15 Things You’re Probably Not Doing on Thanksgiving That a Chef Would
If you’re hosting this year, listen up! Here are the simple tricks that chefs use to make Thanksgiving dinner a whole lot easier.
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Give thanks for these genius Thanksgiving tips
Thanksgiving dinner is usually a joyous time when friends and family gather together, but if you’re the host, it can also be pretty overwhelming. You might be worried about how you’re going to pull it all off—the cooking, the seating arrangements, the entertaining, the serving, and, well, everything else. That’s why the first step to success is having a plan and starting the preparations early. “While you’ll want to start shopping for all of your dry goods and proteins as early as a week beforehand and keep them frozen, the turkey typically takes a few days to thaw out in the refrigerator,” says Esteban Antoine, chef at Crowned Hospitality. “Also, make sure to purchase all of your produce and dairy a day or two before Thanksgiving, to ensure freshness and save room in your fridge.”
And well before the big day arrives, know exactly what items you’ll need to have on hand to get the jobs of hosting, cooking, and serving done as smoothly as possible. To help, we asked chefs to share some of the things they always do on Thanksgiving that you might not—but really should!
Using a timer
Sure, your phone probably has a timer feature, but it’s not as reliable as a real one, according to Johana Langi, executive pastry chef at Boulud Sud. “Not only do you avoid flour smudge prints and possibly dropping it in pumpkin pie filling (true story), but a magnetic triple timer is a godsend,” she says. She uses her triple timer when juggling different cooking projects and trying to keep track of things in the oven, stove, and fridge. So, what should you make for the big day? Follow this menu to host the best Thanksgiving ever.
Slow-cooking your mashed potatoes
Using a slow cooker to keep your mashed potatoes warm is a trick that Claudia Sidoti, principal chef of HelloFresh, discovered several years ago, and it’s been a game-changer for her. “There’s nothing worse than cold or dry mashed potatoes, but making them at the last minute can be stressful,” she says. “A slow cooker can be set to warm so you can make them ahead and not have to worry about last-minute warming and taking up space on the stove.” Here are 7 other things you didn’t know you could make in a slow cooker.
Sifting fine ingredients in a mesh strainer
A great multitasking product that Langi loves is a fine mesh strainer. “I love to use it to sift flour for all my baked items and to finish pies with a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar,” she says. “Another great thing is to strain all my sauces, gravies, and liquid pie fillings to ensure there are no lumps.” Can you guess what America’s favorite Thanksgiving pie is? (Hint: It’s not pumpkin!)
Using a roasting pan with a wire rack
Unless you want to have some very disappointed guests (and hear about it for Thanksgivings to come), you’ve got to get the bird right. And there’s one simple trick to make sure that happens: Use a roasting pan with a wire rack. “You want to have your turkey elevated off of the bottom of the pan or you’ll get uneven cooking,” says Antoine. “The bottom of your turkey should not fall apart in pieces. It should be firm and roasted nicely.” Hopefully, you’ll also manage to avoid these 15 common Thanksgiving mistakes.
Boosting flavor with chicken stock
For a chef, chicken stock is like liquid gold. That’s why Antoine uses it in place of water for all his dishes to boost flavor. “I buy cases of it based on the dinner and use it to baste the turkey, cook vegetables, and poach anything,” he says. “You will also need it for extra gravy or any soups.” If you’re a vegetarian or have vegetarians attending your feast, he recommends using vegetable stock in place of the water instead. Looking to fill out your menu? Try these 21 mouthwatering (and easy!) Thanksgiving side dishes all your guests will love.
Mixing recipes the right way
For mixing things that need to be mixed, chef Jon Beattie of The Renaissance recommends using a quality stand mixer or hand mixer. “Immersion blenders are very popular right now, but using one may make your potatoes too starchy,” he says. “Think about it as ‘blend versus chop.’ It makes potatoes or maybe pureeing the pumpkin for your pie so much smoother.” By the way, here’s the secret ingredient for the perfect pumpkin pie.
Heating up liquids in a saucepan
It can be tempting to melt butter or heat liquids in your microwave, but Beattie does what he can to stay away from that convenience on Thanksgiving. “Small saucepans let me melt the perfect amount of butter evenly,” he says. “Try doing that with a microwave where it doesn’t bubble up or spatter all over the inside, making a larger mess to clean up.” On the flip side, here are 16 foods you probably had no idea you could microwave.
Spinning salad greens
Four Seasons Hotel New York Executive Chef John Johnson makes quick work of washing, rinsing, and drying his salad greens with a salad spinner. This way, you don’t have to waste time waiting for your greens to dry before preparing the salad and its accouterments. After all, falling behind even a little can throw off your whole schedule. Don’t miss these other tricks to help you stay sane while hosting Thanksgiving.
Weighing all recipe ingredients
To avoid a recipe mishap on Thanksgiving day, Langi makes sure to measure each and every ingredient with a scale, especially for baked goods. “This is one way to ensure that anything you bake and cook will turn out delicious and worthy of all the compliments,” she says. If you do mess up, don’t panic: Here are 10 quick fixes for the worst Thanksgiving dinner screw-ups.
Sourcing extra refrigeration
One of the most important things that Antoine does for Thanksgiving is to acquire extra refrigeration. “The best option is to buy extra coolers and fill them with ice and ice packs,” he says. “In it, you can store any products that need to stay cold while saving space in the fridge.” These surprising Thanksgiving cooking hacks that use everyday objects can also make your life a lot easier.
Serving drinks in fancy glassware
Johnson likes to serve a signature cocktail or mocktail in a fun and festive glass or jar. “I always spend time to ensure I select a thoughtful selection of wine, spirits, and local craft beers to be poured and enjoyed in creative glassware,” he says. “I also offer a ‘healthy’ soft drink alternative for the kids.” It’s important to make your littlest guests feel included in a variety of ways. To keep boredom at bay, check out these 20 fun Thanksgiving crafts to keep kids busy.
Using parchment paper
“Parchment paper is a great tool to get those perfectly baked cookies off without leaving the best part of the cookies on the tray,” says Beattie. “Parchment paper means quicker cleanup, too.” Also, make sure to avoid these all-too-common baking mistakes.
Glazing meats with a pastry brush
“A brush is a great tool for all-day cooking, as it will allow you to evenly glaze meats, coat vegetables, and spread egg washes and butter on pastries,” says Langi. “A 2-inch brush is a versatile tool on a busy marathon day of cooking like Thanksgiving.” If you never know how big of a turkey to get, this is exactly how much turkey to make per person on Thanksgiving.
Serving pie on a pie plate
If Langi is going to go through the trouble of making a pie from scratch, she makes sure to use a pie plate to add extra festive flair. “Disposable pans on their own are often flimsy,” she says. “For easy cleanup, using disposable pans and baking it inside of any of these pie plates will allow for an even bake and provide support for generously filled pies.” If you’re looking for the perfect dessert, try one of these 25 delicious apple pie recipes for your Thanksgiving feast.
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