Thanksgiving for the Beginner

Thanksgiving for the Beginner

In the state of Rhode Island, many of us are being asked or urged to host our own Thanksgiving and keep it to our own household. At the same time, many of us have never had to cook a turkey in our lifetime because someone else always did it for us. I have hosted three Thanksgivings in my whole life, so I am a newbie to this, too. The first time I hosted, my mom made the turkey. The second time, I skipped the brine. Should have never done that. And the third time I hosted, I ordered a smoked turkey from a local restaurant Binge BBQ and it was fantastic. Yes, a little bit lazy, but a lot a bit wise. Smoked turkey is by far my favorite kind.

This year, in East Greenwich, RI, a town that I teach in, many people came together to meet the needs of families who are finding themselves in need of Thanksgiving meals this year. Fifty turkeys, pantry staples, Thanksgiving basics and gift cards to our local market were donated and collected at many of the schools in the district. After helping with this effort, I thought I should put some instructions together. It was my intention to make a little booklet of recipes to put in the gift boxes, but I ran out of time, so I decided to write this post instead. Not only for these families, but for me as well and whoever else feels like they are on their own for Thanksgiving without much experience or help in the kitchen. I will be referencing this post along with my friend Meg’s post on her blog this Thanksgiving. Thank you, Meg, for schooling me on how to cook a turkey, and you can read more about Meg’s Thanksgiving day prep, schedule and shopping list here

Below you will find some of the many questions that came to my mind. Almost all of the answers to those questions came by way of Google. The recipes below are classic and very hardly homemade. I hope you enjoy!

Why is my Turkey Always Dry?

My guess is you skipped the brining process, like I did that one time, over cooked it, or both.

What Does it Mean to Brine a Turkey?

It’s a technique that allows the turkey to soak up salt ahead of time in order to retain moisture while roasting, so that way you don’t have the dry turkey problem.

The Wet Brine

This is when you soak the turkey in seasoned water over night in your refrigerator. Some people soak their turkey for 2 days ahead of Thanksgiving, but generally you should wet brine for about 1 hour per pound.  Ideally, you want the bird to dry after the wet brine, so you can lay it on a sheet pan uncovered in the fridge if you are planning ahead. Something is better than nothing, so if you don’t start the wet brine until the night before, and it doesn’t completely dry before roasting, that’s okay.

The most basic wet brine recipe is a mixture of 4 quarts of water for every 1 cup of kosher salt and make sure the seasoned water is enough to submerge the turkey. Then, if you want to be extra you can add things like a few cups of brown sugar and orange peels and fresh herbs, but you don’t have to. Always let the turkey come to room temperature before roasting it. This takes about 1 hour.

The Dry Brine

Not everyone has the time or the space in the refrigerator for the wet brine. The turkey must be kept cold. Instead you can do the “dry brine”. Salt the turkey with kosher salt and/or table salt inside and out a day or two before roasting and let it rest on the counter with the salt rub for an hour before roasting. You can also rub it with brown sugar as well to make the skin flavorful and have a nice color. This dry brine technique will also help it retain the moisture and be nice and succulent.

To Brine or Not to Brine?

  • In a nutshell, if you’d like a fool proof, juicy turkey, you brine. If you don’t brine, you are risking it.
  • You do not need to boil a brine. The seasoning will dissolve without boiling.
  • Never rinse the turkey after brining.
  • Remove neck and giblets from inside the bird’s cavity and throw away. Some use them from gravy, but that will not be needed here.
  • You can also buy store-bought turkey brine mixes on Amazon and Williams Sonoma, to name a couple.

I Have a Frozen Turkey.

Start thawing it in your refrigerator on the Saturday before Thanksgiving

Preparing The Turkey with Boxed Stuffing and Browned Skin After The Brine

  1. Tie the brined turkey’s legs together. Massage some softened butter into the skin or brush with canola oil and on the inside as well.
  2. After your bird has come to room temperature, prepare the boxed stuffing.
  3. Toss the dry stuffing contents in each box with 1 2/3 cups hot water and 1/4 cup softened butter. Do this very shortly before you stuff the bird.
    • 1 package of stuffing mix when cooking a turkey up to 8 pounds
    • 2 packages for an 8 to 12 pound turkey
    • 3 packages for a turkey 12 to 20 pounds

Roasting the Turkey

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Use a roasting pan, but if you don’t have a roasting pan, you can use a sheet pan. It’s fine!
  2. After 40 minutes at the high heat, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F for the remainder of the cooking time.
  3. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes or so with chicken stock.
  4. If the turkey looks like the skin is starting to get to brown, you can tent a piece of tin foil and lay it over the top of the turkey.
  5. It’s nice to have a meat thermometer and 160 degrees F is the magical number. Stick the thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, go with 3.5-4 hours for a 20 pound turkey, but every oven works differently and some cook faster than others. Liquids should run clear when cutting into it, and that’s another way to tell if it’s done. Let it rest on the counter covered in tin foil and a towel. It will continue to cook and retain moisture that way.
  6. Use the renderings in the pan to make the day of pan gravy, or skip this completely and use the jar, canned or boxed gravy.

Hardly Homemade Side Dishes

Real Simple Gravy

Day of White Wine Pan Gravy

November 20, 2020
: 8
: 10 min
: 10 min
: 20 min
: Easy


  • 1 c white wine
  • 4 Tbsp salted butter
  • 6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • drippings from the turkey (in the pan)
  • 2-3 c low sodium chicken or turkey broth, as needed
  • kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Step 1 Pour all the renderings from the roasting pan into a large bowl and then place in the freezer for 10 minutes so the fat will rise. Skim the fat off the top and then add enough broth to equal about 4-5 cups total of drippings/broth.
  • Step 2 Place the roasting pan over two burners and add a splash of wine (about 1/2 cup) to deglaze the pan, keeping the brown bits in the mix. Add the butter and once melted, add the flour whisking to combine. Cook stirring constantly, until the mixture is golden, around 5 minutes.
  • Step 3 Increase heat to medium high and add the remaining 1/2 cup of white wine, whisking as you go to let the wine reduce down. Slowly add reserved broth, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth and thickened. This takes around 8 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm with the turkey.

Minimalist Green Bean Casserole

Minimalist Green Bean Casserole

November 20, 2020
: 6
: Easy

This will cost about $5. This recipe give the option of using fresh, canned or frozen green beans. Measurements of each included in the ingredients.


  • 1.5 pounds of green beans or 2 cans of green beans (drained and rinsed) or 16-20 ounces frozen green beans (thawed and drained)
  • 1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 c grated Parmesan
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 3/4 c French’s fried onions
  • 1/2 c milk
  • Step 1 Preheat oven to 375°. Prep your green beans. If using fresh, cook green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 3 minutes. Drain and let cool. For canned or frozen, use a strainer to thaw, drain and rinse.
  • Step 2 In a casserole or baking dish, stir the soup, milk, black pepper, grean beans and 1/2 c of fried onions. Top with a little more pepper and grated cheese.
  • Step 3 Bake at 350°F. for 25 minutes uncovered or until the bean mixture is hot and bubbling. Sprinkle with the remaining onions and bake for about 10 more minutes.

Doctored Up Instant Mashed Potatoes

Doctored Up Instant Mashed Potatoes

November 20, 2020


  • Store-bought Instant Mashed Potatoes
  • milk or water
  • Choose any of the following ingredients:
  • mayonnaise
  • sour cream
  • cream cheese
  • plain Greek yogurt
  • Step 1 Using a dollop of one of the ingredients will stiffen the potatoes while adding rich, tangy flavor.
  • Step 2 If you add one of these dairy products to your box or bag of instant mashed potatoes, you’ll need to start with a little less water or milk than the instructions on the box says to start.
  • Step 3 Follow the instructions on the box from there.

Colorful Carrot Coins Au Gratin

Colorful Carrot Coins Au Gratin

November 20, 2020
: 6
: Easy

Putting a spin on Trader Joe's Colorful Carrot Coins


  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 bags of Trader Joe's Colorful Carrot Coins (thawed and drained) or peel and cut carrots of all colors into coins
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • Step 1 Preheat oven to 350°. In a large pot, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil, cook and stir 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted. Add carrot coins and onion.
  • Step 2 Transfer to a buttered baking dish. Cover and bake 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes.

More Simple Sides

Don’t over think the side dishes. Especially if this is your first time or a small crowd or both.

  • I love frozen white pearl onions defrosted and in a butter sauce.
  • Pair your peas with sauteed proscuitto and diced onion, salt and pepper.
  • Canned or frozen corn with salt and butter.
  • A real simple carrot dish could be boiled carrots with some butter, brown sugar and salt to taste.
  • Slice some potatoes or butternut squash hasselback style and roast then drizzle with some seasoned butter to finish.
  • Stuffed Honeynut Squash
  • Canned cranberry sauce is classic. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it, in my family.
  • Rhode’s Yeast Quick Rise Frozen Dinner Rolls
  • I love doing the mashed potatoes in the crock pot. Keep it basic with the cream, lots of butter and black pepper and kosher salt.
  • Or you can be extra and make these mashed potatoes instead.

And last but certainly not the least, don’t forget about this Thanksgiving Leftover Pie


The gravy recipe is adapted from Half Baked Harvest, the Green Bean Casserole is an age old recipe and you can find it everywhere, for the turkey insight, and Google.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!