Make Your Holiday Meal Less Stressful – Prepare The Leftovers First!

A few years ago,  shortly before Thanksgiving time here in the U.S.,  I was trying to figure out how to prepare a Thanksgiving meal where I wasn’t stuck in the kitchen all day.  I really wanted to be able to enjoy time with our children and grandchildren and not be constantly running back and forth to the kitchen to prep or cook something. And, I didn’t want to have to get up at 3:00am to start preparing a turkey!

So, I pondered each food component of the planned meal. Ours usually includes:

Turkey with stuffing, dressing on the side, mashed potatoes, gravy, a vegetable casserole or two, (usually green bean, squash, or broccoli), a sweet potato something, corn, and rolls. And several desserts.

The vegetable dishes didn’t require all that much time to prepare or cook. The biggest time consumer was the turkey. The last-minute “frantics” were the mashed potatoes, and the gravy.

Hmm. How could I make them more time manageable?

We LOVE turkey, and I’ve always cooked a huge one because the leftovers are so versatile.

Then the thought hit me. Why do I have to have one huge one? Why can’t I make two smaller ones?  Divine inspiration. Ooooh! This idea had great possibilities!

So, I bought two 10 – 12 pound turkeys instead of one 22 – 24 pound bird, like I usually did.

Two or three days before the scheduled holiday meal, I cleaned and spatchcocked ( or butterflied) the larger of the two turkeys. I put the giblets, the neck, the wing tips, and the back into a medium-large saucepan, covered them with water, added a little of my Savory Seasoning Mix, and turned the heat to low and let it slowly cook while the turkey roasted.  This would be my turkey stock which would be used in the gravy and the “stuffing”. ( I’ll explain later why I put that word in parentheses.)

Next, I prepared a mixture of oil and my Savory Seasoning Mix and carefully put the mixture under the skin.  I massaged what was left in the bowl and on my hands over the outside of the skin. I then laid it out as flat as possible, bone-side down, in a large roasting pan, added about 1/2 cup of water, and roasted it.

I realize that the poor turkey looks knock-kneed, but this position actually helps to protect the base of the breast from getting over-cooked before the rest is up to temp.



Most directions will say about 15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees F.

I, however, put the oven on 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then turn it down to 325 degrees F for the remainder of the roasting time.  A 12 pound turkey would normally take about 3 hours to roast.  Since my bird was spatchcocked, and I gave it a burst of heat at the beginning,  it cooked much faster than normal.

(I’d start checking the temperature after it has cooked about one and a half hours. The ideal temperature is 180 degrees F for the thigh and 165 degrees F for the breast.)

I then removed it from the oven, covered it lightly with aluminum foil, and  let it rest in the roasting pan for an hour.

I moved the turkey from the roasting pan to an 11″ x 13″ baking pan to debone the entire thing. I put all of the meat in several zip-top-type freezer bags and put them in the bottom drawer of the fridge to get good and cold before freezing them.   Voila!  My “leftovers” were done!

I, then,  scraped all of the pan drippings from the roasting pan into a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. My gravy starter, done!

I put a little of the giblet stock into the roasting pan and let it soak to remove any little bits of yum that were left. I poured this “liquid gold” back into the giblet stock pot, let it cool, then strained out the giblets and the “stuff” that rose to the top. Then, I poured the stock into a large mixing bowl, covered and refrigerated it.

My husband and I love the turkey-rich flavor of the stuffing from inside of the turkey. But, let’s face it, there’s not a lot of room inside one. Sooooo,

I decide to prepare our turkey and “stuffing” a bit differently.  I prepared twice the usual amount of stuffing mixture, but added a lot less turkey stock to it. (It looked like it would be too dry.)  I lightly spread that in the bottom of a buttered roasting pan. I then, spatchcocked the second turkey, put the oil/seasoning mixture under the skin, and placed it bone-side down on top of the stuffing mixture.

I roasted it the same as the first one starting at 425 F and lowering to 325 F after 15 minutes. Again, check the temperature after about one and a half hours of cooking.

A LOT of moisture will come out of the bird into the stuffing, so, be sure to not have your stuffing mixture too wet when you put it in the roasting pan. (I did that one year and the stuffing was practically floating in turkey juice!) After the bird was cooked and removed from the pan, I just drained the pan juices and put the stuffing back in the oven to dry out some. Lesson learned.

When your bird is up to temperature, remove it from the pan to a large baking pan that can catch any juices that escape. Cover it lightly with foil and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

The oven is now free to bake your vegetable casserole/s. (Casseroles can be prepared the day before and kept in the fridge. When you put your bird in the oven, take the casserole out of the fridge to let it start coming to room temp.)

When I put the bird in the oven, I peeled and cooked the potatoes, and mashed them. I then put them in a crockpot to keep warm. I also made the gravy and put it in a small crockpot to keep warm. I stirred each occasionally just to make sure there was no scorching happening.

When your bird has rested for 30 minutes, you can carve it up and place the slices on a platter. Cover it to keep warm. Your casseroles should be out of the oven by this time, and since your mashed potatoes and gravy are ready and waiting, well……. just sit down and enjoy!

I’ve also used this two-instead-of-one method for preparing a ham dinner. We like to make ham salad, and ham/bean soup from the ham leftovers. I buy two small hams and bake one a few days before our big meal. I use the juice from the pan and the bones to make ham and bean soup and add about 1/3 of the meat to it. I then grind up the remaining meat to use for ham salad. The day of the big meal, we eat what we want off of the second ham and slice the leftovers for meals during the week. Any of these leftovers freeze well, too.

Whew! I know that was lengthy, but, preparing meats this way has made the last few years of big-meal-fixin’ a much more enjoyable experience!

Give it a try and let me know what time-saving ideas you come up with.




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