How Long Do I Cook the Turkey? and 5 Other Thanksgiving Questions Answered
This quick guide to Thanksgiving's most pressing questions will get you to the feasting finish line ASAP.
Q: How long do I cook the turkey?
A. It depends on two factors: the weight of the turkey and whether or not it’s stuffed. Set your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. For a stuffed gobbler, the pros suggest half an hour for every pound. For a stuffingless bird, the consensus is 45 minutes for every pound.
Q: How big a turkey do I need?
A: For big birds, calculate a pound and a half for every adult that’ll be feasting with you. For smaller birds (less than 12 pounds), you may want to calculate closer to two pounds per person because said birds have a smaller ratio of meat to bone. And feel free to up this number if you’re hoping for extra leftovers.
Q: Is it safe to cook the stuffing inside the turkey?
A: First thing’s first: when it is cooked inside the bird it is called stuffing, and when it is cooked outside the bird it is calling dressing. Now that we have that out of the way, you have a decision to make. Stuffing cooked inside the bird has the delicious advantage of soaking in the bird’s savory juices for hours — but it can also bring with it the distinct disadvantage of potential salmonella poisoning. In Good Eats: Volume 1, Alton Brown said “Stuffing goes into the middle of the bird and is extremely porous. That means that as the turkey around it cooks, juices that may contain salmonella bacteria soak into the stuffing, which then must be cooked to a minimum of 165°F in order to be safe. Getting the stuffing to this temperature usually means overcooking the turkey.”
Q: Can I peel potatoes without a peeler?
A: Yes! It’s magic. Drop your unpeeled potatoes (Russets and Yukon Golds are best for mashing) into cold water and bring them to a gentle boil. Once they are cooked through (test with a fork after about 30 minutes) remove them from heat and drain them into a colander in the sink. Immediately transfer the potatoes into a bowl of icy water and swirl them around. Then, simply slip the skin off with your hands. Bonus: Unpeeled potatoes absorb less water during boiling, making for a less gluey mash.
Q: Does turkey actually make you tired?
A: Turkey actually contains no more tryptophan (the amino acid blamed for post-Thanksgiving drowsiness) than other meats and poultry, so you can’t blame your coma on the bird alone. But consider the sides: mashed potaters, stuffing, yams…all are carb-heavy and add up to an insulin spike and a destined deep doze.
Q: Why is Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November?
A: The proclaimed feast date moved around a lot in the early years of American’s nationhood, and it was only an official holiday in New England States. Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential writer and editor (and advocate for women’s education!), wrote and urged Presidents Taylor, Filmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln, campaigning for the establishment of the holiday. During the Civil War in 1863, Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday and set the date to the fourth Thursday of November. It was the third established national holiday, following Independence Day and Washington’s birthday.