You Asked, We Answered: Thanksgiving Edition, Part 2

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

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[Doodle: Robyn Lee]

When I first started taking and answering questions for Thanksgiving a few years ago, I figured at most there'd be a few dozen. We're up to several hundred and counting, and every year we get more and more. This year's batch has focused heavily on sous-vide cooking and vegan/vegetarian options, both subjects close to my heart!

To make it easier on you, we've decided to catalog every question ever asked in one location (with the answers). Check it out—chances are your question has already been answered somewhere there!

We're doing our absolute best to answer every single question that's sent our way, but please check the FAQ, our Thanksgiving Survival Guide, our Definitive Guide to Buying, Prepping, Cooking, and Carving Your Thanksgiving Turkey, our Quick and Dirty Guide to Brining, or our blow-by-blow countdown to a stress-free Thanksgiving. The chances are good that the answer's already in there!

On to the new questions!

On Turkey, Spatchcocked and Grilled

[Photo: Joshua Bousel]

Q: Can you cook the spatchcocked turkey on the barbeque?

Absolutely, and our grill-master Josh has even declared it the best method for cooking on the grill. Check out the recipe right here for a full walk-through!

On Turkey, Reheating of

Q: Some friends and I are having a Friendsgiving gathering this year and I'm in charge of the turkey. The host lives about 10 minutes away from my apartment and I was wondering how I could transport a fully cooked turkey while preserving the warmth and integrity of the crisp skin and moist flavor.

I'm afraid there's no great way to keep crispness in the skin. Your best bet is to transfer it to a large, deep dish, loosely cover with foil, and hold onto it carefully while you drive, walk, or ride over. Once there, pop it back into a 500°F oven for about 10 minutes to re-crisp, then carve immediately.

On Wine, Red or White?

Q: I want to make Kenji's red wine braised turkey legs, but I think I'd rather use white wine than red. I just prefer stuff braised in white wine, especially poultry. Any adjustments I should make if I decide to go that route?

No need to change a thing! In almost any recipe containing wine, you can substitute a dry red wine for a dry white wine (or vice versa) with little effect on the end result other than the base flavor of the wine.

On Brining and Dry Brining

Q: I'm trying dry-brining for the first time, and I'm a little confused as to how much (Morton kosher) salt to use. In your Quick and Dirty Guide to Brining, you suggest 6 T salt + 2 T baking powder, but I've seen other numbers elsewhere. Which is correct?

In reality it's a pretty approximate ratio. I go with about three-to-one salt to baking powder, mixing it in a small bowl and making more than I think I'm going to need (just like with Thanksgiving dinner, having too much is better than not having enough). Once the mixture is made, I sprinkle it on until the turkey is generously dusted. No need to use all of the mixture if your turkey is coated!

Q: I love to pre-salt my turkey (roulades as well as leg/thigh parts) but I don't like when it gets a hammy, cured taste on the outside. Why is that happening and what can I do to prevent it?

It's happening because you're entering that somewhat nebulous phase where a dry-brine actually starts to turn into an actual cure. The processes are very similar, the only difference being that curing goes on for an extended period of time and is designed to preserve meat, while brining takes place over a couple of hours or days and is designed to help meat retain moisture. My advice? Just don't brine as long, or perhaps consider using a little less salt.

On Planning

Q: What happens if my turkey is done several hours early? What's my best option for reheating if necessary?

Keep the turkey whole after it comes out of the oven and tent with foil in a warm spot in the kitchen for up to a couple hours. When ready to serve, pop it back into a 500°F oven for 10 to 20 minutes just to crisp and reheat a bit. Carve and serve immediately.

On Butter, Herbed and Stuffed

Q: How do you feel about putting herbed butter under the skin of the turkey breast?

With three different recipes that call for it in our arsenal (including a butterflied turkey, a single turkey breast, and a traditional whole turkey), you can bet I feel pretty darn good about it! As with almost all choices, there's a trade off. Butter can add flavor, but it also makes for skin that's less crisp. The choice is yours. Choose wisely.

On Turkey, Reheating Sous-Vide

Q: I am helping a friend by preparing dishes in advance for her dinner...I have a Sous Vide Supreme, she does not. If I pre-cook vacuum-sealed meat in the SVS, quick chill it and refrigerate it, what is the best way for her to re-heat it a day or so later before doing a finishing sear? We are looking at turkey and chicken rolls (similar to your porchetta recipe), and pork racks (I will have removed the skin to crisp up into crackling separately).

Use our beer cooler method. Just fill a cooler with hot water, top it off with boiling water until it hits 140°F, drop in the meat, slam down the lid, and give it an hour or two to reheat, adding more water as necessary to maintain the temperature during the process.

Salt in Brines, Kosher or Non

Q: When you specify Kosher salt to dry brine a turkey, is it coarse or fine salt? Could I just use regular table salt?

I'm talking coarse Kosher salt, either Diamond Crystal or Morton's brand. In fact, to my knowledge, all kosher salt is coarse, as it's designed to pull out liquids from inside meat without dissolving too rapidly. There's a good reason to use coarse salt: it lets you pick it up and feel it between your fingers before sprinkling it, giving you a much more even spread.

On Brining and Spatchcocking

Q: Can I dry brine a spatchcocked turkey?

Wow, have I gotten this question a lot. Absolutely you can, and I'd recommend it! If you are dry-brining, you can go ahead and butterfly the turkey first, then sprinkle it with the salt mixture, and refrigerate uncovered overnight. For a traditional wet brine, it's easier to brine it first before butterflying (though the other way will work if you've got your bird pre-butterflied). Take it out of the brine and let it rest uncovered for 1 to 3 days in the fridge to dry out a little. In either case, finish by following the recipe for Butterflied Roast Turkey With Gravy, omitting the extra seasoning step.

On Turkey, Temperature and Safety of

Q: The prospect of moist 150ºF turkey is enticing, but I'm still nervous about food-borne illnesses. I'm planning on making your oven turchetta recipe, how can I ensure it's held at 150º long enough to kill anything nasty?

It's actually quite easy: Start with whatever temperature you'd like to cook your turkey to—say, 150°F—and subtract 5°F from it. Now look at the turkey safety chart. Note that for safely cooked turkey, you must hold it at 145°F or above for 10.8 minutes. This includes the entire time for the turkey to get from 145 to 150°, and for it to drop back to below 145°. This time is almost guaranteed to be longer than 10.8 minutes, but you can double check with a timer if you want to be extra safe!

On Stuffing, Make-Ahead

Q: Can you make bread stuffing 3-4 days ahead and freeze/refrigerate it and reheat on Thanksgiving?

My Classic Sage and Sausage Stuffing can be made several days in advance, transferred to its casserole dish, covered, refrigerated, and baked on the day of Thanksgiving. That's how I do it every year!

On Stuffing, Waffling of

[Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Q: What other stuffing/dressing recipes would be likely to work in your stuffing waffle method? Is there a certain quality the recipe must meet (you mentioned how yours was custardy)? Or will most stuffing recipes work, with there just being a difference in how crispy they get or how well they hold the perfect waffle shape?

You'll need to find a stuffing recipe that contains eggs, or add some eggs to your favorite stuffing recipe. Without them, the waffles simply fall apart. I tried it with this vegan stuffing recipe to disastrous results. Just like in my Classic Sage and Sausage Stuffing recipe, I like to use just about 1 egg per pound of bread.

On Potatoes, Peeled Storage of

Q: How far in advance can I peel potatoes for mashed potatoes and keep them in a pot covered with water?

Turns out not too long, actually. As potatoes sit covered in water, they leech out a lot of excess starch. Meanwhile, their pectin structure begins to firm up. This is great for potato chips or french fries where excess starch can burn and a little structure is necessary, but not so much for mashed potatoes. I've seen potatoes soaked in water overnight flat out refuse to soften the next day when boiled. I would go no more than around 4 hours in advance and store them in the refrigerator until you cook them. Alternatively, check out one of our three easy techniques for making mashed potatoes in advance!

On Potatoes, Steaming of

Q: Everything I've read about making mashed potatoes says to start out boiling them in a pot full of water. I have always steamed mine on a rack over boiling water. Could you discuss the pros & cons of steaming potatoes?

You're right—most recipes for mashed potatoes, including ours, start with potatoes in water. Steaming can cook potatoes, but it leaves behind a lot of excess starch, which can lead to gumminess down the line if you aren't careful. If it works for you, then there's no reason to change, but for folks on the fence, I always advise boiling as it gives more bulletproof light and fluffy or smooth and creamy end results.

On Flour, Fluctuating Weight of

Q: I use King Arthur all-purpose unbleached flour in my pie crust. I noticed on KA's site that their conversion for that flour is 1 cup = 4.25 ounces, but other places like your foolproof pie dough, call for 5 ounces of flour per cup. Which is correct?

Both and neither! The problem is that flour is impossible to measure accurately by volume. Ask ten people to measure out a cup of flour and you'll get weights ranging from 4 ounces up to 6—a difference of 50%! That's why most reputable baking recipes will call for flour by weight rather than volume when it matters. In these cases, if all you have is a cup measure and no scale, make sure you know what particular conversion the recipe you are following uses. At Serious Eats, all of our recipes use 5 ounces as a standard cup of all-purpose flour.

On Pie Crust, Blind Baking of

Q: What pies do I need to blind-bake the crust for?

As a very general rule, double-crusted or latticed pies are not blind baked, as they require you to fold the top and bottom crusts together to form a seal. They are also typically baked for longer to allow both crusts to set and crisp. Single-crust pies are usually blind-baked, the reason being that with completely exposed fillings, it's difficult to bake them long enough to set the bottom crust without negatively impacting the texture and appearance of the filling. But the best advice here is to follow the recipes! They should always specify why a crust is to be blind baked or not.

On Spatchcocking Diminutive Birds

Q: Any tips for roasting Cornish hens? I'd like to dry-brine them, should I follow the same instructions as for turkey?

I like to spatchcock all of my poultry for the moistest meat, fastest cooking time, and crispest skin. The same will work for Cornish hen. Dry-brine them overnight just as you would a chicken or turkey, spatchcock them, then roast them in an oven that's completely maxed out at 550°F. They should cook in just 20 to 30 minutes (use that thermometer—you're aiming for 150°F in the breasts).

On Gravy, Gluten-Free

Q: What do you recommend for the best gluten-free turkey gravy?

A couple of options. First, we've got this recipe for you in our database. Alternatively, follow any of our gravy recipes. Instead of making a flour and butter roux, replace the flour with cornstarch, first mixing the cornstarch into a couple tablespoons of water or stock, and then whisking it into the simmering gravy before whisking in the butter. If using this method, make sure to add the cornstarch just before serving—it will thin out and lose texture with prolonged simmering.

On Drippings, Skimming of

Q: How do you skim the fat off of pan drippings for making gravy?

Very carefully! Ok, here's the real truth. The easiest way is to use a fat separator, a nifty little measuring cup that pours out from the bottom, letting you pour off your clear stock and keep the fat trapped in the cup. But if you don't want to clutter your kitchen with a tool you'll pull out once a year, a small ladle or big spoon will work. The trick is to transfer the drippings to a tall, narrow container and let it sit for 5 minutes. The fat should form a layer on top. Skim it off with the ladle and discard.