It's a feast that Americans look forward to all year, and you're the cook. Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be difficult. We've gathered a collection of tips, shortcuts, timetables and recipes to help guide you through the meal preparation.

It's a feast that Americans look forward to all year, and you're the cook.

Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be difficult. We've gathered a collection of tips, shortcuts, timetables and recipes to help guide you through the meal preparation. The information comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the National Turkey Federation.

Be sure to accept the compliments graciously.

How much turkey should I buy?

For turkeys under 16 pounds, estimate 1 pound per serving (this accounts for bone weight). For larger birds, a bit less is fine because they have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. But if your goal is to have ample leftovers, aim for 1 1/2 pounds per person, whatever the turkey's size.

Do turkey prices go up during Thanksgiving?

No, not normally. In fact, turkey prices often go down during the holidays as many grocery stores use turkey as a "loss leader." This means that retailers run special, low prices on turkeys to entice customers into their store to buy other holiday foods for the traditional feast.

Fresh or frozen?
There is no quality difference between a fresh or frozen turkey. Frozen turkeys are flash frozen to 0 F or below immediately after packaging. Once defrosted, the meat is practically as fresh as the day it was processed. Fresh turkeys are deep-chilled after packaging and have shorter shelf lives. Because they are perishable and require special handling and merchandising, fresh turkeys are slightly more expensive than frozen turkeys.

By purchasing a frozen turkey, you can get the turkey in advance and take advantage of special sales and coupons. Fresh turkeys provide convenience because they do not require thawing.

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of those surveyed by the National Turkey Federation reported purchasing a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving dinner; 31 percent purchased a fresh turkey.

What is a self-basted turkey?
As an option for consumers, some turkeys are sold as "basted" or "self-basted," meaning they have been injected or marinated with a solution usually containing edible fat, natural broth, stock or water and seasonings. Self-basted turkeys are labeled with the percentage of the solution and its ingredients. Do not use self-basted turkeys when brining or deep-frying a turkey.

How do I thaw a turkey?
Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Whole turkey takes about 24 hours per 4 pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. The refrigerator method is the safest and will result in the best finished product.

In cold water, changed every 30 minutes, turkey takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw.
When using a microwave to thaw a turkey, follow the manufacturer's instructions for the size turkey that will fit in your oven, the minutes per pound and the power level to use.

Never defrost turkey on the counter. Once thawed, keep turkey refrigerated at 40 F or below until it is ready to be cooked. Turkey thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.

What about the stuffing?

Stuffing or dressing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven for cooking. If preparing the stuffing ahead of time, wet and dry ingredients should be refrigerated separately and combined right before stuffing the turkey.

Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Stuffing needs room toexpand during cooking, so do not over-stuff the bird.

If the stuffing recipe yields more than the turkey can hold, bake the extra in a greased casserole dish.

Cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 F. Use a food thermometer to check.

It should be noted that the USDA does not recommend stuffing a turkey. For optimum safety and even cooking, it recommends cooking stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish.

Once I have the bird, what do I do with it?

Remove the neck and giblets from the neck and body cavities of the thawed turkey. Preheat the oven to 325 F for conventional ovens.

Place the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. For a picture-perfect turkey, tuck wing tips "akimbo" under the shoulders.

Juices from the turkey will baste the meat as it cooks. For added moisture, pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the pan and brush the turkey with oil or unsalted butter and seasonings or herbs.

Place an aluminum foil tent over the breast during the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours of cooking, then remove the foil to allow for browning.

If cooking stuffing inside the turkey, fill the body cavity with stuffing just before roasting. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone. Roast the turkey, uncovered, until the meat thermometer registers at least 165 F.

How long do I roast a turkey?

In a 325 F conventional oven, use these guidelines.

4 to 8 pounds (breast): 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours
8 to 12 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 hours

6 to 8 pounds (breast): 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours
8 to 12 pounds: 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds: 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds: 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds: 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

How do I know when it's done?

Use a two-step test for turkey doneness: First, insert a meat thermometer into the deepest portion of the thigh, not touching bone, and verify the temperature has reached 165 F. If the turkey has been stuffed, move the thermometer to the center of the stuffing and verify the stuffing has reached 165 F.

If the turkey is done and the stuffing is not yet 165 F, remove the stuffing from the turkey and place it in a casserole dish to be further cooked in the oven.

Let the turkey sit about 20 minutes before carving, so juices can redistribute throughout the bird.

White meat vs. dark meat

A turkey typically has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat. White meat is generally preferred in the United States, while diners in other countries choose the dark meat.

White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat. But dark meat has more flavor. It adds richness to soups and stews, and holds up well when grilled or barbecued.

What are giblets?

Giblets are the turkey's gizzard, heart and liver. The giblets and neck, when cooked until tender, are common additions to gravy and stuffing. If you choose to add the liver to the stockpot, do so during the last 15-20 minutes of simmering time. Overcooking the liver results in a bitter flavor.

What does a Thanksgiving meal cost?

The American Farm Bureau Federation reported that in 2011, the average cost of the traditional Thanksgiving feast for 10 people was $49.20. The menu included turkey, stuffing, rolls and butter, cranberries, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and all the trimmings.