20 Experts Share Their Best Thanksgiving Tips

It’s Thanksgiving time again – one of my favorite holidays! It centers all around food so what’s not to like.

I asked a bunch of chefs, authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers a simple question:

What is your best Thanksgiving Tip?

The response was great and insightful from all the experts that replied.

Some of the themes that were repeated were:

  • Plan ahead!
  • Ask for help if you need it.
  • Leftovers are great so take advantage of them.

It is a turkey oriented meal, but I went the extra mile and asked a few vegans and vegetarians, too. I personally eat meat. However, I mix it up every now and then, and try to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet for a few days. Variety is good and I get to cook and prepare foods in a new way.

(I am running a contest this week too – to win a Wusthof Santoku! It’s free to enter here.)

Without further adieu…

DougThe Kitchen Professor

Plan Ahead

If you have a good plan and time table, you’ll be able to reduce stress overall and have more time to spend with family and friends.

  • Map out your menu and figure out how much time each dish takes to prepare.
  • Ask yourself, “What can I make ahead for Thanksgiving?” Maybe cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, bread, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, and many other desserts.
  • Even if you can’t make some things ahead, you can still do the prep work.
  • People will want to bring something…Let them! Please do check what they will need to heat their dishes, if needed. Obviously, make sure you don’t end up with 4 people bring mashed potatoes. I love those creamy spuds, but you don’t need a metric ton of them!
  • What about the turkey…?

Thawing

Another part of planning ahead is thawing your turkey then brining it (if you are brining). The right way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge or in a cooler that’s at 38º, or at least under 40º. It takes longer – yes – but it keeps the bird out of the danger zone.

Plan about 24 hours for every 4 pounds, so a 16 pound bird will take about 4 days in the fridge.

Here is a turkey thawing calculator if you’re too lazy to do the math!

Brining

It takes about 8 – 16 hours to brine. If you haven’t done it before, it seems a tad overwhelming, but it really isn’t so hard. Just make sure you have the space to brine, like a 5 gallon bucket. Here’s Alton Brown on brining turkey…

PRO TIP: Smaller birds are easier to deal with…So get two small-medium turkeys instead of one very large turkey.

  • Easier to handle
  • Easier to fit in the fridge
  • Easier to cook
  • Take less time to thaw
  • A large turkey has a higher chance to be overcooked in some spots. No one likes dry turkey!

Leftovers

Get some “to-go” or reusable containers so people can take home leftovers in a simple way. (Reusable containers are preferred to reduce waste, of course.) Heavy duty zip top freezer bags always come in handy, too.

Remember to stay calm. It’s just food.

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BeccaAmuse Your Bouche

If necessary, make sure you have a really tasty vegetarian option that’s not just an afterthought.

Veggie options often end up being just as popular as the meat! Just make sure it goes well with all the usual trimmings – nobody likes missing out on potatoes and veggies!

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Ricki HellerAuthor, Recipe Developer, Nutrionist

Be sure to take a moment before adding sauces, coatings, or salad dressing to your recipes, to check with your guests if they can have them.

People with food allergies or sensitivities can often eat basic ingredients (veggies, salads, etc.) before they’re “dressed,” but may be sensitive to ingredients in those sauces or coatings.

If you ask first, you can set aside some of the “clean” dish for them, and you won’t need to prepare an entirely different dish for those guests. Plus, they will be incredibly grateful that you asked!

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JenniferBusy Being Jennifer

My Best Thanksgiving Tip – Don’t get so caught up in the hustle, bustle and preparation that you forget to stop and enjoy some time with your family.

I remember my Mom and Nana being so busy in the kitchen that we hardly saw them until it was time to eat… and then they disappeared right after to clean everything up.

Stop and enjoy some time with the people you’re giving Thanks with and for!

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StephanieGirl Versus Dough

Prep as much as you can ahead of time.

I like to make dinner rolls, pies and casseroles a few days or even weeks in advance and freeze them until the night before the big day.

It just makes Thanksgiving Day prep that much easier (a cocktail in hand helps, too).

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Yvette MarquezMuy Bueno Cookbook

The turkey is the star of the show, so treat it that way. Brine a fresh (not frozen) turkey for 24 hours for best flavor. It results in a juicy turkey.

My recipe for brine is simple – water, salt, apple cider, brown sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, orange peel, and garlic.

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Ashlee PiperThe Little Foxes
If you’re hosting folks of all different dietary ilks, you can easily accommodate their needs with simple, but delicious sides that can be vegan, gluten free, and dairy-free.
I love roasting brussels sprouts with maple syrup for a tasty touch, making truffled mushroom risotto that can double as a main, stuffing acorn squash with quinoa, spices, and currants for an elegant side that can double as a main for veggie-folk, and making vegan mashed potatoes that are as creamy and irresistible as the traditional type is a breeze when you use garlic, unsweetened coconut milk, and vegan margarine and spices.
homechef_MushroomRisoto-8

photo by Dawn Brown for Home Chef.

Or, if cooking to accommodate dietary needs is too overwhelming, ask everyone coming to your table to bring a signature dish to share. It creates a more personal and interactive holiday experience for everyone and takes the pressure off of the host.
Another tip: Keep it simple.
If you’re not a from scratch-type of cook, don’t fret. Boxed cake mix, stuffing mix, spice mixes, pre-cut veggie medleys, etc canbe your best friend when making a big feast. I used (accidentally vegan) cake mix and frosting to create these easy and seasonal 8 Ingredient Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes recipe and they’re a hit with everyone.
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Jacqueline Go Go Go Gourmet
Don’t be a hero! Don’t be afraid to delegate jobs to other people- even the small ones make a big difference. You can’t enjoy the holiday if you’re a stressed out mess!
Oh, and use an electric knife to dice bread for stuffing in the same manner that you would dice an onion. You can be done in about 45 seconds.
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Lee HolmesSupercharged Food

Thanksgiving feasts don’t have to be stressful. You can create an impressive traditional and tasty meal that will knock the socks off your guests and all you need is a little pre-planning.

My advice is to start the preparation early and figure out anything you can make ahead of time such as side dishes, sauces and dips. That way when it comes to the day things can run as seamlessly as possible.

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Heather TallmanBasilmama

My best Thanksgiving tip is to either practice a new recipe beforehand or stick to a classic you are familiar with.

There is nothing worse then spending money on ingredients for a recipe and getting it wrong- and you have no backup. Especially when entertaining! Maybe spice up an old favorite, swap out a frozen or canned ingredient with it’s fresh counterpart, use fresh herbs instead of dried- that kind of thing.

Experimenting is great, but maybe not the day of a holiday meal when you are expected to feed a crowd.

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Robyn GleasonSimply Fresh Dinners

Free up your oven by using the grill for your turkey.  You can put put your whole roasting pan and turkey on the grill or roast a boneless turkey on the rotisserie.

This allows you the freedom to cook as many side dishes as you like and give the job of the main dish to the grill master in your family.

turkey-on-the-grill

flickr creative commons: HiddenJester

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Leah LizarondoThe Brazen Kitchen

To make Thanksgiving healthier–have more vegetable side options and use fruit in season for your desserts.

So much good stuff are in season right now: cabbage, squash, cauliflower, pears, apples.

Use this bounty to make your plate not only taste good, but good-for-you as well.

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Natalie Wiser-OrozcoThe Devil Wears Parsley

Plan, plan, plan!  If you’re hosting a gaggle of people, it’s imperative to get the plan started at least two weeks before.

Write toto lists.

Delegate.

Chances are your family and guests will be more than happy to help, whether it be bringing a side dish, or securing a fantastic bottle of wine.  When that quintessential fall day comes, you’ll be cool, calm, collected, and able to enjoy all of your guests.

I can’t go without mentioning that you must secure avocados (now!) and leftover turkey for my simple, yet completely awesome Turkey Avocado Sliders.

Cheers to your gathering being a great success!

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CatRustic Willow

Always buy more bread than you think you need. It’s amazing how fast bread goes! I use bread to dip in gravy, make cranberry & turkey sandwiches, and to make sliders with leftovers.

Take the amount of bread you’ll think you need, and double it.

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Julie Meyers PronJulieverse

Getting Thanksgiving Dinner on the table can be hectic enough, but when you have little kids around it’s hectic-cubed.

Having easy crafts on hand helps your whole family survive the day.

http://julieverse.com/2014/11/19/thanksgiving-crafts-activities-learning/

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LisaFun Money Mom

While the food is the focal point of Thanksgiving day, don’t forget to set the mood!

Have some soft holiday music playing in the background, place fresh flowers around the house, and light a few candles (unscented so that they don’t clash with the aroma of the food).

You can also create inexpensive décor with strategically placed fall leaves and pine cones.

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MaggieOmnivore's Cookbook
Have a lot of leftovers from Thanksgiving?
No problem! This creamy club sandwich will turn your post-Thanksgiving leftover turkey and mashed potatoes into a delicious lunch in five minutes!
What about Side Dishes?
Here is a list of 20 great Asian style side dishes that you might have never heard of. They are bold in flavor, easy to prepare, and most of them go very well with non-Asian main dishes. Try out one or two, and you’ll fall in love with them!
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Courtney ButeauThe Mod Mommy

As a busy mom of three, getting some prep work or cooking done a day or two before Thanksgiving is key for me being successful.

Things like cranberry sauce or corn bread can be made the day before and still taste yummy once Turkey Day arrives. So, if you can figure out what can be done early, it’ll take a lot of the stress out and put the fun in!

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Wendi SprakerLoaves and Dishes
Thanksgiving (although we all LOVE food – or else WHY would we be here?) is REALLY about the people, the interactions and the LOVE.  Your peoplewant to spend time with you too!
Do as much of the meal prep ahead of time as possible so that cooking only involves putting things in and taking things out of the oven/fridge.
This takes a WHOLE lot more planning but is worth it in the end when you are able to have a glass of wine/nibble some cheese and crackers and yuck it up with the gang rather than spend the whole time furiously chopping things and washing dishes!  Better yet, let everyone bring something and that will save you a TON of time.
ENJOY the day with the people you love.
EASY FAST HOLIDAY SIDE DISH SAUSAGE AND RICE
Here is a TERRIFIC and SIMPLE make ahead side dish that you can simply warm in the microwave right before time to eat. AND, it is DELISH (not kidding) – I wish I had dreamed it up – but I didn’t.  Even people who don’t cook can handle this recipe.  Two ingredients!
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Kristen CampbellRoad To Domestication

Don’t wait until the last minute to do your menu planning and go to the store for your Thanksgiving ingredients!

The longer you wait, the more crowded and hectic the stores will be – and less enjoyment you will have from your shopping trip.

Take the time to do a thorough stock-up about a week before the big day. That way, if you forget anything, you’ll know sooner rather than later – and while everyone else is running around trying to grab the most excellent goods, you’re already sittin’ pretty!

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LisaBlogghetti.com

My tips for Thanksgiving dinner begins the day before.

Set your table - everything from the tablecloth to the dessert plate! Take that one step further and set out your serving dishes with the serving utensil placed inside the dish.

You won't be scrambling at the last minute for that serving spoon or special tray! If you are planning on making homemade bread or rolls, consider doing so the day before.

Since most other dishes cook at a lower temperature than most bread recipes, this is ideal! I make my easy homemade white bread and rosemary dinner rolls the day before. Easy to warm them up in the oven while the turkey is resting and the other foods are cooking.

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