Home Ec: Thanksgiving Basics

photo source: Martha Stewart

Alright, guys!

So, here are some Thanksgiving basics I owe my Home Ec students.  I thought all of you might benefit from these tips and recipes, so I'm posting them here over the course of the week.

Ordering a Turkey:
My favorite turkey these days is the BN Ranch broadbreasted bird.  Raised to the highest protocols, they still come with all of that fabulous white meat perfect for sandwiches, which is the real reason we all love turkey in the first place.  BN Ranch also has the finest heritage turkeys to be found.

Other birds I'm into:
Mary's Organic
Willie Bird Organic

Sources for turkey in the Bay Area:
Bi Rite Market
Magnani's Poultry
Berkeley Bowl
Cafe Rouge 
The Local Butcher Shop
Avedano's Meats
Marina Meats


How big a bird to order?
Well, for meat on the bone I usually order 1 pound per person for plentiful eating.  For plentiful eating, plus leftovers, I order more like 1.25 pounds per person.

Tip: Rather than getting birds much bigger than 16 or 18 pounds, I prefer to get two smaller birds, which tend to cook more evenly.

Cooking the turkey

In general, you can calculate that a turkey will take 12-13 minutes a pound to cook.  So, a 14 pound turkey will take about 3 hours to cook at about 350°F.  The only way to know to sure is to check, either with a thermometer or a knife.  If the juices at the thigh joint run clear, the leg is cooked. Temperature-wise, I cook to 160°F in both the breast and the leg.

I usually start the bird at 400°F for 30 mins, then down to 375°F for another 30 minutes, then finish at 350°F, though now I am thoroughly intrigued by Jacques Pepin's steam and roast method.

  • Salt the bird generously at least 2 days in advance of cooking.  If your bird is frozen when you receive it, let it thaw for a couple of days in (or out of) the fridge, then salt it.  
  • Remove the neck, liver, giblets, and neck skin and reserve.  
  • If you wanna stick herbs and butter under the skin, go ahead and do that when you season it.  
  • If you're gonna truss the bird, do it right then, too, and then you'll be done messing around with the bird.
  • If you want to spatchcock it and cook it flat, remove the spine before salting so you can really get salt in on both sides.  
  • If you want to remove breasts and legs and cook separately, then do that before salting, too, so you can let the salt penetrate more thoroughly.  
  • You can put (virtually) anything you want into the cavity, like veggies, a halved orange, or herbs.  But I don't think any of that makes much of a difference.
  • Most importantly, on the day of cooking, take the bird out of the fridge at least 4 hours before cooking to let it come up to room temperature.  This will allow the bird to cook much more quickly and evenly!  

And of course: 


  1. Hi Samin,
    I'm curious about what you do for stuffing. In or out of bird or both and recipe if you care to share.
    Thank-you, Katie H.

    1. I do stuffing on the side...recipe forthcoming!

  2. You can also get Willie Birds through Williams Sonoma, and they deliver to your house for Thanksgiving