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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.

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TurkeyCourtesy Chef Adrian Davila

Size matters

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.

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TurkeyCourtesy Chef Adrian Davila

Get salty

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.

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CocktailCourtesy Chef Gason Nelson

Serve up a signature cocktail

“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.

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Chef-Silvia-BaldiniCourtesy chef Silvia Baldini

Rest isn’t just for people

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.)

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TurkeyCourtesy Chef Melissa Cookston

Get creative

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.

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TomatoesCourtesy Chef Steve Petrie

Have lighter options

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.”

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DressingCourtesy Chefs Samantha and Cody Carroll

Stuffing vs. dressing

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.” This is the worst time to travel on Thanksgiving. 

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BrothCourtesy Chef Brian Malarkey /Photo by Becca Batista

Whip up some broth with leftovers

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.

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ziplockCourtesy Chef Silvia Baldini

No space, no problem!

“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.

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DessertsCourtesy Chef Devin Alexander

Single-serving sizes

“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.

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Sweet-potatoesCourtesy Chef Michael Ferraro

Show some fire

“One of my favorite, classic Thanksgiving dishes is sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows. Rather than browning the marshmallows in the oven, my favorite trick is to bring out the blowtorch,” says Michael Ferraro, Delicatessen NYC. “I use a Bernzomatic TS4000, it’s a great culinary go-to that you can find at any hardware store. It gets the job done in seconds and will definitely impress your guests. It also works great if you’re bringing the dish to a potluck and want to finish it on site.”

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BrusselsCourtesy Chef Michael Symon

A spin on traditional Brussels sprouts

“For a lighter alternative to the typical Brussels sprouts with bacon recipes, try your sprouts raw,” says Michael Symon co-host on ABC’s The Chew. “I do shaved Brussels sprouts with Pecorino with a simple dressing—something amazing happens when you combine shaved sprouts, crunchy walnuts, and a fistful of good grated cheese.” Now, make sure your kitchen is stocked with these tools you can’t live without for Thanksgiving.

Aly Walansky
Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer with over a decade of experience covering beauty, health, and travel for various esteemed publications. Her blog, A Little Alytude ( was launched in 2006 and continues to be a strong voice in the lifestyles arena. Based in the ever-trendy Park Slope area of Brooklyn, she divides her time between her shih tsu Lily, her soap opera addiction, and scouting out fun new martini bars.

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