Food & Drink

How big of a turkey should I buy? And other Thanksgiving FAQs

How big a turkey you buy depends on how many people are coming over and what else you’re serving.
How big a turkey you buy depends on how many people are coming over and what else you’re serving. For The Washington Post

Thanksgiving is all about tradition, so it’s only natural that we field a lot of the same questions each year about the same things.

But it’s OK. These things come up again and again for a reason. We’ve gathered some of the most common questions here for your easy perusal.

Q. How big of a turkey should I buy?

A: The Agriculture Department suggests 1 pound of turkey per person. We’ve previously suggested about 1  1/2 pounds for each diner to allow for leftovers.

Q. When should I buy and how should I store my turkey?

A: When you buy the bird depends on whether you’re going with fresh or frozen. A raw, fresh turkey should be stored for no longer than two days in the refrigerator. In theory, a frozen turkey can last indefinitely. But for the best quality, use it within a year. Of course, if you have yet to buy one for this year, you have nothing to worry about in terms of storage time.

Q. Should I brine the turkey?

A: Brining helps poultry stay moist and tasty. (Kosher or self-basting birds should not be brined.) Some people choose to dry brine their turkey – rub it with salt, basically. In that situation, salt draws the meat’s juices to the surface of the bird. The juices then mix with the salt, forming a brine that is then reabsorbed by the meat.

A few years ago, deputy Post food editor Bonnie S. Benwick tried both methods and decided she preferred a wet brine, which required less effort and resulted in more uniformly moist and seasoned meat. When you remove the turkey from the brine, make sure you pat it thoroughly dry to get crisp skin. But consider this: You can also achieve a moist, flavorful turkey without brining at all.

Q. Why a turkey breast?

A: Even dark-meat fans can appreciate the moist, tender yield of a bone-in turkey breast. The key is in choosing a cooking method that will do it justice. A turkey breast can be just the ticket for a small group, as well as an alternative to roasting a second bird when you’re planning to feed a crowd. A real selling point: It can be done in advance.

Q. Should I roast a turkey breast for two people?

A: Size-wise, a turkey breast is definitely a good fit for a small crowd, though for a pair, you’ll probably want to aim for something close to 6 pounds. Even then, you’ll have some extra for subsequent meals.

To satisfy those who go for dark meat, consider getting a small whole turkey. You might have especially good luck with a local farmer. If the ideas of a white-meat-only breast or too-big whole turkey don’t appeal to you, there are other options. You might consider a duck, which is smaller, with rich, gamy flavor. Or go the ultimate route for single- or small-serving poultry and cook Cornish hens.

Q. How can I make gravy in advance?

A: Roast extra turkey wings until deeply browned and crisped. Toss them into a pot of at least 4 cups of broth with your favorite aromatics: celery, onion, fresh herbs, a bay leaf, whole black peppercorns. For interest, add  1/2 cup of dry red wine or Madeira or unsweetened apple cider. Cook, strain, and discard the solids. Then you can melt 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a separate saucepan and whisk in  1/2 cup of low-protein flour, like Wondra or pastry flour, to form a smooth roux; it needs to be cooked over medium heat for a few minutes to lose its floury taste.

Whisk in your enriched stock and cook until thickened, which should take more than 20 minutes. Season, cool, refrigerate or freeze. Once the bird comes out of the oven, you might want to whisk strained pan drippings into the reheated gravy, then season with salt and pepper.

Q. How do I make a perfect pie crust?

A: A few pointers: Keep things cool. Rotate the crust 90 degrees periodically as you’re rolling it. Make your crusts in advance. And if something does go wrong, roll with it. Do your best, and call it a day. Smile, because, hey, you’re going to be eating pie!

Q. What can I make ahead?

A: A few ideas:

Cranberry sauce. Most cranberry relishes can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Gravy. You can make your gravy (or most of it, minus the drippings) a few days early.

Bread. Bake your bread or rolls a day or two in advance.

Pies. Most pies can be made two or more days in advance.

Turkey. Start brining the day before.

Stuffing. Depends on the recipe. Some stuffings can be made wholly in advance; others should be made up to the point of adding the liquid. Reheat or finish baking on Thursday.

Q. What can I do with leftovers?

A: Send home extras with your friends and family, or:

▪ Make a Thanksgiving hash.

▪ Blend vegetables into purée for soup.

▪ Turn bread into croutons or breadcrumbs.

▪ Mash pies into ramekins for a kind of custard.

Pecan pie with pretzel crust

Serves 8

This pecan pie sheds its old-fashioned modesty with the pretzel crust. The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of sea salt in the filling, but the recipe tester found the result to be too salty and used 1/2 teaspoon instead.

Adapted from “Jamie Deen’s Good Food” by Jamie Deen.

1 1/4 cups salted pretzels (from 5 ounces pretzels), crushed well

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 6 tablespoons, cut into pieces

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add crushed pretzels, flour, sugar and melted butter to a medium bowl and stir until combined. Dump the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate, and press it evenly around the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, until the crust is firm.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter pieces and salt and bring to boil, while stirring. Remove from the heat and cool. Whisk in eggs and then stir in pecans with a wooden ladle. Pour mixture into the pretzel crust and bake for 50 minutes. Cool the pie completely before serving.

Roasted acorn squash with pumpkin seeds and pomegranate

Serves 8

Make ahead: The roasted squash and dressing can be refrigerated separately for up to 3 days in advance; reheat the squash, covered, in a 300-degree oven until warmed through, then cut into slices and apply the dressing and garnishes.

From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.

3 acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeded

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), raw or roasted

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1/3 cup pomegranate seeds (arils; from 1/2 pomegranate)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub the cut sides of the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil, then with the honey. Place the squash halves cut side up in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the salt and cinnamon; roast for 1 hour, until tender.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the pumpkin seeds and thyme; cook, stirring, until the seeds are aromatic and toasted. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Once the squash is done and cool enough to touch, transfer the liquid that accumulated in each half to a medium bowl.

Cut each roasted squash half into 4 slices, and arrange them on a platter.

Whisk the pomegranate molasses into the reserved juices in the bowl to form a dressing; drizzle it over the squash wedges. Sprinkle with the herbed pumpkin seeds and the pomegranate seeds.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 140 calories, 3 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar

Sautéed Brussels sprouts with sausage and pickled red onion

Total time: 30 to 35 minutes

Serves 6

There’s a special place at the dinner table for anything cooked in bacon or sausage fat, but Brussels sprouts pair especially well with that kind of smoky, fatty flavor. Caramelized in sausage drippings, the sprouts stay lighter than expected thanks to some quickly pickled red onion and lots of fresh parsley. Recipe from The New York Times.

1 small red onion, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage (hot or sweet), casings removed

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

1 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, tender leaves and stems (about 1/2 bunch), roughly chopped

Toss onion in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet (at least 12 inches) over medium-high heat. Add sausage, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up into smaller pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sausage is cooked through, browned and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from skillet, leaving any fat behind. Set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet along with Brussels sprouts. Season with salt and pepper and shake skillet so that most of the sprouts land cut-side down, turning some over with a fork, if necessary. Cook, without stirring, until Brussels sprouts are well browned on one side, 5 to 8 minutes. Shake skillet to continue to brown sprouts all over, another 5 to 8 minutes. Add sausage back into skillet and stir to combine.

Remove from heat and add onions and any vinegar left over, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper, add parsley and serve.

Basic pie dough

Makes enough for a 2-crust 9-inch pie

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of kosher salt

Big pinch of sugar

1 stick cold butter, cubed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup cold water

In a big bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar; make a claw with your hand to mix it up well. Add butter cubes; massage flour mixture so you get big clumps.

Combine lemon juice with water and add to flour mixture. Gently work the dough until a ball is formed.

Wrap dough in a plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Cranberry salad

Serves 12-15

Ann Webster of Morehead City, N.C., shared this homey recipe with the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer. She notes that you can make this recipe up to two days in advance.

1 cup cranberry juice

2 cups water

Two 3-ounce packages regular or sugar-free black cherry Jell-O

8 ounces softened regular or fat-free cream cheese

One 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained

1 cup chopped nuts

One 14-ounce can whole cranberry sauce

Bring cranberry juice and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add black cherry Jell-O and stir to dissolve.

In a separate bowl, mix cream cheese, crushed pineapple, nuts and cranberry sauce until fully combined. Add cranberry juice and stir to combine.

Pour into a 9-by-13-inch glass dish. Put in refrigerator, uncovered, to cool. When it has cooled but is not completely set, cover with plastic wrap and leave in refrigerator until set.

No-bake pumpkin pie

Serves 8 to 12

Note: If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice, use 2 parts cinnamon to 1 part each ground allspice and ginger.

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe.

One purchased 9-inch graham cracker or cookie crust

One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée

3/4 cup cold milk

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

1 to 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 boxes (3.4 ounces each) instant pudding (not sugar-free); your choice of flavor(s)

Place all of the filling ingredients in a mixing bowl (or food processor) in the order listed.

Mix until thoroughly combined, then beat until smooth. Spread the filling in the crust, smoothing the top.

Cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, garnish slices with whipped cream, if desired.