No More Thanksgiving #Fails! Foolproof Fixes for All Your Turkey Day Blunders
Dilemma 1: I got no time to brine, but I want a tasty turkey. Can you help me out?
Absolutely. Our favorite turkey trick was inspired by legendary chef Thomas Keller. When he was growing up, his mom made mayo-roasted turkey breast—and the method, adapted below, also works with a full-size bird. The mayonnaise, mixed with citrus zest and herbs, melts during roasting, slowly basting the turkey. The white meat stays super moist, and the skin browns beautifully. The only thing left to do? Gobble, gobble!
Citrus Mayo Roast Turkey with Citrus Jus
Dilemma 2: It's go-time & my bird is still frozen solid. Help!
According to kitchen-science guru Harold McGee, it's actually safe to roast a rock- hard frozen turkey—just allow about 50 percent more time than you would for a thawed one. That works out to be around 6 hours for a 14- to 18-pound bird. Pro tip: You're gonna need more snacks. And wine.
Dilemma 3: When it's time to carve, I panic and wind up with a crime scene. Tips?
Approach the job like a surgeon—not a butcher—and you'll have a pretty platter. First, let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before cutting (to get a juicier bird). Shoo everyone out of the kitchen (spectators = pressure). Grab an electric knife or a conventional one (as long as it's long, thin, and very sharp), then carve with confidence by following these simple steps.
- Place your knife in the fold between the thigh and the breast. If the turkey has been properly cooked, the leg will pull away easily. Stick the point of your knife into the joint and twist a little—the leg will pop right off.
- Place the legs, cut-side down, on the cutting board. Slice between the drumsticks and the thighs. Transfer the drumsticks to a platter.
- Arrange the knife against one side of the breastbone and slice downward and then outward, staying as close to the bone as possible; remove the breast meat in one large piece. Repeat the process on the other side.
- Pull the wings away from the shoulder joints and cut them into two pieces. Using your knife, cut off the thigh meat and slice the breasts against the grain. Arrange the meat on the platter and get ready for oohs and ahhs!
Dilemma 4: We're doing a mini feast for four, not 12. How can I make a small Thanksgiving feel special?
This is one time when small really is beautiful. Think about it: You won't be cooking all day. You don't have to dust the cobwebs off the folding table. And you'll actually be able to talk to your guests. This streamlined menu, below, starts with a double-duty dish: turkey breast roasted on a bed of stuffing. As the bird cooks, the juices soak into the bread. You can also scale back your sides. Our simple, spectacular swirly potato dish and creamy broccoli casserole will do the trick. Add a simple cranberry sauce that's great with the turkey—and tasty over yogurt the next morning.
Thanksgiving Menu for Four People:
All-In-One Turkey Breast With Herby Stuffing
Try our Cran-Orange Compote
Cheesy Broccoli Gratin
Try our Cheesy Broccoli Gratin
Try our Domino Potatoes
Dilemma 5: My turkey is soooo dry. What can I do?
Try this emergency fix: Spread the sliced turkey on a baking sheet and drizzle with stock or thinned gravy. Cover with foil and stash in a 200° oven until all the juices are absorbed. Then get it to the table—stat!
Dilemma 6: Yikes! My bird looks pink. Got a fast fix?
If the meat is still not done and tummies are rumbling, go ahead and start the carving process, separating the turkey's legs from the body and slicing off the breasts in two large pieces. Transfer the meat to a baking sheet and slide it into a 350° oven. Check on the turkey every 10 minutes, until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°. Then slice and plate as usual. Once the turkey is on the platter, nobody will be the wiser!
Dilemma 7: What can I cook for my veg, vegan, and gluten-free peeps?
These recipes will please all of your "avoidivores"—and everyone else. Small winter squashes stuffed with wild rice and quinoa can be a showstopping side or a hearty vegetarian main (you can skip the cheese to make it vegan); olive oil mashed potatoes are smooth, creamy, and rich enough that no one will ever miss the dairy; and rice and roasted-veggie stuffing is a great stand-in for the classic carby side.
Vegetarian Main: Stuffed Acorn Squash with Charred Onions & Kale
Dairy-Free: Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes
Try our Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes
Gluten-Free: Mushroom & Red Rice Stuffing with Roasted Carrots
Dilemma 8: How do I de-mushify my stuffing?
If your recipe calls for adding liquid, such as chicken stock or wine, it's best to start off stingy, because it's easier to add moisture than to take it away. Also remember: You don't have to put stuffing inside the bird. The best way to avoid the mushiness trap is to cook the stuffing in a separate baking dish. This method means more surface area is exposed to the heat, creating maximum crunchy bits (everyone's favorite!). For last-minute disasters, spread soggy stuffing on a baking sheet, and stick it in a 350° oven for a quick crisp-up.
Dilemma 9: Cranberry sauce isn't really my jam.
Cranberry sauce's job is to introduce a sweet-tartness to the table, a way to cut through the richness of the meal. Italian mostarda, a fruit-based condiment with a spicy, savory edge, can serve that same purpose. We used grapes here, but pears or apples would be delicious, too.
Grape & Dried Cherry Mostarda
Try our Grape & Dried Cherry Mostarda
Dilemma 10: I never have enough drippings for my gravy guzzling crowd.
This recipe will float your (gravy) boat.
Rich No-Drippings Gravy
Try our Rich No-Drippings Gravy
Dilemma 11: I don't have a fat separator—can I MacGyver one?
The key here? To get all of the flavor without the grease. One trick is adding ice cubes to the drippings. The fat will firm right up and stick to the ice. Or you can DIY it: Line a glass measuring cup with a plastic freezer bag, pour in the juices, and wait until the fat rises to the top. Snip a small corner off the bag, let the juices pour into the cup, then pinch the bag closed before the fat has a chance to follow.
Dilemma 12: I remembered the turkey—but not the giant pan to cook it in. Oops!
Fear not! Open the cabinet and look for something that is oven-safe and large enough to hold your bird and has sides that are high enough to catch drippings but not so tall that the turkey steams instead of roasts. For example...
- Large Cast-Iron Skillet
- Broiler Pan
- Large Casserole Dish
- Baking Sheet + Cooling Rack
Dilemma 13: Help me out here—what wine goes best with stuffing your face?
We asked Mark Oldman, wine expert and author of How to Drink Like a Billionaire, to answer this critically important question.
Pour white and red.
Thanksgiving is all about plentitude, so don't get stingy with the wine. For whites, go with something with a little heft, like Chardonnay. On the red side, a berryish Zinfandel is great with cranberry sauce, spicy stuffing, and roasted turkey skin.
Pop some pink bubbles.
Rosé Champagne has the flavor and the effervescence to stand up to all the bold Thanksgiving dishes—plus it's pretty. To save money, go with rosé Prosecco or Cava.
Try something new.
Released just days before Thanksgiving, Beaujolais Nouveau is literally the youngest wine you can serve. The light, fresh red wine is affordable (see the previous note about plentitude), and its zingy flavor is great with your Turkey Day meal.
Dilemma 14: Thanks to this big old bird, my oven is officially overstuffed. How an I get everything else done?
On Thanksgiving, the oven is prime real estate. So be strategic when planning your spread. Add a few dishes, below, that feel festive but are served raw or made with countertop appliances, to prevent a logjam come turkey time.
Slow-Cooker Sausage, Swiss Chard & Rye Stuffing
Shaved Beet & Green Bean Salad
Try our Shaved Beet & Green Bean Salad
No-Bake Gingersnap Cheesecake with Lemon Curd
Dilemma 15: Why is piecrust so freakin' hard?
Piecrusts are like horses—they can sense fear. So first: Relax! You can do this. A few tips to make it easier: Use a glass pie dish—you can see how your pie is progressing. Set the pie dish on a baking sheet or a pizza stone; it will conduct heat and crisp the bottom of the crust. Also, when the top is golden, tent the pie with foil and let it bake a bit longer. The foil will protect the top crust from burning while the bottom crust has a little more time to brown. Every 5 minutes or so, check the bottom crust. When it's golden, you're good to go. Then go forth and conquer that crust!
Dilemma 16: Pie is cool...But it would be nice to serve something different this year. Got any ideas?
If you have pie fatigue, may we suggest a Bundt? It's cakey and cute and perfect for a crowd. This one has a warm, fall-friendly flavor and a cranberry-caramel sauce that you're going to want to drizzle over pretty much everything. Black Friday waffles, here we come!