Looking forward to enjoying your favorite Thanksgiving foods? Use these facts to help you enjoy them even more—or at least impress your guests.

Turkey

  • Some parts might cook faster than others. Those pop-up timers aren't always reliable because they measure the temperature in only one spot. Plus they aren't accurate, according to our tests. No bird should be served until all parts have been cooked to a safe 165° F. Use an instant-read thermometer in the inner thigh, wing, and thickest part of the breast.
  • The secret to tasty turkey is to cut it up. It's called spatchcocking: Cut out the backbone, split the bird in half, and lay it flat on a rack. When cooked at 450° F in the oven, a 12-pounder will be ready in about an hour. Because everything cooks evenly in one layer, it's cooked to juicy perfection.
  • White and dark meat are different muscles. The darker the meat, the more myoglobin, a protein that ships oxygen to the muscles. Because turkeys run around more than they fly, their legs and thighs get more oxygen and are darker than breast meat. Three ounces of dark meat without the skin has 147 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 24 grams of protein. The same amount of white meat has 125 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 26 grams of protein.

Cranberries

  • They aren't just for Thanksgiving. Simmer them in a sauce with tarragon or thyme to top pork chops or duck. Cook them down until they're jamlike, blend with whole-grain mustard, and use it as spread on sandwiches.
  • They freeze beautifully. Stock up while they're in the market and put them, right in their bags, in the freezer. Rinse before using, but no need to thaw.
  • You can cut the sugar. Cranberries are tart, so they do need some sweetening. But many recipes call for 1 cup of sugar per 12-ounce bag of cranberries. You can cut that in half and still have a tasty sauce. If you like it a little sweeter, try adding chopped apples to your sauce.

Pumpkin

  • Pumpkin and pumpkin-pie mix aren't exactly the same thing. The latter contains spices but also a hefty dose of added sugars. A half-cup of canned pumpkin has 40 calories and 4 grams of sugars, which are naturally present in pumpkin. The mix has 136 calories and 23 grams of sugars in the same half-cup—about 6 teaspoons—a vast majority of it added. And that's before it even gets into the pie.
  • It's a great source of fiber. With 5 grams, a half-cup of pumpkin supplies 20 percent of your daily needs.
  • Plenty of pumpkin products don't contain pumpkin. The pumpkin craze has been hot for a few years now, but check the ingredients list on the cookies, cereals, and the like crowding supermarket shelves and you won't find pumpkin on a majority of them. Usually these products have the classic pumpkin-pie spice flavor—a combination of allspice, cinnamon, ginger, mace, and nutmeg.

Yams

  • They're actually sweet potatoes. A yam is a white, starchy vegetable that grows in the Caribbean. Sweet potatoes come in many colors, from the familiar orange to red to purple.
  • They're packed with antioxidants. A medium-sweet spud supplies three times the vitamin A you need in a day. And that vitamin A is in the form of beta carotene, an antioxidant that helps fight inflammation and may protect against some types of cancers.
  • Storing them in the fridge wrecks the flavor. Refrigerated raw sweet potatoes will develop an off-flavor and turn hard. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place, like your basement. With proper storage, they'll keep for about two weeks.

Potatoes

  • Yukon Golds make a better mash. They're more nutritious than white potatoes because their color comes from carotenoids, the same health-promoting antioxidants in carrots. Plus they have a buttery flavor, so you don't have to add as much cream or butter.
  • They're packed with potassium. This mineral helps keep blood pressure low. One small potato supplies more than one large banana.
  • You want to start cooking them in cold water. If you wait until the water is boiling to add potatoes to the pot, they'll cook unevenly. 

Brussels Sprouts

  • They're super nutritious. They're loaded with antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, K, and folate. Plus they pack in fiber, potassium, and iron for only 30 calories per cup.
  • Different cooking methods yield different flavors. Roasting brings out the sprouts' nutty notes; to punch it up even more, dress them with hazelnut or walnut oil. Steamed sprouts taste more like delicate cabbages—just be sure not to overcook. If you're steaming them whole, start checking for doneness after about 4 minutes. Before cooking by any method, trim the bottom of the stem end and use a small sharp knife to cut an X into the base so that they'll cook faster and more evenly.
  • Smaller sprouts are sweeter. The larger ones have more of a strong cabbagey flavor. When shopping for sprouts, look for tightly closed heads with a bright-green color, and no yellowing or browning.

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