No Tofurkey for You (and Other Thanksgiving Cooking Advice)

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Hey, Mr. Food Editor

Have questions about recipes, cooking and food? My job is to answer them, as I have here with readers’ Thanksgiving inquiries. Ask me anything:

I am not a fan of turkey and stuffing. Can you recommend another Thanksgiving dish? Would lobster be a good choice? I think the first settlers in New England had seafood available to them.

They sure did. And if you want to buy and prepare eight or 10 or 12 or 27 lobsters for your Thanksgiving feast, go to it, though you will be tacking against American tradition and, perhaps, against good economic practice as well. You could make venison, if you prefer, or a standing rib roast or a gigantic oyster stew. You could, as the first settlers did, roast some sea ducks, which offer rosy red breast meat the flavor of clams and rain bait. But I suggest that you make turkey, just as many of the rest of us do, and in doing so that you address exactly what issue the meat has had that made you declare yourself “not a fan.” Best guess? It tasted chalky and dry. Just get yourself an oven-safe digital thermometer, put it in the meaty part of the bird’s thigh, and watch it closely. When the temperature hits 165 degrees, pull the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest under a tinfoil hat for at least 30 minutes. Moist, perfect meat is the best rejoinder to those who say they don’t like turkey. And the next day you can have lobster.

We have welcomed family and friends each year to join us for Thanksgiving, and usually we have eight, maybe 10, at the table. This year it’s a full house: 18 to 20 people. With one refrigerator and one oven, I wanted to ask how to cook two turkeys. My thought was to brine one turkey Tuesday and cook it Wednesday night. Cut it up and store it in the refrigerator. Then take the second turkey and brine it overnight on ice in the garage and cook it Thursday. But is there a better way?

Your method will work, though I think it’s a little crazy. Here’s what I would do instead. Brine both birds on Tuesday night. On Thursday morning, roast one of them whole and, while it is cooking, amid all your other tasks, cut the backbone out of the other bird and spread it out flat in a roasting pan. (This technique is known, deliciously, as spatchcocking.) When the first bird is done and resting, slide the second one into the oven, and cook it at 450 degrees: A 10-pound bird will be done in roughly 45 minutes.

I have looked and looked for a table that gives roasting times for a turkey in a convection oven, and have not been able to find one. Can you supply?

Of course I can, though I want to beat this drum again first: The single best way to determine when it is time to remove a turkey from the oven is the internal temperature of the bird, not the time the bird has spent in the heat. That said, depending on the builder, a convection oven will reduce the amount of time needed to roast a turkey by 10 to 40 percent. A 12- to 16-pound bird, for instance, may reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees in 1½ to 1¾ hours, instead of 2 or 2½ hours.

How does one cook a tofurkey? I’m having some vegetarian guests for Thanksgiving this year.

One does not. The point of vegetarian food is not to make meat out of vegetables. One makes vegetables and calls them by their proper names. And if one can’t make a turkey to place alongside them, or if one needs a vegetarian main course, one’s way is clear. One makes really big beets.

Really Big Beets

6 large beets

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Trim, scrub and peel the beets, toss with olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste. Wrap each in aluminum foil.

3. Roast on a sheet pan for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the beets, until tender.