10 No-Fail Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving
Make your holiday a celebration to remember with these easy steps from expert chefs and party planners!
-The Betty Editors
It’s an honor to host Thanksgiving at your house – it means your guests are comfortable in your home and enjoy your cooking. But whether it’s your first time or your tenth, the preparation can leave you frazzled on this coziest of holidays. If you’re ready to be less stressed, these strategies will help you give your guests the best Thanksgiving yet.
1. Brine your turkey
The best turkey must be moist. David Burke, an award-winning chef, restaurateur and author, has done quite a bit of experimenting (he’s tried deep frying one and even steamed one in his dishwasher!), but he says the best way to cook a turkey is to brine it beforehand.
To brine a fresh turkey, submerge it in heavily salted water for two days in your refrigerator (or one hour per one pound of turkey). “It sounds like a long time, but it’s completely worth it,” says Burke. “It’s a great way to make the turkey as moist as possible.” Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine, agrees with Burke. “Everybody makes a big deal out of it, but there’s nothing easier,” she says. “Once I learned about brining, all the problems ended – the turkey is always moist and delicious.” For more detailed instructions on how to brine a turkey, see this Whole Roast Stuffed Turkey Recipe.
2. Get creative with side dishes
Francine Segan, BettyConfidential’s Food+Home editor, learned the hard way that messing with the traditional Thanksgiving bird won’t make anybody happy: “Years ago, I served shrimp paella! Just paella. Everyone was so disappointed that the next day my mom had to invite us over for a proper Thanksgiving. The only experimenting I do now is with the side dishes.”
Or try 4-star chef and award-winning restaurant owner Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s favorite Turkey Day side dish: a quick stir-fry of water chestnuts, sugar snap peas, and shiitake mushrooms (pictured above). Since oven space is at such a premium for Thanksgiving dinner, stir-fry is a great way to quickly prepare side veggies on the stovetop.
3. Make homemade pie dough the night before
Food icon Jacques Pepin, who serves both pumpkin pie and apple tart (pictured) for Thanksgiving, never takes short cuts on pie crust. “Whether it’s made by hand or in a food processor, the secret to great pie dough is to make it quickly and roll it immediately,” he instructs. Pie dough has only four ingredients – flour, butter, salt and water – and is “one of the things that is really much, much better homemade,” says Pepin.
To have a superb pie, make the dough the night before, store it rolled out and covered in the refrigerator, and add the filling just before baking. Then, the only thing you’ll have left to decide is when to bake: bright and early Thanksgiving morning like Ruth Reichl, or after the turkey comes out, like Pepin. “I like my pie warm,” he says. “The pie bakes while we enjoy dinner.”
4. Use canned puree for pumpkin pie
Shocking! But Jacques Pepin says there is nothing wrong with using canned pumpkin puree for your pie instead of grating out a pumpkin.
“I always use canned pumpkin puree,” Pepin admits. “Mixed with lovely cream, eggs, and imported cinnamon, you cannot taste the difference between fresh pumpkins and canned.” How wonderfully liberating! Thanks to Pepin, you’ve just saved hours of precious preparation time! Check out this great Pumpkin Pie recipe.
5. Choose the right wine
Jean-Georges Vongerichten says that many wines can be enjoyed with your turkey dinner, including red, white, or sparkling. Here are a few of his favorites:
-Grenache Blanc 2005 Esperanza Vineyard (Winery: Spencer Roloson, CA)
-Riesling Dry Reserve 2006 (Winery: Hermann J. Wiemer, NY Finger Lakes)
-Pinot Noir 2005 La Boheme (Winery: Elk Cove, Oregon)
– Zinfandel 2004 Rattlesnake Ridge, Howell Mtn (Winery: Turley Cellars, CA)
-Grand Rosé NV, Methode Champenoise (Winery: Gruet, New Mexico)