My oven is not a clown car
October 29, 2008 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Oven management strategies for thanksgiving? I am hosting thanksgiving at my house this year, and need help planning the best strategy for making a large roast meal with insufficient oven space.

There will be 14 attendees (possibly 15), so I need to cook a large turkey. Everyone is bringing a few dishes, in order to spread the workload, but as host I will be doing the turkey, and my favourite side dishes, which are roast potatoes, roast parsnips, yorkshire puddings and possibly some roast butternut squash too. Oh and gravy of course!

However, I cannot fit a large turkey AND all these dishes into the pitiful wall oven in my kitchen. So I'm looking for strategies to make this work. I can see a few options to look into:
1. Buy one of those electric roasters to do the turkey separately and free up oven space for the roast vegetables. I have never used one and have no idea if they make a decent end product. Will the skin get brown and crispy? Will there be drippings that I can use to make gravy at the end?
2. Buy a pre-cooked turkey somewhere and just cook the roast vegetables myself. Upside - don't have to cook the turkey myself. Downside - no dripping to make gravy :( How do you best re-heat a precooked turkey?
3. Pre-cook the turkey myself and then reheat it after the vegetables are done. Will the end product still be a decent roast turkey or is it more likely to be a bit dried up? While I have done roast dinners (and turkeys) several times, I am no expert cook, so I worry that I might end up with a rather dry, sad turkey.
4. Cut back the number of roast vegetable dishes I make :(
5. Make something other than turkey, that still feeds 15 but doesn't use up so much oven space, and goes well with all the usual thanksgiving trimmings.

Note: I have no interest in deep frying a turkey, as there will be several small children in attendance, plus its a fire hazard and I live in a extreme brush fire danger zone!
posted by Joh to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A turkey takes 4-5 hours to cook, followed by at least half an hour of cooling-off time before it can be carved.

Generally my strategy is to

* make as much food as I can before-hand (the day before or in the morning), then
* prep and roast the bird, then
* prep all the other dishes to the point that they're ready to go in the oven.
* Take out the bird, throw everything else in the oven,
* whip up a quick gravy,
* throw in the pre-made stuff to warm up for 20, and you're ready to go.

I really would cut back on the number of dishes. Otherwise, I would be tempted to take shortcuts. What about grilling the vegetables instead of roasting them and making the yorkshire pudding in advance?
posted by muddgirl at 4:19 PM on October 29, 2008

Braised parsnips are pretty delicious, and can be done on the stove top.

(Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I find roasted parsnips tend towards woody.)
posted by ambilevous at 4:20 PM on October 29, 2008

Some folks think smoked turkeys are more flavorful. You can do that outside, not quite the same as deep frying.
posted by Exchequer at 4:21 PM on October 29, 2008

Best answer: Last year I barbecued a rather large turkey. It turned out really well. I would practice on some chickens before game day, but it's a great way to free up an oven.
posted by milkrate at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2008

Best answer: If you have or can borrow a Weber, BBQ it! It's faster, way moister and more flavorful, and frees up your oven.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:32 PM on October 29, 2008

roast potatoes, roast parsnips, yorkshire puddings and possibly some roast butternut squash too

Possible solution: make the potatoes, parsnips, squash, etc the morning of, or the day before. Then roast the turkey, and while it rests, toss the sides in for reheating and a bit of browning. In my family, we usually roast potatoes in a toaster oven, and use the above technique for creamed parsnips and turnips so there's no oven crisis. I'm not sure how well it would work for yorkies and roasted veg though.
posted by iona at 4:47 PM on October 29, 2008

Keep in mind it takes several hours to roast a turkey. Once he comes out of the oven, you'll want to rest him for about 1/2 hour anyway, to allow the juices to go back into the bird. Do this with an aluminum foil tented around it to maximize heat retention (though this will make the skin go slightly soggy).

For the rest, just have it all ready to stick into the oven as soon as the bird comes out.

> roast potatoes, roast parsnips, yorkshire puddings, roast butternut squash, gravy

For the potatoes, parsnips and butternut squash, parboil them (about 5 min for the potatoes and squash, 10 min for the parsnips), drail well, toss them in butter/oil/seasonings/whatever you use, and have them ready to go. You can do this the night before and put the veg in the refrigerator, but they should be at room temperature before cooking to minimize oven time. (I don't really recommend roasting them in advance, because they get sort of tough and nasty.)

Yorkshire pudding batter should be ready to pour.

When the bird comes out, immediately put your vegetables in - maybe using two baking sheets. If you have space for another rack level, put in your Yorkshire pudding tin with oil or butter to heat it up. When it's red hot pour in the batter. The vegetables should take about 1/2 hour, and the Yorkshire pudding maybe 5-10 minutes more, depending on how large it is and how hot the tin.

While this all cooks in the oven, drain the drippings from the turkey pan and make your gravy on the stovetop. This really only takes a few minutes anyway. (I assume you have already boiled the giblets with an onion or something to make the stock.) If you really want to speed up the gravy making at this stage, make a roux before hand (1 part butter to 2 parts flour, cooked together until lightly browned) which can just be whisked into the hot combined drippings and stock.

When the vegetables and Yorkshire pudding are cooked, the turkey should be ready to be ready to put on the platter. Have someone on hand to help dish up the sides.

Finally, it really helps to wrie out a time schedule for a big dinner like Thanksgiving, even a Gantt chart. Once you write it all out you'll have a lot more peace of mind.
posted by thread_makimaki at 4:59 PM on October 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

(write out i mean)
posted by thread_makimaki at 4:59 PM on October 29, 2008

The roaster oven works good too. leaves the oven/stove for the side dishes & a large microwave to warm up quick any side dish that is just not hot enough ( or gets cold before seconds :-) is a must for a large event. Turkey does need to cool before slicing.

never cooked a Turkey on the grill (Weber).....Smoking one is excellent but is a all day deal. (this give the men a place to hang out & entertain themselves). A cooker with a rotatory would be cool too. Fried is awesome but can be dangerous as you said. remember it is the internal temp that is important how you get there is a matter of choice.
posted by patnok at 5:01 PM on October 29, 2008


Borrow a couple, if you don't have one yourself. I use crockpots to cook my green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes with pecans. You can pre-cook just about anything, then keep it nice and warm in the crockpot.

Cooler Chests.

Same thing, in reverse.

Best idea for moist turkey I've ever heard about:

In the bottom of your roasting pan, put two or three whole bunches of celery, cut and washed. The moisture from the celery keeps the turkey moist and flavorful, without adding a new flavor. Easy cleanup, too, if you line the roaster with heavy duty foil.

I use the "tent" method of roasting. There are tons of good recipes that list roasting times so I won't bore you with that. I've never had an under or over done turkey using this method.

The celery is great for stock for soup afterwards, too!
posted by Corky at 5:04 PM on October 29, 2008

Best answer: I bought a roaster oven just for Thanksgiving/Christmas. It was so worth it. The turkey was perfect -- when it was done, we simply turned off the oven and let it sit in there. No muss, no fuss, no worry of dropping or spilling when moving the roasting pan out of the oven. Plenty of drippings in the pan. (NB- I have lots of storage space, and the roaster lives in the garage for 10 months of the year.) The one I bought came with three smaller inserts, and I've used it to bake side dishes while using the oven for desserts for our Christmas buffet.
posted by jlkr at 5:27 PM on October 29, 2008

As mentioned above, put it in the Weber grill. It's the only way I do my turkey now and I've easily fed Thanksgivings of around 20, with no oven issues. You can still get gravy too, just put a pan in the middle and grill indirect. Best, incredibly moist, Norman Rockwell looking turkey ever.
posted by pokeedog at 7:08 PM on October 29, 2008

Best answer: Check to see if one of your neighbors is going away for Thanksgiving, and ask to "borrow" their kitchen for extra oven space.
posted by Joleta at 7:58 PM on October 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the awesome info guys!

thread_Makimaki you pretty much described my roast dinner routine exactly - write out timings, parboil veggies in advance etc. Somehow though, have never got the timing to work out so that I could put the veggies in after the bird comes out. Not sure what I am doing wrong. Usually the potatoes take about an hour, so even with a 30 min overlap I am glaring at the oven as the bird cools, waiting for the potatoes to hurry up and brown. Perhaps I need to crank the oven temp up after the bird comes out?

jlkr - that sounds very promising, does the bird come out nicely browned and with a crispy skin? Can you open the lid and baste (or do you need to baste)?
posted by Joh at 8:58 PM on October 29, 2008

For roast potatoes, you can cook them ahead of time, then after the turkey comes out, bump the heat up to 500 and just blast the potatoes for 5 minutes or so to re-heat and re-crisp. You can do the same thing with the roast vegetables.
posted by rossination at 9:08 PM on October 29, 2008

Whatever you do, DO NOT forget about your turkey in your outside grill. We did it one year and it came out perfectly and then the next year - we forgot to turn down the heat after the first few minutes, and ended up with a totally charred bird. It was like a big lump of Kingsford charcoal. Completely inedible.
posted by jvilter at 12:05 AM on October 30, 2008

Best answer: We found that we didn't actually need to baste -- the oven self-bastes, to an extent; and it's small (relative to a full size oven) so the air inside the oven doesn't dry out as much. The main reason for basting a turkey is to replace the fluids pulled out by the hot dry air in the oven. If you usually baste for flavor, you may still want to, but you don't need to baste for moisture. The first year we used it, my brother in law (who normally does the turkey) lifted the lid a couple of times to see if it needed basting, and the bird really didn't need it. It is an oven (you can bake in it!), so the bird had a nice browned crispy skin.
posted by jlkr at 4:08 AM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can I piggyback on this question? If any of you have BBQ'd a turkey over charcoal, how did you ensure there was enough charcoal? How did you add more charcoal if you needed it?
posted by backseatpilot at 5:59 AM on October 30, 2008

My mom swears by her turkey roaster and prefers it to oven-roasting the turkey, both because it leaves her more oven-room for other things and therefore improves the cooking time management AND because she doesn't have to lift the heavy turkey pan from the low oven, try not to trip over the dog, and get it to the counter - it's already on the counter, at the right level.
posted by srah at 7:55 AM on October 30, 2008

One thing you may want to do before Thanksgiving is to get a small inexpensive oven thermometer, and check that your oven really is at the temperature you set it to. Gas ovens in particular can be off by a lot. You may indeed need to crank it up for the vegetables.
posted by thread_makimaki at 12:44 PM on October 30, 2008

How did you add more charcoal if you needed it?

Align the rack so the handle cut-outs are over the piles of charcoal on either side of the bird. Once an hour, open the Weber and add five lumps of charcoal per side.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:19 PM on November 1, 2008

Response by poster: Post thanksgiving follow-up!

I bought a Nesco roaster, one of the giant 18qt ones. I have been doing 'test chickens' for the last 3 weekends, and feel I have generally got my head around it. The turkey yesterday was excellent, and I'm glad I made the investment. The skin was not really crispy and brown like a normal oven bird would be if you baste, but that's a small price to pay. I brined the bird for 20 hours beforehand, and rubbed rosemary butter under and on top of the skin. The meat was moist, delicious and falling off the bone. Everyone was very complimentary about it, and there was just about space for the large array of side dishes in my gas oven. Success, thanks mefi!
posted by Joh at 2:37 PM on November 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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