Well, call the Butterball Turkey Talkline for advice.
Butterball has been talking cooks through disasters for years and estimates it reaches 1 million people a year through the 1-800-Butterball toll-free line, social media and live chats. There's even an app for that -- right now just limited to the iOS platform.
"People still like to talk to a person especially when they're panicked," turkey talkline specialist Marsha Barnish said.
Turkey preparation has changed over the years but a couple of rules always apply: Start defrosting the bird a week in advance and cook it until the breast meat temperature is 165 to 170 degrees and the dark meat is 180. Then let the bird rest at least 15 minutes to give the juices a chance to set to make it easier to carve.
For the novice cook, a shallow roasting pan, rack and a spritz of cooking spray are the easiest approach, Barnish said. No rack? Use crumpled up foil or celery sticks to give the turkey breathing room from the bottom of the pan to allow the heat to circulate. The trick is to make sure the bird is cooked thoroughly generally 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours for a 10- to 18-pound stuffed turkey at 325 degrees. For an unstuffed bird, cooking time can be reduced to 3 to 3 1/2 hours. But because all ovens vary, a meat thermometer should be used.
"Really any method is great," Barnish said. "People try lots of different things. If you have a good family recipe, go with that."
Some people brine their birds, soaking them in saltwater overnight and adding various ingredients to infuse flavors. Others cook them in deep fryers, which can be dangerous. State Farm and the Illinois Fire Service Institute advise against using a turkey fryer indoors, overfilling the fryer or trying to defrost the bird at the last minute using a garden hose. Another big mistake is dumping in ice to cool the oil.
Barnish has a few favorite stories, like the woman who bought her turkey, put it in her trunk and forgot about it for a couple of days.
"She wanted to know if she could still prepare it," Barnish said. "It all depends on temperature. It's different in California than Michigan. ... Typically two days in the trunk is not going to work."
Then there was the young man who was cooking his first turkey.
"He had moved across the country. He'd watched his mother and thought he had it down pat," Barnish said. "He called and said the top was getting too brown. Turned out he had the oven on broil instead of bake. The bottom of the turkey was still raw.
Some of the stories are kind of sad and sweet at the same time, she said.
"An older gentleman called. His wife had just passed away but he wanted to continue the tradition and have his kids and grandkids over. He was going to prepare his first turkey. We helped him. He called back and thanked us."
Many of the calls come from people who didn't realize how long it takes to defrost a frozen turkey.
"They call Thanksgiving morning wanting to know how they are going to get it thawed. We help them through the quick thaw method [soaking the turkey in water, changing the water periodically]. You can start cooking from frozen but that's not ideal," she said.
"We also get calls from people with power outages. They want to know how to finish it. And there was the newlywed who forgot to take out the giblets. We told her to just discard the giblets. It was fine."
Of course, Barnish wasn't always an expert.
"The first turkey I did out of college, I left the giblets in," she admitted.
The cost of this year's feast is up 28 cents from last year to $49.48 for a turkey and all the trimmings for 10 people, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimated. Still a bargain, says AFBF President Bob Stallman, although farm bureau figures indicate the price has nearly doubled since 1989 when the cost was $24.70.
"Thanksgiving dinner is a special meal that people look forward to all year," John Anderson, AFBF deputy chief economist, said in a release. "Most Americans will pay about the same as last year at the grocery store for a turkey and all the trimmings. A slight increase in demand for turkey is responsible for the moderate price increase our shoppers reported for the bird."
The farm bureau says the average turkey will run $22.23 this year while miscellaneous ingredients used to prepare the meal -- onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter -- will cost $3.18 and a dozen brown-n-serve rolls will cost $2.33.
As for the other components, a 1-pound relish tray of carrots and celery will cost 76 cents; 1/2 pint whipping cream, $1.83; 14-ounce package of cubed stuffing, $2.77; three pounds of sweet potatoes, $3.15; gallon of milk, $3.59; 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, $2.45; one pound of green peas, $1.66; 30-ounce pumpkin pie mix, $3.02; and two pie shells, $2.51.
The Census Bureau notes the first Thanksgiving was a three-day festival in the Plymouth Colony to celebrate the harvest and became a federal holiday in 1863 -- with the fourth Thursday of November (never the fifth) the designated day.
Americans have an understandable fondness for everything Thanksgiving judging by the number of towns with turkey in their names, including Turkey Creek, La., Turkey, Texas, and Turkey Creek, Ariz. The Census Bureau says there are also 11 townships around the country with Turkey in their names, including three in Kansas. Not to be overshadowed, homage also is paid to cranberries -- Cranbury, N.J.; two Cranberry townships in Pennsylvania, one in Butler County and the other in Venango County. Plymouth also gets its due in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Missouri, Arkansas, and California.
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