Let me guess. Mom made one snide comment about you not having “backup linens,” so you volunteered to host Thanksgiving and prove what an adult you are. Didn’t think she’d call your bluff, and now you’ve got 11 people to cook for and almost no time or idea how to do it.
Deep breath. You CAN do this, but you’re going to need some Thanksgiving dinner cooking hacks…lots and lots of them. We’ve plumbed the depths to bring you the best cooking tips and hosting tricks, designed to conserve what little time and sanity remains AND deliver a Thanksgiving for the ages.
Let’s get to it…
Make a List & Plan
Maybe not a hack, per se, but this is the best way to insulate against a disaster. (This, and Aunt Janet-proofing the liquor cabinet). Map out what exactly you have to do, what you need to do it, approximately how long it will take, and how much oven/stovetop space it’ll require (often overlooked).
Related Reading: 15 Best Mobile Apps for Hosting Friendsgiving
Let’s start here since this is probably the single most important, complicated, and time-consuming item on the menu. Make your motto “High and Dry” (don’t worry, we’ll explain) and you’ll be in excellent shape.
Brining, or the infusion of salt into the meat for flavor and moisture, has become somewhat ubiquitous for notoriously dry turkey and is highly recommended.
A dry brine (vigorous salt rub) is a much simpler endeavor than the classic wet brine requiring fewer steps, less time, space, and equipment. Dry brines also result in a very salty, crispy skin, so yeah…go dry!
Get our Dry-Brined Roast Turkey recipe.
There are still some purists who swear by a no-brine bird, however, so don’t stress if you must forego.
Related Reading: What to Do If You Forgot to Thaw Your Turkey
Much can be said for high-heat cooking with regard to results and, naturally, it cuts cooking time down quite a bit.
The below recipe calls for only two hours at a scalding hot 500-525 degrees for a 16 to 18-pound bird. Be careful to adjust for time and weight and this should yield a juicy bird with extra crispy skin. And to get that perfect temperature, make sure to get a digital instant-read meat thermometer.
Get the High-Heat Turkey recipe.
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Spatch Me if You Can
Spatchcocking, an increasingly popular method by which the turkey’s backbone is removed and breastbones are cracked so the bird cooks flat (and fast), is a no-brainer if time is of the essence.
Admittedly, you won’t get that Norman Rockwell glamour shot for Instagram, but your turkey cooks in a fraction of the time and the risk of drying out decreases greatly. To save even more time, have your butcher spatch the turkey for you and note that you can and should still brine it.
If your turkey motto is “High and Dry,” make your motto for everything else “what can be done before, should be done before.” Catchy, right?
Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Perfect Mashed Potatoes
This side dish hall-of-famer is a sneaky time-suck on Thanksgiving. The good news is you can make them up to two days ahead, and reheat without losing any of the fluffy, creamy goodness. So do exactly that.
Get the Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes recipe.
Save even more time (and confuse anyone who lives with you) by washing your potatoes in the dishwasher…WITHOUT soap!
This Chowhound list of make-ahead recipes will be your very best friend. We’ve even pulled out a few favorites to get you started.
- Gravy can be refrigerated or frozen ahead of time and whisked back to life in a saucepan before serving. Get our Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy recipe.
- Stuffing will need to be popped back in the oven or under the broil to re-crisp the top, but with all the chopping and mixing involved, you’re well-advised to pre-prepare. Get our Make-Ahead Apple and Sage Stuffing recipe.
- Making desserts ahead of time is a no-brainer since they keep well. Fruit pies are okay, but can occasionally suffer from soggy-crust syndrome. This Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, however, will thrive. Even overnight. Get our Make-Ahead Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake recipe. (Or consider making a last minute grocery run for Trader Joe’s Thanksgiving desserts.)
- Somehow lost in the shuffle, is arguably the best part of Thanksgiving, or any holiday: The booze! Throw together a fun and fabulous large batch cocktail, like this Hot Spiked Wassail, and watch Aunt Janet go! Get our Make-Ahead Hot Spiked Wassail recipe.
Related Reading: Thanksgiving Cocktails You Can Make With Your Cooking Ingredients
Pre-Chop & Prep
Chopping vegetables is proven to be therapeutic, but not when you’ve got 427 other things to do: the dog just swallowed the Elf of the Shelf and your sister showed up early with her “free-spirited” twins.
Reusable Gallon Freezer Bags, 4 for $15.99 on Amazon
Reusable silicone bags are great for stashing prepped components—or leftovers—in the fridge or freezer.
Don’t be afraid to delegate dishes and tasks to guests, but be smart and gauge their strengths and capabilities in advance. Don’t put your nephew, a sophomore at Michigan State, in charge of the bar, for instance. You’ll end up with an ice luge and 30-pack of Busch Light.
Some people love cooking and will be delighted to pitch in, but give options, like a dessert or simple side dish. If you are going to ask for help, do it passively and make sure they really have the time. They may genuinely be too busy, and nobody wants a Grudge Judy at the table.
Well, that’s all. I think you’re ready. Get out there and hack your way to a Thanksgiving so delicious and stress-free, you might just volunteer to host Christmas.
Just kidding…don’t do that. Put down the wine.
Related Video: How to Make the World’s Fastest Pumpkin Pie
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.