45 Tips & Hacks for Cooking and Hosting a Great Thanksgiving Dinner

This Thanksgiving, Americans will eat about 51 million turkeys (more than 1/5 of turkey eaten all year), and about 46 million of us will travel more than 50 miles to eat with friends and family.

Clearly, we love our food, but on Thanksgiving, we tend to break out the big guns. And if you’re the one cooking, it can seem overwhelming—even flat out undoable.

To make your life just a little bit easier, we have compiled a comprehensive list of 45 tips and hacks for cooking and hosting a great Thanksgiving dinner.

Tips to Help You Prepare for Cooking the Thanksgiving Dinner

1. First, do whatever you can ahead of time. This includes peeling, chopping, and washing vegetables and placing them in the fridge overnight.

2. When shopping for Thanksgiving ingredients at the supermarket, don’t neglect the salad bar. Why? Because they’ll offer a variety of ingredients that are already chopped, washed, and ready to go, such as onions, beans, bell peppers, eggs, bacon, and more.

3. Clear out large or awkward-shaped bottles from your refrigerator before you start cooking and place them in an ice-filled cooler. This way, you’ll be able to open up plenty of room in your fridge for necessities on the big day.

4. You can also line another cooler with foil and folded towels and use it as a warming drawer to keep your food piping hot before serving. 

5. Ever used your kitchen cabinets as a cookbook stand? It’s easy! Simply print out the recipes you’ll be using in advance and tape them to your cabinets at eye level. This can open up a ton of space on your counters while avoiding damaging your expensive cookbooks or electronics. After all, it’s going to get messy!

6. Keeping food warm while cooking Thanksgiving dinner can present a real problem, so in addition to using a foil-lined cooler, you can also use a slow cooker to keep mashed potatoes warm. Just be sure to line the cooker with butter beforehand, maintain a low temperature, and stir every hour.

7. You can even use a Thermos to keep your gravy warm until serving.

8. Missing a fat separator to make your world-famous gravy? Add the grease to a large measuring cup and place it in the freezer for a few minutes. This will cause the fat to rise to the top, which can then be skimmed off with a spoon.

9. Sans a flour sifter? Use a strainer or whisk the flour to aerate it.

10. A wine glass works just as well for cutting out biscuits as a metal cutter. But it’s more fragile, so be careful.

11. You can even use the wine bottle as a rolling pin replacement. Just be sure to thoroughly clean it beforehand.

12. You’ll probably be opening a lot of jars when cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and if you come across one that just won’t budge, grab some duct tape (is there anything you can’t use it for?). Attach some to the lid, leaving a “tail” at the end and folding it in half. Finally, tug on the tail until the lid comes loose.

13. Don’t neglect your microwave. No, it’s almost certainly not your go-to device for Thanksgiving cooking, but it can be successfully used for making bacon crumbles, toasting pecans, frothing milk for coffee, steaming green beans, melting butter or chocolate, and more.

14. You can even peel garlic much easier by placing cloves into the microwave for 10 seconds. Afterward, they’ll slip right out.

15. Your microwave can also be a huge time saver for cooking potatoes (if you’ll be mashing them), versus boiling them. This will also keep another burner open for something that needs it.

16. But if you do choose to boil your potatoes, don’t peel them in advance. This will be a waste of time. Instead, shock them in cold water after boiling, and the skin will slip right off in your hands.

17. Feeling adventurous? You might even be able to peel potatoes in less than a minute using a bucket, hose, a clean toilet brush, and a power drill.

18. Forget scrubbing a lot of potatoes. Just put them in the dishwasher and run through a cycle (without soap, obviously).

19. Lots of your well-meaning loved ones will be asking to help in the kitchen, but often they can just make things more complicated. This is why it’s a good idea to think of a few “deflector tasks” that can keep them busy—and out of the kitchen—such as hanging coats, filling water glasses, opening the wine, or wrangling children.

See Also: 29 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Holiday Guests

Tips for Cooking the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving turkey

20. Cooking for a lot of people? The general rule is one pound of turkey per guest. But remember this: Buying two smaller turkeys is preferable to buying one larger one since this won’t impact your prep time (between thawing, cooking, taking up oven space, etc.).

21. Thawing a frozen turkey in cold water is much faster than thawing it in the fridge.

22. Need a roasting rack for your bird? Instead of rushing out and spending too much money, simply roll some tinfoil into one long “rope,” form the rope into a circle (or a spiral shape), place in the bottom of your pan, and voila! A quick and easy fix that only costs pennies.

23. Also missing foil? You can even use a layer of chopped onions, carrots, and celery to elevate your turkey off the pan, which will also add flavor.

24. You can even use a disposable foil pan as a roasting pan—just be sure to support it using a baking sheet, or much of your hard work could end up scattered across the floor.

25. To achieve fall-off-the-bone meat, you can put your turkey in the oven on low heat when you go to bed. When you wake up, just remove the turkey and keep it warm until it’s time to serve.

26. To retain even more moisture, you can ice down your turkey before putting it in the oven.

27. This might seem like Thanksgiving Day sacrilege, but you can separate the turkey’s white and dark meat in advance and cook them independently for the ultimate in juiciness and tenderness.

28. Did you forget your turkey baster (after all, you probably only use it once a year)? You might not need it at all. This is because basting simply lowers the oven temperature, and doesn’t do anything for the quality of your turkey.

29. Did your turkey end up overcooked? Or, did it go cold before you had a chance to serve it? Don’t worry, because it can easily be revived by drizzling warm chicken broth on the top right before serving.

30. If you unexpectedly run out of cheesecloth, cook some bacon and lay the strips on your turkey breast in a lattice pattern, which can keep everything moist until serving. 

31. But you can avoid dry meat altogether by using a quality meat thermometer. Once the thickest part of the thigh is within 8-10 degrees of your target temperature, remove the turkey from your oven and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes.

32. Remember that carving your turkey improperly might cause a lot of your hard work to fly right out the window. To avoid this, learn how to properly carve a turkey.

Tips for Baking the Best Pies

Thanksgiving pie

33. Use a cheese grater to grate frozen butter directly into your pie or biscuit dough, which will make it as tender and flaky as possible.

34. For the perfect pie crust, also try applying an egg wash and sprinkling with a little bit of sugar before baking. You’ll be left with a golden, sweet, and crisp crust!

35. Did you know you can use pennies to prevent a ruined pie crust? Instead of buying a pie weight, place a layer of foil over your crust and add pennies (or dried beans, gravel, screws, or just about anything else).

36. Do you hate burned edges on your pie crust? Try wrapping the edges with loose tin foil before baking, which will prevent them from overcooking, while baking the rest of the pie perfectly.

37. Equally ticked off by crust shrinkage? You can freeze your rolled-out pie crusts in as little as 20 minutes, and then pop them in the oven. This will ensure they don’t shrink when baking.

38. You might make the best apple pie in the world, but if they brown too much in advance, it might not look appetizing. To avoid this, pre-slice your apples, place them into a bowl of cold water, and store in the fridge until you’re ready.

Other Thanksgiving Dinner Tips and Hacks

Thanksgiving table

39. If your gravy turns out so-so this year (or even if it doesn’t), adding a tablespoon of soy sauce to a gravy boat really can make it otherworldly. 

40. Achieving extra fluffy mashed potatoes can be as easy as adding a little baking soda.

41. If you want to add some pizzazz to your Thanksgiving dinner, try baking individual servings of stuffing in muffin tins. Or, try crisping cornbread in your waffle iron. Either way, this will give you some easy snacks that can tide everyone over until the main event.

See Also: 7 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

42. The best stuffing is made from stale bread (it prevents mushy results). But if you don’t have any on hand, toasting your bread can do a decent job of removing most of the moisture.

43. When serving your Thanksgiving feast, make it a potluck. This way, everyone can get what they need before sitting down, which can make dinner much more comfortable for everybody involved.

44. After the main event, you can carry this theme over to dessert by cooking single-serving pies in cupcake tins or ramekins. This will also make cleanup a breeze.

45. Once the feast is over, what can you do with all the different leftovers? Try making a Thanksgiving stew by blending these leftovers—bones and all—with chicken stock. After all, a lot of us say Thanksgiving leftovers are more important than the actual meal.

Be sure to leave a comment below about your personal tips and hacks.

Looking for Additional Holiday Tips? Head Over to Our Holiday Shopping, Hosting & Travel Guide.

Derek Lakin

With more than a decade of experience as a copywriter, Derek takes a detail-oriented, step-by-step approach to help you shop smarter. Whether it’s nutritional supplements or new scams, he believes an informed consumer is a happy customer.

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