Turkey for the timid Tips: Fear not, all those who are taking charge of the feast for the first time. Help is here.

November 19, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Thanksgiving offers a chance to be truly grateful for the bounty of food available to us -- but it also offers an occasion of great anxiety to those of us who don't normally prepare large, festive, multicourse, tradition-bound, sit-down dinners.

Here are some tips for dealing with the holiday meal that might make your day go a little easier.

The main course

First of all, here's how to cook a turkey:

Read all the instructions first and make sure you allow enough time for each step.

Figure on 1 pound of meat per person. This is generous and should give you leftovers.

If you buy a frozen bird, thaw it in the refrigerator. It will take a couple of days, so allow plenty of time. If you buy a fresh bird, keep it in the refrigerator until just before you are ready to cook it.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Wash the sink, counter tops, cutting board and tools with soap and warm water. Dry them off with clean paper towels. (Repeat after putting the turkey in the oven.) Take the wrapping off the turkey and remove the bag of giblets that is inside the cavity. Refrigerate the giblets for later use in the dressing, or throw them away.

Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with clean paper towels.

It's no longer considered a good idea to cook stuffing inside the turkey, so don't worry about stuffing the bird. Instead, salt and pepper it inside and out. If you like, tuck a little fresh rosemary or thyme inside the cavity, or press some crumbled dried herbs under the skin. Or you can drizzle the bird with a little lemon or orange juice and put some slices of the fruit inside.

Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Tuck the wings under the body and use cotton kitchen string to tie the ends of the drumsticks together.

Put the turkey in the oven and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 180 degrees. To keep extremities from over-browning, cover them with aluminum foil for the later part of the cooking.

It takes 15 to 20 minutes per pound to cook a turkey to the proper temperature. An 8-pound turkey needs about 2 hours; a 16-pound one will take up to 3 1/2 hours, so allow sufficient time. (It could take more time or less time, depending on your oven.)

While the turkey is roasting, use a baster to baste it with its juices every now and then.

When the turkey is done, take it out of the oven, cover it with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Don't leave the turkey carcass sitting out for more than an hour or so. Take all the meat off the bones and refrigerate or freeze it.

Call for help

Need more help or have questions about some aspect of organization or meal preparation? Here are some phone numbers and brochures that offer assistance.

* USDA meat and poultry hot line, 800-535-4555, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving. USDA is also offering a booklet called "Taking the Guesswork out of Roasting Turkey." For a copy, call 719-948-4000 and ask for Item 633D.

* U.S. Food and Drug Administration hot line, for questions about foods other than meat and poultry, 800-332-4010, from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays (not available on Thanksgiving).

* American Dietetic Association nutrition hot line, 800-366-1655, recorded messages 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

* Butterball Turkey Talk line, 800-323-4848, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 26; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 22-23; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thanksgiving; and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. through Dec. 23.

* Land O' Lakes Holiday Bakeline, 800-782-9606, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week through Dec. 24.

* Shady Brook Farms Dial-A-Chef Holiday Hot Line, 888-SBF-HINTS, for recorded messages from noted chefs such as Rick Bayless, Larry Forgione and Lydia Shire, 24 hours, through December.

* Reynolds Kitchens turkey tips line, 800-745-4000, recorded messages, 24 hours, through December. Reynolds is also offering a free "Turkey Made Easy" brochure, at the same number.

* Kraft Stove Top Stuffing Mix is offering a booklet, "The Worry-Free Thanksgiving Planner." To order a copy, call 888-315-6005.

* Williams-Sonoma stores are offering a free "Thanksgiving 1-2-3" booklet, with tips on organizing the meal and roasting a turkey. It's a companion to the new Williams-Sonoma cookbook, "Thanksgiving."

* Several companies offer online help. Try www.butterball .com, Reynolds at www.rmc.com/ wrap, or the Better Homes and Gardens Thanksgiving Survival Guide at www.bhglive.com.

Get organized

Here are some tips for organizing the meal:

* Do everything you possibly can ahead of time. Prepare and freeze dishes, or cook them to a stage where you can stop and store them before finishing just before the meal. Set the table, round up the chairs, buy or make the centerpiece.

* Read through every recipe you plan to use and make sure you have all the ingredients you need. Make sure each ingredient is usable.

* Check your equipment. Do you have a sharp carving knife? A baster or basting brush? All the serving bowls and implements?

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