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Thanksgiving Survival Guide

The Tools

November 18, 1998

What equipment do you really need to cook Thanksgiving dinner? A $200 roasting pan? A digital-read thermometer? Here's a rundown on what's essential and what's just cool to have.

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Heavy-Weight Roasting Pan

Cool but Not Essential

If you can afford a big-name heavy-duty roaster, we say go for it. But an inexpensive disposable aluminum pan, though flimsy, will do to cook the turkey. A rack, however, is a must for slightly elevating the turkey so the oven's heat can cook it more efficiently.

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Carving Knife and Fork

Essential

You don't need a super-expensive knife, but you do need a good one. Otherwise, your big performance carving the turkey could turn into an embarrassment of excessive sawing.

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Colander and Potato Ricer or Potato Masher

Essential/Cool but Not Essential

A colander is useful for draining potatoes for mashing, for rinsing cranberries and for washing vegetables. You'll probably use it at least three or four times for the average Thanksgiving dinner.

The right tool for mashing potatoes is up to you. A potato ricer purees potatoes into a fluffy texture. The masher mashes, hence the name. But you can use a wooden spoon or a fork to get the job done.

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Cheesecloth, Twine and Poultry Lacer Kit

Cool but Not Essential

Some cooks like to soak cheesecloth in melted butter then drape it over the bird to keep the breast meat moist.

Twine, metal skewers or a supermarket poultry lacer kit can help keep everything you want in the bird tucked inside and helps the bird keep its shape. You can also use bamboo skewers or long toothpicks for this job.

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Fat-Straining Ladle, Fat Separator and Fine-Mesh Sieve

Cool but Not Essential

Making gravy is much easier if you have a good tool for separating fat. A fat separator measuring cup is great because the angled spout allows you to pour off the bottom layer of meat juices, leaving the fat behind. Similarly, a fat-straining ladle drains away the fat you don't want and gives you the juices you do. However, if you don't have these gadgets, you can easily use an ordinary measuring cup. Pour the juices into the cup, let the fat rise to the top and skim off the upper layer with a wide spoon.

A fine-mesh strainer is great for giving gravy a polished look. You can also use a cone-shaped chinois or cheesecloth placed over a bowl or measuring cup. Some people don't bother to strain their gravy; they like the bits of meat. We'll leave that decision to you.

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Turkey Lifter, Pastry Brush and Baster Set

Cool but Not Essential

A carving fork can help you lift the turkey from the roaster, but we're impressed that there's a tool created just for this job. Basting can be done with a pastry brush or a bulb baster (shown with cleaning brush), but if you don't have either of these tools, use an ordinary ladle for basting.

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Poultry Shears, Digital Thermometer

Useful but Not Essential

Frankly, we've gotten through several years of Thanksgivings without using poultry shears. But they can be useful during the carving stage for cutting through leg and wing bones. A knife will do just as well.

A thermometer is becoming essential in these food safety-obsessed times. Digital thermometers have the advantage of giving the cook an exact reading of the meat's internal temperature, but they're more expensive than dial thermometers that often work just as well. No matter which kind of thermometer you get, test it for accuracy by inserting the tip in boiling water; it should read 212 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, there are a few visual cues to use: poke the bird with a fork to see if the juices run clear and wiggle a leg. If the leg wiggles easily, it's probably done.

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Wire Whisk, Pastry Blender and Bowl

Useful but Not Essential/Essential

Thanksgiving dinner will still taste good without a wire whisk and pastry blender--a fork works just as well as a pastry blender for making pie dough, and your own hands will work even better. A whisk is terrific for whipping cream or egg whites, but again, a fork will do the job too.

As for the bowl, well, you can't make Thanksgiving dinner without one.

All kitchen equipment in tools photos from HomeChef, Pasadena.

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