Thanksgiving recipe: Last minute guide to cooking your turkey with all the trimmings

It’s Thanksgiving on Thursday, but it’s not too late to plan the big meal.

Turkey is the traditional centrepiece, and just a few key tips will make sure that it turns out perfectly.

Find a turkey

This should be the easy part - they’re everywhere. Look for organic birds that have been allowed to roam free, and are free of chemicals or added hormones. It's worth spending a little more for quality.

If you’re cooking for a smaller crowd or have a small kitchen or oven, you might want to consider a turkey breast on the bone. It’s easier to cook and won’t take up as much space.

You can defrost it by submerging it in its original packaging in cold water, refreshing the water every 20 minutes or so, until it's at about 40 to 45 degrees throughout.

Best Thanksgiving films to watch with your loved ones

1. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019): You’ll have to head out to see this one, since it was just released in cinemas and isn’t yet available to stream. If you can find a screening in your area, this just might prove the ultimate Thanksgiving watch. It doesn’t get much more family-friendly than Tom Hanks starring as the universally loved Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The Independent’s review noted that it’s “hard not to be moved by the film’s warmth and kind heart” – just what’s needed on the third Thursday of November. (YouTube / Sony Pictures Entertainment)
1. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019): You’ll have to head out to see this one, since it was just released in cinemas and isn’t yet available to stream. If you can find a screening in your area, this just might prove the ultimate Thanksgiving watch. It doesn’t get much more family-friendly than Tom Hanks starring as the universally loved Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The Independent’s review noted that it’s “hard not to be moved by the film’s warmth and kind heart” – just what’s needed on the third Thursday of November. (YouTube / Sony Pictures Entertainment)
2. Addams Family Values (1993): America’s favourite Goth family does Thanksgiving right. Cast as a Native American in a problematic play, Wednesday delivers an iconic monologue challenging the whitewashed version of the holiday as told by American folklore. (YouTube / Paramount Pictures)
2. Addams Family Values (1993): America’s favourite Goth family does Thanksgiving right. Cast as a Native American in a problematic play, Wednesday delivers an iconic monologue challenging the whitewashed version of the holiday as told by American folklore. (YouTube / Paramount Pictures)
3. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973): This Emmy-winning short first aired in 1973 and has become a Thanksgiving staple. If you’ve experienced a kitchen disaster at any point during the day, you might relate to Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock’s efforts to put together a feast despite their total lack of cooking skills. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is airing on Wednesday 27 November on ABC, and the programme is also available to stream on Vudu and Amazon Prime. (YouTube / United Feature Syndicate)
3. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973): This Emmy-winning short first aired in 1973 and has become a Thanksgiving staple. If you’ve experienced a kitchen disaster at any point during the day, you might relate to Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock’s efforts to put together a feast despite their total lack of cooking skills. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is airing on Wednesday 27 November on ABC, and the programme is also available to stream on Vudu and Amazon Prime. (YouTube / United Feature Syndicate)
4. You’ve Got Mail (1998): Let’s set the record straight on You’ve Got Mail’s infamous Thanksgiving-related scene. Tom Hanks’s character, who “rescues” Meg Ryan once she realises she’s stuck cashless at a cash-only register, is supposed to come off as charming – but rewatch the scene in 2019, with the benefit of hindsight, and you’ll realise he’s actually just a condescending jerk. However, the film’s overall holiday feel (plus the fact that the scene in question is filmed at the iconic Upper West Side grocer Zabar’s), make it a top choice for Thanksgiving. (YouTube / Warner Bros)
4. You’ve Got Mail (1998): Let’s set the record straight on You’ve Got Mail’s infamous Thanksgiving-related scene. Tom Hanks’s character, who “rescues” Meg Ryan once she realises she’s stuck cashless at a cash-only register, is supposed to come off as charming – but rewatch the scene in 2019, with the benefit of hindsight, and you’ll realise he’s actually just a condescending jerk. However, the film’s overall holiday feel (plus the fact that the scene in question is filmed at the iconic Upper West Side grocer Zabar’s), make it a top choice for Thanksgiving. (YouTube / Warner Bros)
5. Rocky (1976): Yes, Rocky. While the film’s Thanksgiving scene is utterly depressing (Paulie has a fit and throws Adriene’s turkey through the window as Rocky watches on), it’s always fun to re-watch the 1976 classic that spawned the enduring Rocky/Creed film series. (YouTube / United Artists)
5. Rocky (1976): Yes, Rocky. While the film’s Thanksgiving scene is utterly depressing (Paulie has a fit and throws Adriene’s turkey through the window as Rocky watches on), it’s always fun to re-watch the 1976 classic that spawned the enduring Rocky/Creed film series. (YouTube / United Artists)
6. Sweet November (2001): We could tell you that this 2001 film stars Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron and leave it at that. However, we will add that the entire film is set in November and that part of its plot revolves around Thanksgiving, making it a top pic for the holiday. It is a sad flick, exploring the themes of love and terminal illness, so be prepared for an emotional viewing experience. (YouTube / Warner Bros)
6. Sweet November (2001): We could tell you that this 2001 film stars Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron and leave it at that. However, we will add that the entire film is set in November and that part of its plot revolves around Thanksgiving, making it a top pic for the holiday. It is a sad flick, exploring the themes of love and terminal illness, so be prepared for an emotional viewing experience. (YouTube / Warner Bros)
7. Funny People (2009): Adam Sandler gives a touching Thanksgiving toast as George Simmons, a stand-up comedian who has been diagnosed with a likely fatal disease. “It kind of sucks being old, so just enjoy this. Enjoy time. Time slips away, I promise you,” he tells a crowd of younger people, among other bits of wisdom. (YouTube / Universal Pictures)
7. Funny People (2009): Adam Sandler gives a touching Thanksgiving toast as George Simmons, a stand-up comedian who has been diagnosed with a likely fatal disease. “It kind of sucks being old, so just enjoy this. Enjoy time. Time slips away, I promise you,” he tells a crowd of younger people, among other bits of wisdom. (YouTube / Universal Pictures)
8. Free Birds (2013): Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler voice this animated film about turkeys… traveling back in time to the first Thanksgiving to get themselves off the traditional menu. You read that right. One caveat: if you watch it with children, maybe take a few minutes to explain to them that they shouldn’t consider this goofy flick an accurate portrayal of the Thanksgiving story. (YouTube / Relativity Media)
8. Free Birds (2013): Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler voice this animated film about turkeys… traveling back in time to the first Thanksgiving to get themselves off the traditional menu. You read that right. One caveat: if you watch it with children, maybe take a few minutes to explain to them that they shouldn’t consider this goofy flick an accurate portrayal of the Thanksgiving story. (YouTube / Relativity Media)
9. Groundhog Day (1993): On a completely different note, this Bill Murray/Andie MacDowell classic makes for a great family watch. Granted, it’s set in February, meaning it doesn’t involve Thanksgiving or the holiday season per se, but it’s an ode to values such as kindness, self-improvement, love and empathy – all characteristics that lend themselves well to that time of the year. (YouTube / Columbia Pictures)
9. Groundhog Day (1993): On a completely different note, this Bill Murray/Andie MacDowell classic makes for a great family watch. Granted, it’s set in February, meaning it doesn’t involve Thanksgiving or the holiday season per se, but it’s an ode to values such as kindness, self-improvement, love and empathy – all characteristics that lend themselves well to that time of the year. (YouTube / Columbia Pictures)
10. Toy Story (1995): The 1995 Pixar classic was released the day before Thanksgiving – so it’s only right to re-watch it on that day, 24 years later. It’s available to stream on Disney+, Amazon Prime, and Vudu. (YouTube / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)
10. Toy Story (1995): The 1995 Pixar classic was released the day before Thanksgiving – so it’s only right to re-watch it on that day, 24 years later. It’s available to stream on Disney+, Amazon Prime, and Vudu. (YouTube / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Buy a thermometer

A metal meat thermometer will make sure the bird is cooked to the right temperature and you’re not sick on Black Friday.

Insert it in the thickest part of the meat - usually one of the thighs - about three inches deep, and read after one to two minutes to make sure it has hit 165F before serving.

Brine the bird

You’ve still got time to nail this crucial step. Submerge the turkey in water with salt, lemon, and some garlic and put it in the fridge.

This will help keep the meat moist when cooking.

Stuff it

 (Rex)
(Rex)

You can keep it simple and put some peeled and chopped apples, carrots, and onions inside the turkey once you’ve removed the giblets, leaving enough room for hot air to circulate.

Cook your traditional stuffing on the side instead, and it’ll get nice and crispy. Gordon Ramsay suggests rubbing a herb butter on the turkey at this point - mixed with some chopped garlic, parsley and bay - which should be rubbed underneath the skin.

Cook it

Making sure the bird is at room temperature, heat up the oven and get cooking.

A simple rule of thumb is 15-20 minutes of cooking time per pound, at about 325F, but it’ll depend on your oven.

Rest it

For an hour, or longer for larger birds, then carve and serve.

Sort the sides

The turkey is the main event but at Thanksgiving, the supporting cast matters.

We’ve got the best recipes for mashed potato, three different cranberry sauce recipes, great twists on the humble Brussels sprout and the perfect turkey gravy.

Make sure you're serving the perfect wine to go with your feast. Oh, and if you've got vegan guests coming over or are just tired of turkey, we've got you covered right here.

And, if you're not out bargain hunting on Black Friday, here are some good ideas to make the most of your leftovers.