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Thanksgiving.  The most traditional of all family holidays. Thanksgiving has a different meaning for every family, and every family has a different tradition.  Since food is the center of tradition, here are some Chef Tips to make the day easier.


It takes professional Chefs and Culinarians weeks to plan and prepare a Thanksgiving meal in a restaurant- with a whole crew of people to make the task seem effortless.

Here’s some tips and tricks from The Florida Chef.


  1. Make a plan.  Homemade is always best- but compromise always works too!  Who can help you with bringing dishes, or showing up early to clean or decorate?

  2. Start Early.   

      Casseroles can be made a week or two in advance and frozen.  Pull from the freezer the day before and defrost at least 50% before       baking at 400°F until the internal temperature reaches 165°F as registered on a cook’s thermometer.


Turkey Tips

  1. Debone your Turkey BEFORE roasting it.   Yes.  Before.  Do it yourself or order a deboned turkey from your butcher. (see instructions below). Cooking a boneless turkey is beneficial in several ways.

  • ​Or ask your butcher to do it for you.  Not sure what the upcharge would be, but I would for sure order this in advance! Ask for a boneless- skin on Turkey Breast, Ballotine Legs and Thighs (boneless, skin on leg/thigh quarters), all bones, giblets, and the wings.

  • First, it gives you bones to make turkey stock.  Turkey stock is useful for dressing, gravy, and leftover turkey soup!

  • Boneless Turkeys take less room in the refrigerator

  • Boneless Turkeys cook in half the time

  • You can now safely have "stuffed turkey" because the cooking time is less

  • Carving a Turkey at the table is now a breeze!

  2. Brine your turkey for extra flavor, and to help retain the moisture the day before. (see recipe  below)

  3. Do not baste the turkey.  The continual opening of the oven door actually does more harm           than good.



































* Wrap turkey well in waterproof material.  The temperature of the water should be 70°F  or cooler.  Beware of splashes of raw turkey water.

  • Do not under any circumstance leave a turkey on the counter to defrost.  It is dangerous.  

  • If not under running water, the temperature of the raw turkey needs to be 40°F or colder.

  • To prevent raw turkey from dripping in your fridge, place the turkey in a large pan or other container.  Place this into a large UNSCENTED garbage bag and seal tight.  You can also dedicate a clean cooler to this, as long as you monitor the temperature.

3.  Make a cooking schedule. Plan on what temperatures are needed and for how long.  Vegetables and starches and casseroles       cooking temperatures can usually be compromised 25°F  in either direction.  Proteins and pastries/ desserts usually cannot.  What foods   can be served warm or at room temperature?

4.  Line your sheet pans with parchment paper or foil for easy clean up.  If possible, share pans. 

5.  If you choose to make your own pies and pie dough:  

     Pie dough can be made weeks in advance and frozen.  

     Either portion and wrap each portion tightly in plastic wrap and put into a freezer bag sealed tightly.  If you are making a one crust pie,      you can roll out the pie dough and freeze flat on a cookie sheet, or go ahead and put in pie plate, and freeze like that.  Anyway make        sure it is properly wrapped so there is no chance of the dough picking up odors.  Two crust fruit pies (such as apple) can be made completely and frozen unbaked. 

6.  Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables will help with the traditional Carb Overload.  Get them at your local market. Check out              Scott's Country Market. 

7.  Don’t worry when things do not go as planned.  By next year, no one will remember the maladies! 

Tips and Tricks
Turkey Tips
Defrosting a Frozen Turkey
Defrosting a Frozen Turkey
Deboning a Turkey
Deboning a Turkey

1.  There is no need to wash the bird.  It could spread bacteria, and will make it harder to deal with.  Pull out any pin feathers.  Remove the giblets and save for the stuffing if desired. 

2.  Remove the wings.  Put the bird breast up, extend the wing and look for the joint that connects the breast and the wing (arm pit). Slice through it with the knife.  Save the wings for stock, or if desired,  roasting.

3.  Remove the breasts.  Position the turkey so you can easily work. Find the breast bone cartilage that runs down the center.  Using your knife, slice down the center of the breast on the cartilage.  Using big, long strokes, make long slices on top of the bone.  Keep your knife blade on top of the bone.  Go until there is no more meat attached to the bone, then cut through the skin. Set aside.

4.  Repeat on the second side.  Take care to try not to damage the skin on the breast.

5.  Here's what your two boneless skin on breasts will look like.  Put these into large gallon size bags for brining and back into the refrigerator for safety.

6.  Flip the bird over and try to locate the oysters.  These are two nuggets of meat located just above the hip of the bird.  They might protrude a bit.

7.  With the tip of your knife, loosen the meat but do not cut off. Now, take your knife from that incision and run it along the back of the bird to cut off the meat. When the leg joint is exposed, cut through the joint, removing the leg from the bird.

8.  Here's what your two bone in legs will look like.   Set them aside, wipe down your work station and knife.  Place all bones in a big pot to make stock with, and refrigerate until ready.  

9.  Next we need to remove the leg bones to create what is called a ballotine. Find the joint bone of the leg.  Work the meat off of it so you can pinch it. 

10.  Grasp the bone firmly and use the blade of the knife to push down the meat.  You are essentially going to turn it inside out. 

11.  Continue doing this until you get to the joint.  Carefully scrape around the joint.  When you get to the end, pull the bone out of the meat.  Add the bone to the stock pot.  

Repeat with the second leg.

When you are finished, this is what it should look like.  But don't worry we're going to make it better.

12.  Remove the tough tendons by grasping them with one hand and pulling them so there is pressure on them, and using the knife blade to scrape the meat off them, essentially, pulling them out.  Discard the tendons. 

Congratulations of successfully deboning a turkey.  It's not that hard, just takes some time and patience!!!

Now, make sure you very diligently clean up your work station, knives, and disinfect anything that may have come into contact with the raw turkey!

13.  Feel around the meat for any cartilage or other hard pieces.  Trim these out with your knife. 

Turn the boneless leg right side out- like a sock.  

You will now have a ballotine!

Brining a Turkey
  1. Brine can be made in advance.

  2. The brine must be 70°F or colder before pouring over turkey

  3. Add and adjust seasonings as you desire

  4. The entire bird must be covered by the brine.

  5. If you are brining pieces, put them into resealable plastic bags and suck any extra air out.  Put the bags into a larger pan in case they leak. If you are brining a whole bird, you may need to weigh down the bird to keep it submerged.

  6. The bird, when in the brine, must be 41°F  or lower.  If needed, you can brine in a cooler, using ice packs to keep the bird under 41°F.

  7. Discard the brine after you remove the bird. You can only use the brine once.

  8. Brining time:

            pieces or quarters-  24 hours maximum

            whole bird, uncut- 24-48 hours

   9. After you remove the turkey, make sure to remove any stuck-on pieces of herbs from the skin, and dry the bird with disposable paper          towels so it can brown in the oven.

Brining a Turkey

This recipe yields approximately 10 cups of brine. This is enough for a deboned or quartered turkey.  

Multiply to have enough to completely cover the bird. A whole bird will need 2 or 3 times this recipe.

Can also be used for chicken.

Add spices as you desire!  Orange rinds are a real treat.

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Make the Stock
Prepare the Turkey

Even if you decide not to debone your turkey, you can still get turkey or chicken bones from the butcher to make your own stock. This can be made well in advance and frozen in you want.

Make more stock than you think you'll need.

Besides gravy, there's also a need for stock in the stuffing.

Plus, there's the option of making turkey soup or turkey potpie with the left over.

Stock from scratch is easy to do and worth the effort.

This can be made well in advance and frozen until ready to use.  Sub out chicken bones if needed

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Turkey Stock
  1. To have a self-basting turkey, rub some herb butter under the skin


Herb Butter for Turkey.

1 stick SOFT butter

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground pepper

2 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs picked off their stems such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, chives

- mix all ingredients together.

- keep soft at room temperature to use for turkey

- yields about 5 oz. of flavored butter, enough for an 18# turkey

  2.  Carefully lift up the skin and rub the butter underneath.  Any butter that was not used, but touched needs to be discarded, or cooked to a temperature of 165°F  or hotter.

  3.  Preheat the oven to 400°F .  

  4.  Make the stuffing.  Since there are no bones, and the mass of stuffing a boneless leg is small, it is a safe practice.  A basic stuffing recipe follows. 

  5.  Stuffing can be used to fill the cavities of the ballotines.  Bake any extra stuffing in a greased pan for 20 minutes until slightly crispy on the top.

Prepare the Turkey

Stuffed legs with stuffing

Left:  Two boneless turkey breasts with herb butter on the skin

Right:  Two boneless turkey legs with butter under the skin and stuffed (seam down).

Basic bread dressing with festive herbs and roasted garlic.  

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Cooking Time Table
Cooking Time Table

** Not Recommended 

  • Roast turkey until the internal temperature of 165°F  as measured on a food thermometer.  

  • Take the temperature in the thicket part of the meat.  

  • If roasting a whole bird, check near the joint.  

  • Check the temperature in a few places.  If the temperature  hasn't reached 165°F at the suggested cooking times, continue roasting for 15 minutes at a time until all pieces are at 165°F.

  • ** The internal temperature of the stuffing MUST reach 165°F  as measured on a food thermometer as well.

Let the Bird Rest! 

For every hour of roasting time, the turkey needs to rest, loosely covered with foil for a minimum of 15 minutes.  This will allow for the convection of juices that occurred during the cooking process to settle back into the meat, keeping the meat juicier.

Turkey Gravy

The piece de resistance of the meal.  Homemade gravy can be done in advance and reheated for the meal.  

If you decide to roast the turkey whole, you can always get chicken or turkey bones from the butcher and make stock for the gravy.

Perfect Turkey Gravy.  Make sure to make lots so you can use it to make Turkey PotPies with the left overs!  

Easily made in advance and frozen if desired.  

If you don't have turkey stock, you can use chicken stock and add turkey drippings.

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Family Favorite Sides

Here are some idea for side dishes.  Remember, it is okay to ask guests to bring their favorite side dishes

No matter what we always serve some fresh fruits and vegetables with the meal, or a salad. 

Prepare in advance what you can.


The perfect Adult Beverage to wrap up the evening. Apple Cider with Devil's Whiskey.

If you didn't make your own Devil's Whiskey use any cinnamon whiskey.

A festive touch for Holiday Cheer

Pumpkin Pie in a glass.  With homemade Pumpkin Spice Syrup.

Beet pickled eggs.  Not a family party with out the alligator eggs.  Easily made in advance.

Or use your favorite jam!  

Perfect if the weather is a little cooler.  Easily made in advance and reheated.

Perfect as a condiment to your turkey, or as a spread for a cheese platter!

Use a variety of apples for the best results.  Check to see if your favorite apples is good for cooking:


Easily frozen 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  

Roast in advance and then simply reheat

Cranberries add a festive touch.  Can be prepared in advance, then just reheated at the last moment.

Rainbow carrots aren't necessary- just pretty.

Prepare carrots in advance, and then just glaze them at the last minute.

Fluffy sweet potatoes and marshmallow inside crispy potato skins.

Make and assemble in advance, then just reheat until marshmallows are toasty!

Use whatever your favorite winter squash is.  

Make and stuff in advance and then just reheat!

Florida Sweet Corn with earthy salty butter!

The classic holiday side dish, without the cans and extra sodium!

Fresh or frozen sweet corn can be used.  Make in advance and just reheat.

Add crispy bacon, roasted peppers, or cheddar cheese!

Perfect Turkey Gravy.  Make sure to make lots so you can use it to make Turkey PotPies with the left overs!  

Easily made in advance and frozen if desired.  

If you don't have turkey stock, you can use chicken stock and add turkey drippings.

Chefs use a food mill to get silky smooth mashed potatoes.  If you don't have one, use the whisk attachment on your mixer.  

Potatoes can be peeled days in advance and left in water in the refrigerator.  Or the puree can be done early, and simply reheated with the hot liquid.

Try adding some sharp cheddar cheese or fresh herbs for a twist. 

The difference between dressing and stuffing is that dressing is cooked separately in a pan and stuffing goes inside the bird.

If you are making dressing, I recommend greasing your pan well in order to create crispy sides and corners.  This can be prepared in advanced and allowed to soak, then just bake off when ready!

Try adding fruit such as dried cranberries, or apples to this as well.

My grandmother's famous squash pie.  

Made with an heirloom squash called Cushaw Squash. Lighter and more delicate than pumpkin pie.


These are large green and white heirloom squashes that are found in the market in the fall.  This is one of the squashes used to make "pumpkin pie filling" in the can.  Occasionally there are pieces found in the produce section of the grocery store.  

Peel, boil, and rice or puree the flesh.  Cooked and processed squash is easily portioned and frozen for pies year round. 

(You can try to substitute other fresh squashes if desired!)

Sweet buttery carmelized apples over tender cinnamon spiced cake 

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What to Drink
What to Drink

Beer:  Big Top Brewing Pumpkin Stiltskin

  • Look for  BigTop Brewery Beers in your local supermarket, beer and wine chain, or pick some up here: Big Top Brewing Company

White Wine: Lakeridge Winery Pinot Grigio

Red Wine:  Lakeridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

Distilled Spirits:  Get some truly Florida Spirits from the St. Augustine Distillery Company.  They produce small batch, vodka, gin, rum and bourbon.

Three Weeks Out
  • Make a Plan!

  • Invite your Guests

    • check your china/ silver/ glassware​

    • ask guests to contribute their favorite Thanksgiving dish

  • Order your Turkey​, Bakery goods and Deli goods

Two Weeks Out
  • Make an initial grocery list

  • Purchase ingredients needed for casseroles

  • Prepare and freeze your casseroles

One Week Out
  • Make and freeze pie dough

  • Cookies, and other treats can be made and frozen

  • If your aren't deboning your turkey- purchase turkey or chicken bones to make stock and make stock

  • Make gravy.  You can freeze the gravy if it is thickened with flour.  Otherwise, just wait until closer to time

  • If your turkey is frozen, pull out of freezer to defrost

Weekend Before
  • Make a grocery list and go shopping

    • Make sure to include disposable containers for your guests to take home leftovers!​

  • Prep fresh vegetables and fruits that can hold (chop onions, carrots, celery, etc.)

  • Pull out and wash your china, glasses, silver, tablecloths etc.

  • Make some cool table decorations and party favors

  • Figure out what beverages you will be serving

Monday Before
  • Make brine if using.

    • If you are doing a whole turkey​ start brining your turkey

  • Prep your stuffing​

  • Work on other things such as dips, dressings, platters, appetizers

Tuesday Before
  • Peel potatoes and store refrigerated in water

  • If deboning a turkey, start now, and then put in brine when done

  • Pull frozen casseroles out of freezer

  • Work on other casseroles and dishes

  • Prep pie fillings, cake icings, cookies, etc.

  • Work on party favors

  • Start turkey stock if you need it

The Day Before
  • Last Minute shopping!

  • Make and bake pies, decorate cakes, etc.

  • Set your tables if possible

  • Pull out serving platters and bowls

  • Finish all prep needed

  • Chill drinks and wine

  • Make gravy if not done

  • Make a list of everything that needs to be done and check it twice

  • Make a cooking schedule. Plan on what temperatures are needed and for how long.  Vegetables and starches and casseroles cooking temperatures can usually be compromised 25°F  in either direction.  Proteins and pastries/ desserts usually cannot.  What foods can be served warm or at room temperature?

  • Put together any platters and trays that you can

  • Make any food that can be reheated tomorrow (such as the stuffed sweet potatoes)

"Italian Meats, Boursin Cheese, Garlic Toasts, Cranberry Chutney"

Thanksgiving Day!

Make sure today is relaxing and fun for you too!  Remember, if it's not perfect, the probability is that no one will even know it!  Families are Love!

​Things that have to be done today:

  • Roast the Turkey

  • Make Mashed Potatoes

  • Reheat all food.  (Remember, make sure reheated food goes to at least 165°F  on a food thermometer)

  • Whipped cream for desserts

  • Check your list!!!  Finish up everything!

  • Have a great day!

Let's Give Thanks
Here are some great ideas for leftovers!

©2017  Chef Jennifer  M. Denlinger

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