Thanksgiving is the one time of the year friends and family can come together to celebrate common history, shared goals, and the abiding love that, when fostered between brother and sister humans everywhere, brings meaning to lives otherwise scarred by struggle and strife. So no pressure or nothing if you're so lucky as to be hosting. And if you've spent years struggling through what should be a glorious celebration, we've got you covered with nine tips for dominating turkey day but good.
More Like This
Making dishes ahead of the meal and prepping your cuttables (which, if you want to impress, call your mise en place) is essential to making sure everything goes according to schedule. Get ahead of getting ahead and make whole dishes a day or two before you have to serve them -- especially conducive to this technique are first course soups like a butternut squash or a leek and potato soup, both designed, like you, to be chill.
Don’t forget to bring a towel!
While a chef toque, though dashing, might not be essential to the cook look, a bar towel is the must-have accessory. Cooks use a bar towel, always within reach either draped over the shoulder or tucked into the waistband, for just about everything from handling hot pans, to patting down hands, to wiping down counters, which will be perfect since you’re going to...
Clean as you cook
At the end of the meal, the worst possible sight (other than that one photo album which stars your baby butt) is a giant pile of dishes, so start a cleaning offensive before the smells get offensive. Use a flexible cutting mat for your mise en place to cut down on waste as you pour it into pans and pots, try to use a splatter screen, lid, or just a plate on anything you’re sautéing to cut down on greasy projectiles, wipe down little spills with your handy towel, and have a waste bowl on hand so you don’t have to make a million little trips to the garbage.
Or don't clean anything at all
Turkey, cranberry sauce, weird canned-soup casseroles -- all of it leaves a crazy mess. This year, do things right and hit up Handy for your first 2-hour cleaning appointment for just $29 with regularly scheduled cleanings. Or you could just enter the Handy Sweepstakes for a chance at a bunch of cleaning and handyman services for free. You know, seeing as you’re probably broke after that pre-gathering grocery trip.
De-stress the defrost
If at all possible, defrost in the fridge: it’s the safest and most reliable way of making meat malleable, even if it is the slowest. However, if you forgot it was Thanksgiving, and now that turkey is frozen rock solid, what you’re going to want to do is place it in a ziplock and run cold water over it. Do not use warm water. In the first place, warm water might bring the bacterial lode of the turkey to unsafe legions, and in the second place it actually won’t work as well. Because cold water is denser than warm water and has better conduction than fridge air, it will affect a larger change thermodynamically than the warm water and go faster than both
Rock out with your spatchcock out
The fastest and easiest route to a crispy and juicy turkey is spatchcocking it -- or, if you don’t want your elderly relatives throwing you side-eye because they misheard you, butterflying it. By cutting out the backbone and squishing the bird flat, you expose more skin to direct heat, cut cooking time by half, leave more room for stuffing -- which you can put directly under the bird -- cook all the meat evenly, and leave that backbone on hand primed to make a killer gravy
Do the mashed potato
We would be fools -- damned fools -- to suggest that there’s anything wrong with a giant pile of buttered, milkened, mashed taters. There might be something wrong with your hardware, however. That wavy, rounded, sine-wave masher? Ditch it. Any masher with a grid pattern and a well defined edge is going to mimic the action of a ricer by extruding the potato while it’s mashed, and save your arm from needless labor to boot
Give it a rest
Presenting the easiest tip of all: once that turkey comes out of the oven, regardless of whether you brined it, or baked it, or spatchcocked it, or deep fried it, or lasered it, or yelled at it, let that bird have a rest. No matter the recipe, its space age engineering won’t count for squat if the juices are allowed to run out all over the place. Because cooking constricts the fibrous musculature, pushing out the juices from the center of the muscles to the edges of the meat, allowing the bird to relax will give the muscles time to loosen up and reintroduce that flavorful goodness into every bite. Besides, it’ll give you a chance to whip up some popovers or biscuits and trot them out while they’re piping hot
Work that knife work
Put. That. Electric carving knife. Down. While any excuse to play with hardware (especially if you can combine it with meat) is a tempting option, all its back-and-forth serrated fury is going to tear the turkey meat, leading to dry, juiceless cuts. Opt instead for a dimpled carving blade or chef’s knife, slicing with long strokes in as few cuts as possible. Worried about the intersection of greasy skin and sharpened blade? WUse a “pinch grip” by bringing your hand right up to the bolster and pinching the spine of the knife with your thumb and forefinger while the rest of your fingers grab the handle, a move which gives a +5 to balance and control.
The day after the day after tomorrow
Those leftovers have gone from delightful snack to a legitimate question if somebody keeps making cranberry sauce and putting it in the fridge while you aren’t looking. Now’s the time to put them to the deep freeze. Since the meat’s already been chilled, there’s less of a chance that it’ll form the ice crystals that constitute freezerburn, so wrap it up airtight and it’ll store for up to nine months (which is to say, if you’re planning on putting the turkey directly into the freezer after the big meal, let it rest in the chill chest first for a spell). Sauces and soups? Park them in the fridge, then pour them into ice cube trays, freeze, and bag for up to three months