12 Thanksgiving Cooking Tips to Steal from Celebrity Chefs
We love the idea of a special festive meal with our extended family and all our friends, but when dealing with everyone’s dietary restrictions, high expectations, and your own limited time, getting a successful meal on the table can be a challenge. Until now.
Courtesy Chef Adrian Davila
People always want to go for the big 25-pound birds, but those giant turkeys never cook evenly. “Instead go with a medium-sized turkey, about 13 to 15 pounds. is the best. If you have a big bunch, it’s better to get two medium-sized turkeys rather than one giant one,” says Chef Adrian Davila, of Davila’s BBQ. They’re easier to manage and won’t dry out in the oven. Check out these easy mouthwatering Thanksgiving side dishes all your guests will love.
Courtesy Chef Adrian Davila
The debate on whether or not to brine has been settled: If Adrian Davila’s grandmother said you brine, then, by all means, throw that bird in some salt water with other spices. Chef Adrian says brining the turkey in salt water overnight combats the dryness and locks in moisture and flavor.
Serve up a signature cocktail
Courtesy Chef Gason Nelson
“Take the flavors of Thanksgiving to your cocktails,” suggests Chef Gason Nelson, a chef to celebrities and athletes in New Orleans, who created this Rosemary-Infused Cranberry Punch: Make rosemary-infused simple syrup, by boiling 4 oz. water, 4 oz. sugar and 2 rosemary sprigs for 3 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Remove rosemary and set aside to cool. Pour 1 1/2 oz. vodka, 2 oz. cranberry juice, 1/2 oz. mango nectar and 1 oz. rosemary-infused simple syrup over ice and stir. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary. (Makes one cocktail) Follow these tips to keep your sanity when hosting Thanksgiving.
Rest isn’t just for people
Courtesy chef Silvia Baldini
If you follow this tip, you will never, ever serve a dry or a cold bird again: Let the fully cooked turkey rest for at least an hour. “Then after you rest and the meat has relaxed, you can carve it and slice it and arrange it on a serving dish. Right before serving it, you must ladle a good amount of warm stock on it. The stock will warm up the meat and also soften it,” says celebrity chef Silvia Baldini. “I make a lot of stock weeks before Thanksgiving. I use chicken or turkey wings and cook them with onions, carrots, celery, and a handful of herbs then I freeze it and use it when I need it.” (Or just buy several boxes of chicken stock at your grocery store.)
Courtesy Chef Melissa Cookston
There’s no rule that says you must roast your turkey in the oven. Melissa Cookston the Winningest Woman in Barbecue always serves her turkey smoked. “Not only does this bring additional flavor to the party, but it also frees up valuable oven space. A turkey can be cooked on a large outdoor grill, a smoker, or even fried.” Be sure to avoid these common dumb Thanksgiving mistakes.
Have lighter options
Courtesy Chef Steve Petrie
To make Thanksgiving memorable and to make sure everyone has something to eat, always include a few lighter dishes for your health-conscious guests, suggests Steve Petrie, executive chef of Nashville Underground. He likes tomatoes with fresh Burrata, basil, and balsamic. “I use fresh organic tomatoes, micro basil, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette and finish with fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt, which really makes all the flavors pop.”
Stuffing vs. dressing
Courtesy Chefs Samantha and Cody Carroll
Award-winning Sac-a-Lait restaurant’s Chefs Samantha and Cody Carroll have Thanksgiving down on the family farm in Batchelor, Louisiana. According to Cody, “People always ask what the difference is between stuffing and dressing. Stuffing goes inside the bird and cooks with it. Dressing is made separately—but to tell you the truth, as southerners, we pretty much always call it dressing.” If you’re making cornbread dressing of any kind (popular in the south), lightly toast the cornbread first, shares Cody. “Unlike white or wheat bread, cornbread has little to no gluten and gets the moisture from fat which doesn’t evaporate, so to get the texture you want for the dressing, toast it just a bit.”
Whip up some broth with leftovers
Courtesy Chef Brian Malarkey /Photo by Becca Batista
Brian Malarkey’s quick-service market and café in Little Italy attached to Herb & Wood, in San Diego, offers gourmet meal options that are both healthy and quick. “Save your extra herbs, vegetable trimmings, and turkey bones to make a warm and comforting bone broth that is also good for your gut to be enjoyed after the long-eating weekend,” he suggests.
No space, no problem!
Courtesy Chef Silvia Baldini
“I have a very small kitchen at home where counter space and refrigerator space is scarce,” says Baldini. “To make sure I can fit all my dishes in the kitchen without going crazy, I cook all the sides, including mashed potatoes, and prep the salads ahead of time.” He stores everything in its own large Ziploc bags instead of bowls, because they take up less space in the fridge. Then right before mealtime, “I toss the salads and season the sides directly in the bags. I even warm up the sides in the Ziploc bags either in the microwave or by dipping them in a large pot of simmering water for a few minutes! Then I just put everything in serving dishes and I’m done,” says Baldini. Plus, there’s less clean-up. Brush up on these Thanksgiving etiquette tips for hosts and guests.
Courtesy Chef Devin Alexander
“I make mini pumpkin cheesecakes in cute individual cups. Not only do they look super adorable appealing, they save your guests tons of calories, because you’re less likely to eat as much,” says celebrity chef, Devin Alexander.