10 Life-Changing Thanksgiving Cooking Hacks

Alright, my culinary ninjas, Thanksgiving is fast approaching, which means you will soon get to show your whole extended family just how truly swaggy you are in the kitchen. The Thanksgiving feast can seem pretty daunting, but with these Thanksgiving cooking hacks, you’ll achieve the effortless perfection that only seems to exist in our collective imaginations — now tell me you didn’t picture that in black and white.

Being responsible for the Thanksgiving turkey in my family is a highly coveted honor. My mom is the resident turkey-maestro and the youngest of five sisters, so you can imagine there are plenty of, shall we say, chefs in the kitchen as far as recipes and traditions are concerned. Everyone has their tricks and secrets when it comes to the annual making of the “holiday chow,” as it is oft summarized. But with any mega-feast, the real challenge is making sure the timing is spot on to guarantee maximum deliciousness while still allowing yourself the time and the headspace to sit down and enjoy the early courses of the meal with everyone else. That’s where the planning comes in.

So, before we get into the nitty gritty of the hacks, take a look at all of the dishes that you plan to make. There’s the turkey, obviously. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and some kind of pie will all inevitably make their way onto your Thanksgiving menu. Check out the cook-times for each dish. You probably only have one oven, or two small ovens, if you have an old gas setup like mine. Scheduling oven-time for each course will save you a lot of undue stress while your house is full of hungry football fans.

1. Clean out your refrigerator first

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Trying to clean out your fridge one-handed with a hot casserole dish in your other hand will lead to spills, burns, and extra trips to the grocery store. Trust.

2. Print or write out your recipes

If you’re pulling recipes off of the Internet, I find that there’s nothing more irritating than having your iPad die mid-stuffing, or trying to navigate tabs with flour-covered hands. Additionally, keeping your electronics away from flames, knives, and various open liquids is in everyone’s best interest.

3. Start on Wednesday

I like to make the pies first, on Wednesday evening — I typically do two baked pies, and one frozen. It gets me into the flow of the cooking without being too labor-intensive. That frees up the oven for turkey and stuffing day-of. Check out the turkey tips below for information on brining your bird, which should also start on Wednesday night.

4. Employ the vodka pie crust secret

I’m about to let you in on a crazy pie hack. If you’re making pie crust from scratch, substitute half the ice water for freezing cold vodka to achieve maximum flakiness.

5. Raw appetizers, raw appetizers, raw appetizers

If you only take one piece of advice from this article, make it this one. Having a cheese plate or a vegetable tray, or maybe even a DIY bagel station if people are coming over during parade-hours, will save you a boatload of hangriness from your doting audience. These folks planned on noshing all day long, so indulge them without creating extra work for yourself.

6. Don’t peel your potatoes

Did you know if you boil your potatoes with the skin on and shock them with ice water when they’re nice and soft, the skin will magically fall away, leaving you with the perfect potatoes for mashing? That trick alone will save you a ton of time, effort, and peeled fingers. Also, use “boiling potatoes” like white potatoes or Yukon golds instead of Russets, as the lower starch content will allow for fluffier mashed potatoes.

And speaking of peeling, you can just buy butternut squash already peeled and chopped. No one will hold it against you, and you won’t need any stitches from trying to wrestle the squash-beast for the soup.

7. Don’t baste the turkey

Another fun fact — basting turkey doesn’t actually accomplish much from a moisture perspective. What it does do is lower your oven temperature, contributing to longer cook-times. Tricks for ensuring super-moist turkey breast include:

  • Brine the fresh or thawed turkey in salt water with a bit of sugar for up to 16 hours before cooking (seriously, do this anyway)
  • Cover the breasts with ice for 20 minutes before roasting
  • Cover the breasts with a layer of oil-soaked cheese cloth during the roasting process
  • Cover the breasts with a lattice of raw bacon during the roasting process

8. Make lots and lots of stuffing

If you only make enough stuffing to fill the inside of the turkey, you’re going to run out halfway through dinner, and then your family will complain. We want to minimize complaints, because they are directly correlated to a stressed chef.

9. Don’t reheat your pies until you’re done eating

People can wait for dessert, and they’re probably so full from the main course that they would happily take a break from #feastmode while you reheat the pie or cobbler. Plus, this saves you the drama of having a timer on while you try to eat and give thanks.

10. Expect to improvise

If you go into this mission knowing that you’ll have to substitute ingredients, improvise to offset mistakes, and send your nephew to buy more ice, you’ll be able to achieve Thanksgiving zen, making your cooking chops shine brighter and creating a feast that’s much more delicious — which is something you can definitely be thankful for.

Images: The Kitchn (2); A Pretty Life In The Suburbs; Tori Avey; francois schnell, Justin Snow/Flickr