Getting a Time-Saving Jump on Thanksgiving Dinner The recipe for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes a pinch of frenzy, a dash of angst, and a sprinkle of panic. Christopher Kimball, host of the public-television show, America's Test Kitchen, says the big meal can turn out just right and on time — with a little planning.

Getting a Time-Saving Jump on Thanksgiving Dinner

Getting a Time-Saving Jump on Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Christopher Kimball, host of the public television show America's Test Kitchen, helped Morning Edition's hosts with a make-ahead Thanksgiving meal. Keller+Keller hide caption

toggle caption

The recipe for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes a pinch of frenzy, a dash of angst, and a sprinkle of panic. It's a race against the clock to get everything baked, broiled, simmered and sautéed before friends and family arrive.

Christopher Kimball, host of the public-television show, America's Test Kitchen, offers Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep a guiding hand in making sure the big dinner turns out just right and on time — with a little planning. The key, says Kimball, who's also the founder of Cook's Illustrated magazine, is to prepare some of the dishes in advance.

His time-saving advice includes cutting mashed sweet potatoes into cubes a day ahead of time, and serving no-bake pumpkin pie. He also suggests butterfyling the turkey — splitting it in half lengthwise — to cut the cooking time in half.

Read some Thanksgiving recipes from the editors at America's Test Kitchen below.

High-Roast Butterflied Turkey with Sausage Dressing

(Serves 10 to 12)

A 14-ound turkey usually takes about three hours to roast. But you can cook it in half the time by splitting the turkey in half lengthwise (butterflying). Photo: Barry Gordemer, NPR. Enlarge to read instructions for butterflying the turkey. hide caption

toggle caption

Source: Editors at America's Test Kitchen

If you prefer not to brine your turkey, we recommend a kosher bird. The dressing can be made with cornbread, challah, or Italian bread, but note that they are not used in equal amounts.

If you don't own a broiler pan top, or if yours does not span the roasting pan, try a sturdy wire rack that rests comfortably on top of a 12- by 16-inch disposable roasting pan. Cover the rack with a large sheet of heavy-duty foil, fold excess foil under, spray it with nonstick cooking spray, and, with a paring knife, cut slits in the foil for fat drainage.



2 cups kosher salt or 1 cup table salt

1 cup sugar

1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds gross weight), rinsed thoroughly; giblets, neck, and tailpiece removed and reserved for gravy (recipe follows), and turkey butterflied

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted


Sausage Dressing


12 cups cornbread broken into 1-inch pieces (include crumbs), or 18 cups 1-inch challah or Italian bread cubes (from about 1 1/2 loaves)

1 3/4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup half-and-half

2 large eggs, beaten lightly

12 ounces bulk pork sausage, broken into

1-inch pieces

3 medium onions, chopped fine (about 3 cups)

3 celery ribs, chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves

3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper


1. TO BRINE THE TURKEY: Dissolve salt and sugar in 2 gallons cold water in large stockpot or clean bucket. Add turkey and refrigerate or set in very cool spot (not more than 40 degrees) for 8 hours.


2. FOR THE DRESSING: While turkey brines, adjust one oven rack to upper-middle position and second rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Spread bread in even layers on two rimmed baking sheets and dry in oven 40 to 50 minutes for challah or Italian bread or 50 to 60 minutes for cornbread.


3. Place bread in large bowl. Whisk together stock, half-and-half, and eggs in medium bowl; pour over bread and toss gently to coat so bread does not break into smaller pieces. Set aside.


4. Heat heavy-bottomed, 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until sausage loses its raw color, 5 to 7 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer sausage to medium bowl. Add about half of onions and celery to fat in skillet; sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer onion mixture to bowl with sausage. Return skillet to heat and add 2 tablespoons butter; when foam subsides, add remaining celery and onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in thyme, sage, and garlic; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds; add salt and pepper. Add this mixture along with sausage and onion mixture to bread and stir gently to combine, trying not to break bread into smaller pieces.


5. Spray disposable, aluminum, 12- by 16-inch roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dressing to roasting pan and spread in even layer. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate until needed.


6. TO PREPARE TURKEY FOR ROASTING: Set slotted broiler pan top on top of roasting pan with foil-covered dressing and spray with nonstick cooking spray; set roasting pan on baking sheet to support bottom. Remove turkey from brine and rinse well under cool running water. Position turkey on broiler pan top; thoroughly pat surface of turkey dry with paper towels. Refrigerate turkey and dressing, uncovered, 8 to 24 hours.


7. TO ROAST TURKEY WITH DRESSING: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Remove broiler pan top with turkey and foil cover over roasting pan; replace broiler pan top with turkey. Brush turkey with melted butter. Place entire assembly with turkey in oven and roast until turkey skin is crisp and deep brown and instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted in thickest part of breast and 175 degrees in thickest part of thigh, 80 to 100 minutes, rotating pan from front to back after 40 minutes.


8. Transfer broiler pan top with turkey to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 20 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper middle position, place roasting pan with dressing back in oven, and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool dressing 5 minutes, then spoon into bowl or onto turkey serving platter. Carve turkey and serve.


Turkey Gravy


Makes About 1 Quart


To roast the trimmings and vegetables, it's best to use a roasting pan that can sit on the stovetop. If you don't own one, a broiler pan bottom will work; when setting it on the stovetop, however, use medium heat instead of high heat and add only half the amount of chicken broth before scraping up the drippings; add the other half of the chicken broth to the saucepan along with the wine.


Reserved turkey giblets, neck, and backbone, hacked into 2-inch pieces

1 medium carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 celery rib, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 small onions, chopped coarse

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

3 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth (two 14 1/2-ounce cans)

2 cups dry white wine

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Salt and ground black pepper


1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place turkey trimmings, carrot, celery, onions, and garlic in large flameproof roasting pan. Spray lightly with cooking spray and toss to combine. Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until well-browned, 40 to 50 minutes.


2. Remove roasting pan from oven, and place over burner(s) set at high heat; add chicken stock and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan with wooden spoon.


3. Transfer contents of roasting pan to large saucepan. Add wine, 3 cups water, and thyme; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 1 1/2 hours. Strain stock into large measuring cup or container. Cool to room temperature; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until fat congeals, at least 1 hour.


4. To finish gravy, skim fat from stock using soup spoon; reserve fat. Pour stock through fine-mesh strainer to remove remaining bits of fat; discard bits in strainer. Bring stock to simmer in medium saucepan over medium high heat. In second medium saucepan, heat 4 tablespoons reserved turkey fat over medium-high heat until bubbling; whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until combined and honey-colored, about 2 minutes. Continuing to whisk constantly, gradually add hot stock; bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with turkey. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days; reheat in medium saucepan over medium heat until hot, about 8 minutes.)


Source: Editors at America's Test Kitchen

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

(Serves 4)

Mashed sweet potatoes.
Barry Gordemer, NPR

A day or so ahead of time, take two pounds of sweet potatoes, cut them into one-inch cubes and put them in a plastic bag. Then on Thanksgiving Day, follow this stress-free recipe:

PREP TIME: 5 minutes

TOTAL TIME: 50 minutes


This recipe can be easily doubled, with two provisions: Use a large Dutch oven and double the cooking time.


2 pounds sweet potatoes (3 medium), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced

1 /4 inch thick

4 tablespoons (1 /2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon sugar

1 /2 teaspoon salt

Pinch pepper


Combine the sweet potatoes, butter, cream, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes fall apart when poked with a fork, about 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the potatoes with a potato masher until smooth.




Maple-Orange Mashed Sweet Potatoes


Stir 2 tablespoons maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest into the mashed potatoes with the pepper.


Garlic-Scented Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Milk and Cilantro


Substitute 1/2 cup coconut milk for the butter and cream. Add 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1 minced garlic clove to the saucepan with the sweet potatoes. Stir 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro into the mashed potatoes with the pepper.


To Make Ahead


The mashed sweet potatoes can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Reheat in a lidded pot with 2 tablespoons heavy cream or water over low heat, stirring often, until warmed through.


Source: Editors at America's Test Kitchen

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

(Serves 8 to 10)

Be sure to bake the potatoes until they are completely tender; err on the side of over- rather than undercooking. You can use a hand-held mixer instead of a standing mixer, but the potatoes will be lumpier.

5 pounds russet baking potatoes (about 9 medium), scrubbed and poked several times with a fork 3 cups heavy cream, hot

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Salt and ground black pepper


1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.


2. Microwave the potatoes on high power for 16 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and place them directly on the hot oven rack. Bake until a skewer glides easily through the flesh, about 30 minutes, flipping them over halfway through the baking time (do not undercook).


3. Remove the potatoes from the oven, and cut each potato in half lengthwise. Using an oven mitt or a folded kitchen towel to hold the hot potatoes, scoop out all of the flesh from each potato half into a medium bowl. Break the cooked potato flesh down into small pieces using a fork, potato masher, or rubber spatula.


4. Transfer half of the potatoes to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the potatoes on high speed until smooth, about 30 seconds, gradually adding the rest of the potatoes to incorporate, until completely smooth and no lumps remain, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the

bowl as needed.


5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in 2 cups of the cream, followed by the butter and 2 teaspoons salt. Gently fold in up to 1/2 cup more of the cream as needed to reach your desired serving consistency. Once the desired serving consistency is reached, gently fold in an additional 1/2 cup cream (the potatoes will be quite loose).


6. To Store: Transfer the mashed potatoes to a large microwave-safe bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 2 days.


7. To Serve: Poke lots of holes in the plastic wrap with the tip of a knife, and microwave at medium-high (75 percent) power until the potatoes are hot, about 14 minutes, stirring gently halfway through the reheating time.


Source: Editors at America's Test Kitchen

No-Bake Pumpkin Pie

(Serves 8)

Pumpkin pie
Barry Gordemer, NPR

The crust can be baked, cooled, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature for one day. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Graham Cracker Crust


5 ounces graham crackers (9 whole crackers), broken into large pieces

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and warm


Pumpkin Filling


3 tablespoons cold orange juice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons gelatin (from 1 package)

1 cup cold heavy cream

2/3 cup (4 3/4 ounces) sugar

3/4 teaspoon table salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

3 large egg yolks

1 (15-ounce) can plain pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cups)


1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.


2. Pulse crackers and sugar in food processor until evenly and finely ground, about fifteen 2-second pulses (you should have 1 cup crumbs). Add warm butter in steady stream through feed tube while pulsing until crumbs are evenly moistened and resemble damp sand. Transfer crumbs to 9-inch pie plate and spread evenly over bottom and sides; wipe out food processor bowl and reserve. Using flat-bottomed ramekin or dry measuring cup, press and smooth crumbs into pie plate (see illustration, at left). Bake until fragrant and browned around edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.


3. FOR THE FILLING: Stir orange juice and vanilla together in medium bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over orange juice mixture and set aside to thicken, about 5 minutes.


4. Combine 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, and spices in small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until bubbles form at edges; remove from heat. Whisk remaining 1/3 cup sugar and yolks together in medium bowl until pale and slightly thickened. Slowly pour hot cream into yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return mixture to pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping bottom of pot with heatproof spatula, until custard is thickened and registers 175 to 180 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes. (When properly cooked, custard should form slight ridge on tip of spatula when bottom of pan is scraped and spatula is lifted.) Immediately pour custard over gelatin mixture and stir until smooth and gelatin has completely dissolved.


5. Puree pumpkin in food processor until smooth, 10 to 15 seconds. With machine running, add remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream through feed tube in steady stream. Scrape sides of bowl and process for additional 10 to 15 seconds. Add pumpkin mixture to custard mixture and stir until completely smooth. Transfer filling to cooled crust. Chill pie, uncovered, until filling is just set, about 3 hours. Cover pie with plastic wrap and continue to chill until fully set, at least 6 and up to 24 hours. Cut pie into wedges and serve.


Source: Editors at America's Test Kitchen