Expert Answers to Your Last-Minute Thanksgiving Questions

Relax. We’ve got you.

Published Nov. 20, 2023.

No matter how much planning you do, there’s always a Thanksgiving curveball.

Maybe it’s a gluey batch of mashed potatoes. A still-frozen turkey. A too-thin gravy. Or a (well-meaning!) guest who arrives with a dish that requires coveted oven space.

America’s Test Kitchen has three decades’ worth of Thanksgiving recipes, testing, and know-how. Not only can we anticipate these curveballs, but we can give you solutions you can trust.

Our first recommendation: Take a breath. Then, read through this list of last-minute questions we get from home cooks just like you in the hours leading up to the big day.

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1. My Gravy’s Too Thin. How Can I Thicken It Before Serving?

The best way to thicken gravy at the last minute is to make a quick roux in the microwave.

Here’s how to make ¼ cup of “emergency” roux:

  1. Mix 2 tablespoons flour with 2 tablespoons oil.
  2. Microwave for 1½ minutes. Stir, then microwave for another 1½ minutes, stirring halfway through. The roux should be the color of a dark caramel.
  3. Remove the roux from the microwave and transfer it to a dry dish towel.
  4. Stir 1 tablespoon at a time into gravy until it reaches the desired consistency.
Watch Dan Souza show you how to make a gravy-saving roux.

2. Is Pink Turkey Safe to Eat?

The short answer: yes. As long as the interior of your turkey was cooked to a safe temperature, pink color in meat is perfectly fine.

Turkeys contain a few different red-pink pigments. One of them is cytochrome c, which retains much of its color even when cooked to 165°F.

In fact, if your turkey happens to be high in cytochrome c, you’d have to cook it to an internal temperature of at least 220°F to tone down that pinkness. At that point, the turkey would be so dry you wouldn’t even want to eat it.

So when it comes to turkey, go by temperature, not color.

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3. The Turkey’s in the Oven. How Often Should I Baste It?

Trick question! You don’t need to baste your turkey at all.

A few years ago, we ran a test to determine the effectiveness of basting. We roasted three turkey breasts three different ways—one not basted, the second basted every 20 minutes, the third not basted but the team opened the oven door every 20 minutes to see if that affected cooking.

The results: Basting not only makes a negligible difference in moisture loss but also prolongs the cooking time and requires more hands-on work. So, once the turkey’s in the oven, keep that oven door shut.

4. My Mashed Potatoes Are Gluey. How Can I Fix Them?

If you find yourself with gluey potatoes, it’s not too late to save them. The trick is to stir extra fat into the mash, which helps coat the starch and makes the gumminess less noticeable.

Heres how to do it: For every pound of potatoes in your mash, drizzle 1 tablespoon of melted butter over the dish and fold it gently into the potatoes. If the mash is still too gluey for your liking, repeat the process with another tablespoon of butter.

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5. How Long Will Turkey Stay Warm After Cooking?

Letting turkey rest is essential for juicy meat. And every year we field the same question from desperate home cooks: Won’t my turkey get cold if I let it rest the standard 30 minutes before serving? 

The answer: not in the least.

To prove this, we tracked how long it actually takes for the centers of a roast turkeys breast and thighs to cool to 130 degrees, which is the lowest temperature at which we consider meat still optimally warm to carve and eat.

The results confirmed that you neednt worry about the bird cooling down too fast. Its large size and rounded shape help it retain heat, so you can be confident that it will stay warm enough to eat well beyond the standard 30-minute rest.

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6. What’s the Best Way to Thaw a Turkey at the Last Minute?

Yes, it is possible to thaw a turkey at the last minute and still get a beautifully roasted bird on the table. 

It’s only a two-step process—but it is a bit labor intensive. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Place the turkey in its original wrapper in a large bucket or cooler filled with cold water. Place something heavy on top of the bird to keep it submerged.
  2. Let it thaw for 30 minutes per pound, changing the water every 30 minutes. (Changing the water often is critical to a quick thaw. If the water gets too cold from the turkey, the quick thaw won’t be so quick.)

To check if the turkey is fully thawed, wiggle its legs through the plastic; they should move easily. But do not put the thawed bird back in the refrigerator. Cook it immediately so the meat will move as quickly as possible through the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees. 

Dan shows you how to save the day with a quick-thawing turkey technique.

7. I Can’t Possibly Fit One More Dish in My Oven. What Other Options Do I Have?

We ask a lot of our ovens on Thanksgiving. If yours is packed to the gills, turn to other kitchen appliances. Here are some of our favorite ways to use other items on the big day:

8. How Do I Know If My Turkey’s Done?

The most reliable way to know when your turkey is done is to temp it. (And we’re not talking about the pop-up thermometer in your turkey, if it came with one. Those all but guarantee a dry bird.)

You want to temp the breast and thighs using an instant-read thermometer. We recommend that you remove the bird from the oven when the breast temperature reaches 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thighs reaches between 170 and 175 degrees.

Watch Dan show you how to properly temp a turkey.

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