to warm and brown them a bit just before serving? What would be the best way to store them overnight after the first step? Thanks!—dbepstein

Yes indeed. Best way to store them is to dry them carefully, the putting them in a zipper-lock bag with all the air squeezed out.

On Mac & Cheese, reheating of

I'm making mac & cheese for an office Thanksgiving party. Unfortunately it's at noon and there are no ovens (only a microwave and sterno burners). I was planning on prepping the mac the night before, refrigerating over night, baking in the morning, and warming on the burners? Is it bad to leave a warm dish at room temp once i get to work? Should it go into the fridge? I'm worried it won't reheat enough on the burners if its cooled in the fridge—sharig58

That's a tough situation to be in. Are you married to the idea of mac & cheese? The problem is that mac & cheese NEVER reheats well, and it's a problem that I see no way of solving. As it sits overnight, that pasta continue to suck up moisture from the sauce. What you end up with the next day is pasta that is overblown and mushy, and sauce that has lost enough moisture to make its emulsion break, turning it grainy and fatty.

The other problem is that reheating a full casserole dish of mac & cheese over sternos seems like an impossible task.

My recommendation? Find a different dish to make!

If that's not possible, I'd make my mac & cheese stovetop style and store it in smaller containers. At the office, reheat those containers individually in the microwave before transferring them to the larger serving dish. When it's all hot and ready, top it with toasted buttery breadcrumbs that you've cleverly packed separately from home.

On sweet potatoes. sweet potatoes. sweet potatoes

Is there a way to adapt the Ultra-Crispy Roast Potatoes for sweet potatoes? Or at least Moderately Crispy-er Than Usual Roast Sweet Potatoes? Can the method of parboiling, then roughing up the skins with a wooden spoon be adapted to sweet potatoes? Can I say sweet potatoes one more time? Sweet potatoes.—IbisFlight

They won't work particularly well since sweet potatoes are so much lower in starch and higher in sugar. They tend to burn before they crisp. If you want them crisp, I suggest you follow the recipe through the roughing up stage, then add a couple tablespoons of potato starch and toss to coat. This should help it crisp up a little bit better, though again, it won't be as crisp as a regular potato.

On Marshmallows and Sweet Potatoes

What's the deal with marshmallows and sugar with sweet potatoes? Aren't they already sweet?—Yukiyummy

What can I say, Americans like sugar!

On green beans, non-mushroomy

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Is there a good recipe for holiday green beans that does not include either bacon or mushrooms? My sister is vegetarian and my husband hates mushrooms.—rolando74

Funny you should ask. I do a green bean salad most years. This years will be with pickled peppers, pinenuts, and an anchovy dresing. It is awesome and should be eaten.

On Sweet Potatoes, Nomenclature of

Here's a question that there is a little more to than meets the eye: What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? The internet and my professors disagree, apparently. If given any difference, do they cook the same way and have the same flavor? In which cases (pie, casserole, etc.) would you use one or the other?—czechchef

True yams are pretty much never seen on a normal western table. You may find them hanging out underneath the produce display if you shop in an area with a large South African or West Indian population. What we sometimes refer to as "yams" are technically all sweet potatoes, not yams.

That said, this whole debate is like the similar one about barbecue, or whether or not a tomato is a fruit or vegetable. Words have fluid definitions that can vary based on the context you are using them in. If you want to call your garnet sweet potatoes yams because that's what your Southern mother-in-law knew them as, then by all means, keep calling'em yams and feel free to yell down your pedantic

On Side Dishes, reheating

Can you offer some tips about how to know which side dishes can be put together ahead of time, say a few hours or up to a full day, and which need to be put together right before cooking? Last year I made some items ahead of time and my broc/cauliflower gratin that I put together ahead of time then baked right before the meal was a watery mess. I generally need help figuring out how to schedule all the prep and cooking such a big meal by myself in my tiny apt. kitchen. Thanks in advance, Food Lab is the best!—LizLemon

I try and assemble all of my casseroles ahead of time. That way the day of, all I need to do is throw them in the oven while the turkey finished up or rests. It sounds like perhaps you didn't drain your broccoli or cauliflower well enough before assembling the casserole, and that some of the water trapped in their fronds may have sogged the whole thing out. Be extra-careful with drying and emulsifying ingredients for casseroles that need to be baked the next day. And NEVER freeze them, as it will causes sauces to break and vegetable cells to rupture.

Prepping vegetables ahead of time is good too. Brussels sprouts can be cleaned and split and stored in zipper-lock bags. Green vegetables can be blanched and shocked for salads. Salad greens can be washed (just keep the dressing on the side).

On Mushrooms, Soggy

I like to bring sauteed sliced mushrooms for a side to the potluck I go to. I caramelize them nicely, but warmed up they just seem to be soggy cooked mushrooms. It's not that they were ever crisp, but they definitely lose something. Any ideas how to handle this?—lemonfair

Most likely there's some interior moisture that's leaking out as they rest and turning them slimy or wet.

Try roasting them instead. Toss quartered mushrooms with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast them in a 350 to 400°F oven until they've lost all their moisture and are starting to brown, about 40 minutes. With so much moisture lost, their flavor becomes intense, their texture is meaty, and they stay nice even through reheating the next day.

On Cranberries... on the side

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Recipes to incorporate cranberries as a side dish would be great!—Ehubbard89

If you're anything like my sister, you have a strange habit of shoving cranberries into all sorts of inappropriate places.

But fine, here are some options. How about Wild Rice Salad with Cranberries and Pecans or a Squash, Apple, and Cranberry Bake? We've also got a great Carrot-cranberry slaw or a seasonal (and simple) Braised Rainbow Chard with Cranberries.

If you must go the crazy stuffing route, here's a Sausge, Apple, and Cranberry stuffing, or an entire recipe for a Grilled Turkey Breast with Cranberry Stuffing, which would work just as well in the oven.

On Sweet Potatoes, more please

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more sweet potato side dishes?—arlovesfood

More sweet potato dishes? More sweet potato dishes, you say? We got sweet potatoes up the wazoo!

Stocks and Gravy

On Stocks, hastening of

Whats the best way to go about making dark stocks like veal stock, am I really in for an entire day of simmering and how necessary is roasting?—risottoproject

For a classic dark stock, yep—roasting and simmering is the way to do it. But to speed up the process, just invest in a good pressure cooker. You can do in an hour what would take 8 to accomplish otherwise. I also often brown bones and vegetables directly in the pressure cooker on the stovetop rather than roasting them. Is the coloring as even? No. Does the broth come out as crystal clear? Nope. Does it still taste fantastic? Indeed it does.

On Gravy, with no drippings

Every other year we go to my in-laws and either smoke or grill our turkey. The result is an amazing bird, but no yummy gravy to go with it. What is the best way to make gravy to accompany a grilled or smoked turkey?
—CourtneyFishy

You don't need drippings to make great gravy. All you need is some chicken or turkey stock (store-bought is fine), some turkey parts (necks, giblets, wing tips, backs, whatever), and a bit of time. Making good gravy is dead simple!

My question is the same as @CourtneyFishy, except we fry the turkey and therefore are also without yummy gravy. I made your gravy recipe last year, but without the drippings from the turkey it was missing some oomph.—JulesK

The best way to get more turkey flavor? Just use more turkey. Buy a few extra turkey wings (they should be very cheap), roast'em off, and simmer them in the stock you're gonna use as your turkey base to add flavor.

Last year I employed many of the tips for making gravy given on Seriouseats and was blown away by how good the resulting gravy was, as was my family. However, there just wasn't enough! We like a thicker gravy and we have 10 people this year so I'd like to make at least four cups or more of thick gravy. What's the best way to do this?—alannaface

See above. Just double the recipe, and get yourself some extra turkey parts to add more flavor.

Grab Bag

On recipe writers, confounding habits of

Why do recipes hide so much prep time in the ingredients list instead of the summary? Some of them are damn close to "active time 1 minute; ingredients: one chicken, fully cooked; directions: take chicken, carve." I know that not everybody chops onions at the same rate, but there should at least be some estimate (plus, putting all the chopping in the directions makes it harder to miss that some thinks need to be diced). —scalfin

I know, it's totally frustrating, and unfortunately, it all has to do with inflation and marketability.

See, many folks—probably you included—will look up a few recipes online, narrow down which ones look good, then pick the one that looks fastest and easiest. It's human nature to be lazy that way, and nobody can be faulted for it. This problem is confounded in the modern era when most recipe search engine sites have options to refine searches by time. Guess how much time most people want to spend in the kitchen? 30 minutes. That's it.

The problem comes when recipe writers realize this and start shaving minutes off their recipes any way they can in order to get them to meet that magic 30 minute mark. You want your recipe seen? You've got to play the game. What I wouldn't give for an independent panel that is willing to stop and say, "hey wait a minute... that's bullshit" on recipe timings, but unfortunately such a panel doesn't exist.

To the best of my ability and without severely handicapping our SEO on the site, I try to ensure that the times suggested are ACTUAL cook times, not magical ones. You won't find any recent Serious Eats recipes that claim that your onions will brown in 4 minutes, for example.

On pets

Who let the dogs out? Who? Who? Who? Who?—film_score

They let themselves out, my friend. They let themselves.

On Hors D'oeuvres

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What, in your opinion, are the best vegetarian appetizers (things to nibble before the meal is served, not a first course) that are relatively light and safe to leave for hours at room temperature? Bonus points for suggestions on how to keep the dog from eating them off the table before the people get to them.—naags

I like to keep it really simple. A great cheese board with a few condiments (toasted nuts, honey, red onion jam). Some good quality salumi. A selection of olives and nuts. Perhaps a few spreads and dips. There's so much going on in the kitchen Thanksgiving day that worrying about composed or plated dishes and snacks is simply not worth the headaches it causes.

On Cheese, selection of

I want to do an additional cheese board this year (aside from the one with the family's preferred pepperjack, swiss, mozzarella + salamis + crackers - not judging anybody) and am having trouble deciding on the 4 base cheeses to build it around. I'd like 1 each Bleu, hard, semi-hard and soft-ripened. What would you put on yours?—AcaciaWildwood

I like to choose a theme to narrow down the options, since there are so many. Easiest is to go by country. Pick a Spanish theme, or an Italian, a French, or an American. This year I'll probably go French, which would include Roquefort as my blue, Comté as my semi-hard, Mimolette as my hard, and a good Camembert as my soft-ripened. I like my Camembert runny. Even a bit too runny.

On Meatloaf, Your Mother's (or not)

Two questions, both related to prep and reheat:—bethesbian

You will find the answer you are looking for right here. America, get ready to have your taste buds revived!

On Meat Glue

Would using transglutaminase help adhere the skin to the meat? Would the skin turn out rubbery?—koblinski

Yes, you can adhere skin to meat with transglutaminase, and it'd only turn out rubbery if you used too much. Problem is it would inhibit rendered fat from escaping, which would make it a little more difficult to get the skin crisp in the first place. Question is, why would you want to do such a thing anyway?

On Dumplings, Sticky

Slideshow

Dumplings in triply clad Tramontina sticks too much! My new Tramontina 10 inch triply clad skillet, which otherwise cooks great, give nightmares when I pan-fry the dumplings! I let the oil heat up sufficiently (I guess)but still the home-made dumplings I use, sticks so much that many of them simply loses their skin. Any idea what I am doing wrong, and how to solve it?—adnan

You're not letting them re-crisp for long enough! When you pan fry dumplings (or anything, really), you have to let them fry for long enough that they form a solid, crispy crust on the bottom. When that crust has formed, they should release very easily by themselves.

I know the temptation to try and pry them loose earlier is great, but trust me: they'll come with you peacefully when they are ready to!.

Get my pan-fried dumplings recipe here.

On Giblets... wtf?

Giblets...wtf?—maom

Gibbler... wtf?

On public burglary, bad attempts at

What's your recipe for "Money from the Lopez-Alt Bank Account." I've gotten most of the steps down, but I can't seem to figure out the right combination of numeric spices for the keypad step.—scalfin

Congratulations! You win access to vast sums in the López-Alt bank account as have inheritance $1,000,000,000 (1 billion USD) in sum total availability. For secure transfer of funds we are required to American bank account access along with good faith deposit. Please send check for $1,000 (1 thousand USD) along with relevant bank information by US post to following address to claim your winning prize funds.

Legitimate Company, Attn: Mr. I. M. Honest
P.O. Box 43, New York, NY 10013

Special Diets

On Soy Sauce, gluten free

This is an odd question, but I have several people over for Thanksgiving who are gluten-intolerant and I was wondering if the fermentation process of soy-sauce (which contains wheat in the ingredients) breaks down the gluten. I understand that there are wheat-free tamari soy sauces and other umami-laden alternatives that I could use, but this question has been in the back of my mind for a long time. Thank you Kenji for any insight you may be able to share on this. The only thing my research has turned up was a study funded by Kikkoman, which made me a little dubious.—Waldo

Soy sauce is made with wheat, and I wouldn't trust it to be 100% gluten-free. What you need to do is find either a wheat-free tamari-style soy sauce, or a soy sauce alternative like Maggi seasoning made from hydrolyzed yeast extract.

On Gluten, freedom from

20111108_GFTues_Gravy.jpg

Looking for some gluten free recipes. Is it possible to make gluten free gravy? Suggestions for stuffing? Desserts? —ElizM

Gluten free gravy? Your wish is our command. Stuffing, you say? done and done. What's that? You want an entire column devoted to gluten-free cooking? Oh alright, twist our arms, why don't you.

On Veganism and fine dining

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I have a vegan cousin coming to visit this year. Could you suggest any vegan dishes that I could serve that the rest of the family would be able to enjoy as well?—kimthaism
A vegan side dish is easy to come up with. What can I put out along side the turkey as a second main dish?—Alex!

I really love my Vegan Chili made with real dried chilies and chickpeas, and I'd serve a vegan marinated kale salad with sumac onions to anyone, regardless of the carnivorosity.

For a more "holiday"-like approach, how about a stuffed delicata squash? You can totally leave off the parmesan from the breadcrumbs and still make out with a fantastic main course.

On Drinking, appropriate and inappropriate

What is the correct proportion of liquor to food so that I can be drunk enough to deal with the inlaws (and be able to sit through a Detroit Lions game) but sober enough to not have an intervention staged (or throw up on them)—ESNY1077

I have yet to find that perfect sweet spot, but would be interested to know the answer myself. Perhaps Will Gordon can field this one.

Desserts

On Pie, Blind Baking

How to blind-bake your all butter pie dough without having it shrink, slump, bubble up, stick to the foil/parchment used to weigh it down, and otherwise drive me completely crazy?—karen r

Pies shrink when the fat in them melts before the gluten has a chance to start setting up to help it maintain its structure. Throw the shaped shell in the freezer for 15 minutes before you bake it. This will freeze the butter solid so that when you bake it, the gluten in the exterior layers will set up before the frozen butter in the center has a chance to completely melt. This should help it stay nicely formed.

On Pie, animal fat

How about a recipe or tips for how to make a pie dough using meat fat?—scalfin

The tips would be no different than for any other fat. Keep it cold, and use the same ratio as you would butter to flour. Some fats, like pork fat, will work better simply because they have the right consistency to be workable across the right temperature range. Poultry fat will be a little softer and therefore more difficult to get flakes with, while ruminant fats like beef or lamb will make extremely flaky crusts, but may also impart a flavor that's too strong for some.

Read here for more pie tips

On Pies, freezing

What kind of pies benefit from making a week in advance and thawing for the big day? Fruit and starch stablized, chess pies, cheese pies, etc. Are they all game or should some be avoided over others? Thanks!—SaqibSaab

I don't know of any pie that would actually benefit from being frozen. Fruit pies can be made a day or two ahead and stored at cool room temperature, while custard pies should be stored in the fridge.

On Pie, Coconut Cream

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Any great coconut custard (not cream) pie recipes? I'll be traveling so the pie will need to be made at least one day in advance.
Also I wanted to thank you; we used your stuffing recipe and dry brining technique last year and they were both huge successes.—SoxFan49

We've got a fantastic recipe right here!. Just wait until the day-of to spoon on the whipped cream.

On Apple Fritters and Knowing Nothing

My wife and I love to make homemade apple fritters. We've mastered nearly every aspect of this (at least relative to how we like them). Except, we struggle to get that pull apart texture that so many have in the bakeries, similar to (yet very, very different from Monkey Bread). Old Fashioned in Chicago, Greenbush in Madison, Voodoo in Portland are all examples of the texture we're after. Do you know how bakeries get that texture and how to recreate it at home?—roarke

I'd love to be able to help out here, but unfortunately I haven't had apple fritters from any of those places, which makes the job...impossible. I'll be sure to check them out next time though!

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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