Saturday, April 21, 2018
Cooking

Take the mystery out of the Thanksgiving math

Thanksgiving math actually isn't all that hard. You just need to use a few basic equations.

For example, to estimate the amount of wine you'll need, begin by multiplying the number of in-laws you are expecting by the estimated number of offensive jokes your uncle is likely to tell (remember to round up). Take the product of that and multiply it by the number of children likely to overhear the offensive jokes. Buy that many bottles of wine.

Or perhaps you need to know how many pies to serve. Tally the total number of guests, then add another eight guests to that number to account for your niece's heartthrob of the moment. Now subtract 12 from your total to account for the guests who without warning will diagnose themselves as gluten-sensitive, fruit-free, paleo-centric or anti-sugar. Buy that many pies.

How big a turkey should you get? This one is more complicated. Start by making a list of everyone coming to dinner. Rate each guest on an annoyance scale of 1 to 10. Bump up the rating by 2 points for any guest likely to spend the day standing in the kitchen distracting you. Tally all of the ratings, then divide by the total number of guests. If the final score is 5 or more, don't waste your money on any turkey. You'll probably overcook it while being annoyed and distracted by guests.

For more help navigating the Thanksgiving math minefield, we've assembled a cheat sheet to the most common culinary calculations. All estimates allow for plenty of seconds and leftovers.

How big?

For turkeys less than 16 pounds, estimate 1 pound per serving (this accounts for bone weight). For larger birds, a bit less is fine; they have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. Iif your goal is to have very ample leftovers, aim for 1 1/2 pounds per person no matter how big the turkey is.

For 8 people, buy a 12-pound turkey.

For 10 people, buy a 15-pound turkey.

For 12 people, buy an 18-pound turkey.

The brine

A good brine uses kosher salt and sugar in a 1-to-1 ratio, and usually no more than 1 cup of each. Feel free to add any other seasonings. Brines typically are made by heating the salt, sugar and seasonings with a bit of water until dissolved. The mixture then is diluted with additional cold water (volume will vary depending on the size of your bird) and ice. Be certain the brine is completely cooled before using it.

Turkeys should be brined for at least eight to 10 hours, but can go as long as 72 hours. A good rule of thumb is, the longer the brine, the weaker the brine. So for a 10-hour soak, use 1 cup each of salt and sugar. For a longer one, consider backing down to 3/4 cup each. Always keep the bird refrigerated during brining. If the turkey is too big, an ice-filled cooler stored outside works, too.

Don't have the time or patience to brine? Try salting. Plenty of folks say salting a turkey produces meat with far better flavor than brining. To do it, set the turkey on a platter, then rub a generous amount of kosher salt on all surfaces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. When you're ready to roast, rinse the salt from the turkey, pat it dry and pop it in the oven.

The roast

Roasting temperatures vary widely by recipe. Some go at a steady 325 degrees. Others crank the heat to 400 degrees or 425 degrees for the first hour, then drop it down for the rest of the time.

However you roast, use an instant thermometer inserted at the innermost part of the thigh (without touching bone) to determine when your turkey is done. The meat needs to hit 165 degrees.

If the outside of the bird gets too dark before the center reaches the proper temperature, cover it with foil.

The following roasting time estimates are based on a stuffed turkey cooked at 325 degrees. Reduce cooking time by 20 to 40 minutes for turkeys that are not stuffed (estimate total roasting times at 15 minutes per pound for unstuffed birds). And remember, a crowded oven cooks more slowly.

Using a convection oven? They are great at browning, but require heating or timing adjustments. Either cut the temperature by about 25 degrees from what is called for by the recipe and cook for the time directed, or roast at the suggested temperature, but reduce the cooking time by about 25 percent.

The following times are for a standard oven:

12-pound turkey: 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees.

15-pound turkey: 4 to 4 ½ hours at 325 degrees.

18-pound turkey: 4 ½ to 5 hours at 325 degrees.

The rest

The turkey never should go directly from the oven to the table. Like most meat, it needs to rest before serving for the juices to redistribute. Cover the turkey with foil and a few bath towels layered over that, then let it rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

The gear

You don't need to drop a load of cash on special equipment. A digital instant thermometer or wired probe is the most critical. Cheap thermometers will set you back no more than $20.

A heavy-duty roasting pan is a worthwhile investment, but only if you make gravy from the drippings and if you roast other critters during the rest of the year. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and spend a few bucks on a disposable foil roasting pan. T

Speaking of foil, get the good stuff. Grab the heavy-duty 18-inch stuff. It's better for lining pans, covering birds browning too quickly and wrapping leftovers.

The sides

Cranberry sauce: A 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries makes about 2 ¼ cups of sauce.

Gravy: Plan for ⅓ cup of gravy per person.

Green beans: 1 ½ pounds of beans makes 6 to 8 servings .

Mashed potatoes: A 5-pound bag of potatoes makes 10 servings.

Stuffing: A 14-ounce bag of stuffing makes about 11 servings.

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