Thanksgiving Countdown: Make-Ahead Turkey and Gravy [Recipes]

thanksgiving turkey

I have always enjoyed preparing and sharing food for the people I love. But I also like spending time with my family and friends. Several years ago I began making my Thanksgiving turkey ahead of time. Besides the fact that I would prefer being with my kids instead of in the kitchen, that giant bird takes up a huge amount of space in my oven and juggling the time with other dishes was stressful. While the turkey is probably considered the star of the meal, it’s the supporting cast of sides, salads and desserts that people at my house prefer anyway.

thanksgiving meal

Another shortcut I have taken, and don’t know why it took me so long to make this decision, is to cook only the parts of the turkey that we actually eat. While the whole turkey is great for a grand entrance, it was just not practical at my house. And while I am just fine cooking for an audience having done that on TV for many year, I don’t like carving for a crowd. A lovely presentation platter can be created without the entire turkey and it is easier to serve.

Here are a few tips for storing, reheating and serving the turkey followed by one of my favorite roasted turkey recipes and a make ahead gravy recipe:

    • While both the turkey and gravy can be frozen, I prefer to prepare it only a day or 2 in advance and refrigerate instead of freezing for the ultimate juicy, flavorful turkey.
    • After roasting, let the turkey rest before slicing so the juices will be absorbed and your turkey will be more moist. Slice and place on a shallow pan in an even shallow layer.
    • Cover the cooked, sliced turkey tightly with plastic wrap before refrigerating.
    • To prepare for serving, let the refrigerated turkey come to room temperature, which takes about 30 minutes.
    • Drizzle the turkey with a little homemade or canned chicken broth before reheating. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
    • Do the reheating at a high temperature (450 degrees) for a short time (approximately 10 minutes) so that it will not continue cooking, but only reheating. Check about halfway to make sure it is just reheating, not cooking.
Make-Ahead Roast Turkey
While this recipe looks long and complicated, it is really simple with very little actual hands on preparation.
  1. 1 large bone-in turkey breast
  2. 4 turkey leg quarters
  3. Vegetable oil
  4. Salt and pepper
  5. 2 celery ribs, chopped
  6. 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  7. 1 large onion, chopped
  8. I stick of butter, melted
  9. 1 Tblsp. minced parsley
  10. 1 tsp. ground sage
  11. 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  12. 1 tsp. minced basil
  13. 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  14. ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  1. Brush turkey breast and legs with vegetable oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the breast and 2 of the legs on a roasting rack. Place the rack in a large roasting pan. Put the celery, carrots and onion in the roasting pan. Place the remaining 2 legs in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Place the roasting pan on the middle rack and the baking dish on the lower rack of a pre-heated 325 degree oven. Roast for about 2 ½ hours or until done (when meat thermometer registers 175 degrees).
  3. While the turkey is roasting, prepare a basting sauce by combining the stick of melted butter with the parsley, sage , lemon juice, basil, thyme and oregano. Baste during the last hour of roasting.
  4. Let turkey cool to room temperature. Refrigerate as described in my make ahead tips.
  5. The vegetables and 2 of the turkey legs will be used for the gravy.
Simply the Best from Barbara McKay
Make-Ahead Gravy for Roast Turkey
  1. 2 roasted turkey legs
  2. Roasted vegetables from roasting pan
  3. 4 cups chicken broth
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 bay leaf
  6. Pepper
  7. ½ cup flour
  1. Transfer the roasted turkey legs and vegetables to a large pot, scraping up any browned bits. Add the broth, water, bay leaf and 1 teaspoon pepper. Simmer on low heat for 1 ½ hours. Strain and discard solids. Let cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
  2. Scrape fat from chilled broth, reserving 5 tablespoons. In a large saucepan, heat the 5 tablespoons of reserved fat. Stir in flour and whisk constantly until golden. Gradually whisk in stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Refrigerate until serving time. Slowly reheat on simmer.
Simply the Best from Barbara McKay

Tell Me: What’s your favorite dish at the table on Thanksgiving?

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