MPR News with Angela Davis

Thanksgiving FAQ: 8 tips to have the best holiday meal

A fall harvest dinner on display on a table.
Every Thanksgiving table showcases the bounty of the harvest in its own way.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels | 2021

Behind every Thanksgiving feast is at least one cook.

The planning and prepping for next week’s feast is underway. If you bought a big frozen turkey, you might want to take it out of the freezer today, on what Butterball calls “National Thaw Day.” And, if you want a relaxing holiday, think about what cooking or baking you can tackle this weekend.

MPR News host Angela Davis talked with Roni McDaniel, a Butterball Turkey Talk-Line expert, and Beth Dooley, a James Beard Award-winning food writer, about turkey tips and ideas for sides, pies and other desserts that will leave the cook relaxed and everyone at your table feeling grateful.

two women in broadcast studio
MPR News host Angela Davis (left) talks about cooking for Thanksgiving with chef and food writer Beth Dooley in an MPR News studio in St. Paul on Thursday.
Maja Beckstrom | MPR News

1) How big of a turkey do I need?

McDaniel: If it’s a whole turkey, we recommend a pound to a pound-and-a-half per person. That’s your average size plate or your average size person who will eat at the table. If you want extra leftovers you may go up to two pounds per person.

2) What should I do so my turkey meat is not dry after cooking?

McDaniel: Once the turkey thaws, take it out of the wrapper, pat the skin dry with a paper towel coated with vegetable oil or cooking spray and let it roast at 325 F, uninterrupted. The key to keeping it moist and tender is to use a thermometer. Once your turkey reaches 170 F in the breast, 180 F in the thigh and — if it is stuffed — 165 F in the stuffing, remove it from the oven. There’s no need to prolong the cooking time.

3) What should I know about brining a turkey?

McDaniel: Some people make their brine. It’s just a saltwater solution and it brings in more flavor or different flavor to your turkey. For example, you could have a citrus lime brine that will impart that flavor throughout the turkey.

With the turkey being so large, it’s very difficult to season the entire turkey by sprinkling dry rubs on it; usually that seasons the skin and maybe an inch or two down.

Brining, on the other hand, will season the entire turkey. You allow the turkey to sit in the brine for anywhere from 12-24 hours and it just brings a different flavor to it.

4) The best way to carve a turkey?

Butterball teaches you how:

5) How can I avoid messing up mashed potatoes?

Dooley: The trick is to boil them ahead of time and you can drain and mash them with a little bit of the potato water, but then I also mash them with cream or some yogurt because there’s some acid in the yogurt that also gives the mashed potatoes a little tang. What it does is keep them from getting kind of brown and weird.

6) Is there a really easy starter pie or dessert if I’m new to it?

Dooley: Pumpkin pies are super easy, especially if you’re going to use the canned pumpkin. Those are just a little custard that goes into the frozen pie crust shell. Pecan pies and walnut pies are also easy.

If you really want to make something ahead or you're bringing a dessert to a friend’s house, there’s this refrigerator pumpkin pie bar, which you’re not even cooking at all and nobody has to heat it up because it is served cold.

7) How to make the best apple pie?

Dooley: As much as I like a honey crisp, don’t use those in a pie. They’re way too sweet and juicy. A much better choice would be your Haralson apple and there are plenty of those and that's a local University of Minnesota apple. Keepsake is another very nice apple. So some of those older varieties are better suited to pies and you can find those at the farmers market or co-ops or in any of our grocery stores.

I don’t peel my apples at all, I just slice them because there’s flavor in the peel. And I think it’s prettier if you see a little bit of that peel. So the recipes are really easy. I like to pre-bake the crust just a little bit because that helps keep it from getting soggy.

And then slice the apples and maybe just add a little bit of sugar. That’s it. Cover it with a little foil, put it in the oven, let it bake until the apples are tender, pull the foil off and the apples will brown slightly. 

8) What are some good substitutes for heavy dairy recipes?

Dooley: For butter, for instance, there's always olive oil. But there’s also a wonderful local hazelnut oil that’s coming out from the American Hazelnut Company. And that is a wonderful substitute both for butter when you're cooking, but also in salad dressings and in baking.

The other thing I’ve done when I’ve had people coming over for pie that are dairy intolerant is to use virgin coconut oil, which is stiff and it works into the pie dough the same way butter does.

In terms of cream, there are lots of different non dairy substitutes that you can find in the market. My favorite happens to be oat. So if you have someone that wants a whipped substitute, you can do that and also with coconut. Heavy coconut cream whips beautifully as well.

Useful resources

Beth Dooley’s Thanksgiving recipes

Here are the mouthwatering recipes mentioned on the show today:

Kale and cranberry salad

Serves 6 (easily doubled).


  • 1 big bunch kale, chopped

  • 1 cup dried cranberries

  • 1 small tart apple, i.e., Haralson

  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

  • 1 shallot chopped

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

  • ¼ cup hazelnut or vegetable oil

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds or hazelnuts


  1. Put the chopped kale into a large salad bowl and toss in the cranberries and apple.

  2. In a jar with a lid, shake together the vinegar, shallot, mustard, maple syrup, then shake in the oil.

  3. Drizzle enough of the oil over the greens to lightly coat and then serve garnished with the seeds.

    a salad with carrots and lemon
    Kale salad with carrots.
    Mette Nielsen

Pumpkin cheesecake bars

Serves 8 to 10 (easily doubled).


  • 1-1/4 cups ginger snap crumbs

  • 1/4 cup melted butter

  • 24 ounces cream cheese

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Generous pinch ginger


  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and melted butter. Transfer to a 9 x 9-inch baking dish and press into place.

  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.

  3. In a separate bowl, beat together the whipping cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese being careful not to overmix.

  4. In another bowl, stir together the pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Stir this into the cream cheese mixture.

  5. Fold the whipped cream mixture into the pumpkin cream cheese mixture. Transfer the filling into the ginger snap crust.

  6. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Cranberry sorbet

Serves 6 to 8 (easily doubled)


  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries

  • 1-3/4 cups granulated sugar

  • 2 cups cranberry juice

  • 1 cup water

  • Generous pinch salt

  • 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest


  1. Place the cranberries, sugar, water, juice, and salt into a saucepan and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the cranberries have popped and the sugar has dissolved.

  2. Cool. Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender. Press through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and pulp.

  3. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled for several hours or overnight.

  4. Turn into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s directions. Alternatively, freeze until just soft then stir with a fork to break up the chunks of frozen juice.

  5. Return to the freezer and repeat occasionally until the mixture is relatively smooth.

samples of a red dessert
Two samples of Beth Dooley’s cranberry sorbet.
Nicole Johnson | MPR News

Bonus recipe: Spiced cranberry sauce

MPR News host Angela Davis shares this recipe by Jamie Miller of Maple Grove, Minn.


  • 1 cup cranberry juice concentrate (from the freezer section of grocery store, thawed)

  • ½ cup sugar (or less)

  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries (or more, 16 oz bag is fine)

  • 1 cup dried tart cherries

  • 2 large fresh pears (peeled, cored and chopped)

  • ½ teaspoon cardamom

  • ½ teaspoon cloves

  • ¼ teaspoon allspice

  • Pinch of salt


  1. Bring cranberry juice concentrate and sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.

  2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until cranberries pop, about 8 to 10 minutes.

  3. Cool. Chill.

  4. Can be made two weeks in advance.

    cranberry sauce in progress
    "Here’s my spiced cranberry sauce in progress. All the ingredients are in the saucepan and the cranberries are starting to pop," MPR News host Angela Davis said.
    Angela Davis | MPR News

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