For a cook who has never hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, the task may seem daunting.
To take some of the fear out of Thanksgiving dinner, Mark Canzonetta, executive chef at the Culinary Arts Center in Boardman, recently conducted a class called "Deconstructing Thanksgiving" to help people adopt a DIY philosophy to entertaining.
"I deconstruct all the difficulties of putting together a Thanksgiving dinner and convert them to laymen's terms, so you can do it yourself at home," Canzonetta said.
Paul Landerfield, executive chef and dietary director at the Manor at Autumn Hills in Niles, chops celery. Landerfield is planning Thanksgiving dinner for residents at the Manor.
Carolyn Leetch of Hubbard has been attending Canzonetta's "Deconstructing Thanksgiving" classes for three years and has put the skills she's learned into practice at her own dinners.
"I would say the 'Deconstructing Thanksgiving' class is more of a demonstration than a class," she said. "I do the brining, basting and roasting technique, thanks to Mark Canzonetta."
Canzonetta said there are many ways to prepare a turkey. Some people deep fry, brine, roast, cook, or even grill their turkeys on Thanksgiving.
"Make sure you get a great turkey, and what I mean by great turkey is a turkey with no growth hormone products and antibiotics. It's good to get a natural free-range bird," Canzonetta said.
Phyllis Kramer, Butterball Turkey Talkline expert, said there are three "golden rules" to preparing a turkey properly: completely thawing the turkey, open-pan cooking, and using a meat thermometer.
Kramer said that one of the common mistakes people make when cooking Thanksgiving dinner is not allowing enough time for the turkey to completely thaw.
"The turkey will thaw four pounds in 24 hours in your refrigerator. That is slow thawing," she said. "A faster thawing method would be to leave the turkey in its original wrapper and put it in a big container of water. With this method, you place the turkey in a big container of cold water, breast side down. Then you need to change the water every half an hour. Then the turkey will thaw one pound every 30 minutes. You keep changing the water, and when you are done with the thawing process, put the turkey in the refrigerator."
Kramer said regardless of what thawing method you use, you should remove the neck, which is in the main cavity of the turkey.
"In the turkey's neck, just pull the giblets out and then just dry the turkey," Kramer said.
Canzonetta said that he likes to brine his turkey by allowing it to soak in herbs and aromatics. He said that the turkey he made last year for his family weighed in at 26 pounds.
"I start with a brine and make sure I properly season the bird from the inside and out," he said. "That brine flavors the turkey and moisture permeates throughout the whole bird. The flavor of the salt and aromatics get into the meat. Brining goes in and out of popularity. To brine a turkey, you need a vessel, white trash bag liner or a big sealable plastic bag that can hold a 17- or 18-pound turkey. Let the turkey brine for 36 hours. Then you remove it from the brine and save all the herbs from the brine."
Kramer said to make sure the turkey is completely thawed before brining.
"The turkey has to be thawed when brining because then your cooking time is shorter and you get an accurate turkey cooking time," she said.
Open pan cooking is another popular method of preparing turkey for the holiday.
"We recommend that the turkey goes in a shallow pan that is 2 1/2- to 3-inches deep and put a rack underneath the turkey," Kramer said. "Then brush it with oil and put it in the oven at 325 in an open pan and just let it roast. About two-thirds of the way through the cooking, you should place a tent of aluminum foil over the breast loosely," Kramer said.
Canzonetta said that some people like to cook their turkey using the bag method.
"I coat the bird in cheesecloth. Then I place the turkey in a 350-degree oven and place it on a cooking rack with a drip tray underneath, so it catches the juices. I baste the turkey every 15 minutes. I cook the turkey to 150 degrees at the thigh. Finally, I pull the turkey out and let it rest, so I could let those juices relax inside of the meat," Canzonetta said.
Paul Landerfield, executive chef and dietary director at the Manor at Autumn Hills in Niles, is busy preparing the Thanksgiving meal for the residents ahead of time.
"This year, I am making roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing, cheese with pearl onions, and pumpkin and pecan pies for dessert," Landerfield said.
Landerfield is a fan of using basting bags when cooking his turkeys.
"The basting bags are incredible and they do a great job basting the turkey," he said. "I highly recommend the basting bags. I have used the basting bags in the past, because they keep the turkey nice and moist."
Stuffing is the traditional match with turkey but should be made with careful precision.
"If you stuff the turkey, that is fine, but you want to get the stuffing up to a internal temperature of 165 degrees so it's cooked," Kramer said. "Then you know the stuffing is ready."
Canzonetta said that he stuffs the turkey's body cavity with these herbs that he saves from the brine.
"I don't stuff the bird with stuffing, and I usually make the stuffing on the side," he said. "If you put the stuffing on the inside, you run the risk of overcooking the meat. If you don't bring food temperature up in that stuffing, you'll get food-borne illness."
Landerfield said that he is making a sausage stuffing this year.
"With my sausage stuffing, I use standard stuffing mix and chicken stock, sage, thyme, celery, onion and sausage," Landerfield said. "As far as keeping it moist, you put Saran Wrap and the foil on top of that, which keeps the moisture in the stuffing. When I get close to serving time, I uncover it to get that crispy exterior."