Thanksgiving: The meat, the stuffing, and the gravy

Here goes the longest post of them all. I am keeping the turkey, stuffing, and gravy recipes in one post because they are all related to each other.

First thing to pick out is your turkey. There were only 5 of us at the table this year, but my Mom got a 20 lb turkey despite the small table. I have, of course, no problem with that. All it means is more stuffing and more leftovers. Again, not a problem. Our particular turkey was also fresh, so we didn’t have to worry about thawing. However, if you have a frozen turkey, remember to thaw it 2-3 days in advance.

Proof that I didn't kidnap one of the LBL turkeys!

Now there are three things that happen at overlapping times: making the stuffing, cleaning the turkey and starting a stock for the gravy.  I’ll go over stuffing first.

Part 1. Stuffing Directions

We use Mrs. Cubbison’s Cube Stuffing (2 boxes for a 20 lb turkey) and a modified version of their old recipe.  Our modifications change from year to year, but this year we included chopped walnuts, some garlic, and rosemary from my Dad’s herb collection.

Our extras: garlic, rosemary, and walnuts

Melt the butter in a large pot. Chop up a yellow onion and about 2 C worth of celery. (Save the ends and extra bits of the onion and celery for the gravy stock.) Saute the onion and celery until the onion is translucent. (While this is sauteing, you can start cleaning the turkey.)

We probably had more than 2 C of onion, but it doesn't matter much.

Chop up any special additions and add them to the stuffing base.

The onions are looking pretty translucent, so it's time to add the bread.

Add the bread and stir well to get the bread nicely coated with the butter and veggies.

Mix well to coat

Crack an egg into a large measuring cup and whisk. Add ~ 2 C of chicken broth and mix well.

Adding the broth to the egg will help distribute the egg evenly

Once you have a nice coating, you can add the liquid. Pour on the chicken broth-egg mixture and stir well to coat. At this point, you just want to check for the right amount of moisture. The Mrs. Cubbison recipe recommends adding 2.5 C liquid, and I think we ended up adding a little more like ~2.75 C. The amount of liquid added will determine how moist the stuffing will be, so add to your preference. Turn off the heat on the burner and clean the turkey before stuffing.

Part 2. Cleaning the turkey

Next we’ll clean the turkey and get it ready for stuffing. First remove the giblets and put them in a small stock pot. Make sure to check both cavities. We’ll boil these while the turkey is cooking to make a stock for the gravy. There should be a neck, tail, the gizzard, the heart, and the liver. We toss the liver, but you can use it if you’d like, I guess. Set aside.

Remember to leave out the liver. (The heart is firmer; the liver is softer)

Then all you have to do is remove any extra globs of fat and then rinse. If you had a frozen turkey, use the rinsing process to get out any remaining chunks of ice in the cavities. Then let the water drip out of both cavities, and dab the turkey dry with some paper towels.

Step 3: Stuff the Turkey

Go ahead and preheat the oven to 325°F. Sounds simple enough! Put the turkey in the roasting pan, wings pointing down. (It’s a good idea to use string to tie down the roasting rack to the pan so it can’t move around while handling the turkey.) Stuff the first cavity with stuffing. Don’t overfill because the stuffing and turkey will expand while cooking. Then use pins to close the cavity.

Don't overstuff!

Flip the bird over and repeat with the second cavity. Use a spoon with a long handle to spread the stuffing throughout.

You'll have a bit of extra stuffing that you can bake separately.

The second cavity will take a little bit of extra work to close up. Our bird was a bit thin on the skin side, so we didn’t get a complete seal, but I like the idea of lacing the cavity closed like a shoe.

Good idea in theory.

Cover the wings with foil to prevent burning. If you want, you can brush the turkey with veggie oil, but we didn’t do that this year.  (I guess it probably depends on if you have any skin-eaters in your crowd.)

The last, and very important step, before putting the turkey in the oven is setting up a meat thermometer. We used a digital one this year that turns different colors as you get closer to “done” (180°F). Just make sure that you have the thermometer in the center of the thigh, avoiding the bone and stuffing, which will be at different temperatures than the meat. You can also use one of those turkey poppers, and those work pretty well.

I missed it at 180, but I think it turns red

But now you’re ready! In the oven he goes!

Time for the sauna, bird!

Also, watch out for billy monsters. They can be very patient.

Step 4: The Gravy Stock

I showed the stock pot earlier, but here’s what’s in it. In a pot, collect the extra bits of onion and celery from the stuffing. Also include the giblets, but leave out the liver. (My Mom says you can put the liver in for the last 20 minutes of simmering, but that seems like too much to remember with everything else going on.) Also put in a handful of baby carrots, some peppercorns, and some whole cloves. We had some garlic cloves and rosemary left over from the stuffing prep, so they ended up in there too. We completely spaced on adding a bay leaf, so don’t you forget next year! You can dump any remaining chicken broth from making the stuffing into the pot, and then keep filling with water until everything is covered.

Give up all your flavors!

Cover and simmer. You’ll want to keep an eye on this as the day progresses, because it will lose some of the water. Just keep adding water as needed to keep everything covered. Simmer until it’s time to make the gravy.

Mmmm stock.

Once the turkey is out, and you’re ready to make gravy, strain out all the solid bits, and collect your stock in a  bowl. And that’s it folks!

Simple enough

Now you have a good long break. Have a drink. Take a nap. Or both.

Step 5: Take out the Bird

Once the turkey has reached 180°F, it’s time to take it out of the oven. (Now is also the time when all of the chefs making side dishes frantically fight over the oven space.) Use a sharp knife or prongs to poke the turkey at spots where some fat and other juices might be hiding. These juices will collect in the roasting pan and will get used in the gravy. (It will also, I assume make carving a little less dangerous. Nothing would be worse than cutting into the turkey and having it spray hot fat at you.)


Billy was officially interested at this point.

Use some potholders (hopefully machine washable ones) to move the turkey to a carving board.

DO NOT DROP...or else Billy wins

Undo all the pins and ties, and collect the stuffing in a pre-warmed serving dish.

Didn't drop it. Billy lost.

Now you’ll want one person to work on making the gravy while the other starts carving. I’ll cover those separately next.

Step 6: Collect the Drippings. 

This is verbatim an email from my Mom telling us how to make her perfect gravy:

After you take the turkey out of the oven, pour all the juices from the pan into your fat separator. You may need to strain this first if there are lumps. It is OK to leave crispy things in the roasting pan, but you do not want them clogging up the fat separator. Let the fat rise to the top, then separate the drippings from the fat. Do not toss anything yet. You will be using both the fat and the drippings.

Step 7: Make the Gravy! (Aka perform witchcraft) 

Again, thanks Mom!

Now you need to measure your combined stock and drippings. These should be in 2-cup increments. If necessary, add 1 or 2 cans of chicken broth. Now you will use some math. For each 2 cups combined stock and drippings, use 3 Tablespoons EACH fat and flour. Another way to think of this is, take the number of cups of combined stock and drippings, and multiply by 1.5 (e.g., 6 combined cups = 9 Tablespoons EACH fat and flour.)

Our stock + water drippings was about 5 C, so that’s about 7.5 T each fat and flour. You can also add the dripping collected on the carving board.

Collect all the drippings you can

In the roasting pan, on top of the stove, measure the turkey fat from the separator, and an equal amount of flour. Turn on the burners and stir it together using the [gravy whisk]. If there are crispy bits from the turkey in there, that is fine. Cook till it bubbles nicely and starts to thicken. Now, all at once (carefully ’cause it may splatter) add your measured amount of combined drippings and stock, stirring to prevent lumps. Continue to cook and stir. It will thicken as it boils. Taste it for salt and pepper. Squeeze in some lemon juice in honor of Nana. Let it continue to cook slowly while someone else is carving the turkey.

That’s it. You’ve got perfect gravy.

"Come and look at your gravy, Pam. I think it's going to need sieving." "Of course it doesn't need sieving! Just stir it, Una!"

Step 8: Carve the Bird!

First, says Dad, the master-carver, you remove the legs. Remove the skin.

We usually end up just breaking down the dark meat in the leg for left overs the next day

Then you have 2 options: you can remove the breast as a whole piece OR you can carve the sucker while it’s on the turkey. Both ways work, so it’s entirely up to you. This year, my dad carved directly off the bird.

Use a carving fork to hold the turkey while you carve with a very sharp carving knife.

Uh oh. Billy Monster has found the carver. He is intrigued.

The only thing that separates him from the turkey is my Dad and a carving knife.

My Dad usually just works on one side of the bird before we sit down to eat, and carves up the other side when everyone else is in food coma. Whether or not you have to carve the whole bird at once will depend entirely on how big the bird is vs how many guests you have.

ALRIGHT! I think that’s it. This is by far the longest post I’ve ever done, and it was exhausting. I’ll try to get in some of the sides by tomorrow, but we’ll see!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!



3 thoughts on “Thanksgiving: The meat, the stuffing, and the gravy

  1. Pingback: Thanksgiving: The leftovers « Heather HomeMaker

  2. Pingback: Our Thanksgiving Table | Heather HomeMaker

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