Ah, Thanksgiving: the most straightforward cooking experience of the year. Said no one ever.
As we all know, Thanksgiving dinner is a tricky beast. It’s got a lot of moving parts and each one of those parts is probably a dish that someone at the table will claim is their favourite, so the heat is on. Unlike Christmas turkey dinner, which shares the spotlight with, you know, presents, dinner at Thanksgiving is the star of the show.
Feeling the pressure? Don’t worry — making mistakes is as much a Thanksgiving tradition as stuffing and potatoes. The perfect Thanksgiving dinner is as rare as a two-headed turkey, but nevertheless, we’re here to help you try for it. Here are five mistakes everyone has made at least once — and how to avoid them.
Forgetting to take the turkey out of the freezer
So it’s Thanksgiving morning, and you’re starting to think about meal prep, when you notice your turkey is nowhere to be found. That is, until you look in the freezer and realize you never took it out to defrost. Don’t panic (well, panic a little). What you want, in defrosting a turkey, is to put it in the fridge for a day or two before you cook it. But if you don’t leave enough time, the next best thing is to submerge it completely in cool water. This way, it’ll defrost in a few hours rather than a few days. And the last resort? Cutting the turkey into pieces (after softening it up in water). It won’t be whole, but at least it’ll get cooked. And — pro tip — if dinner runs late, try serving your guests a few cocktails. Nothing helps the time pass like a few drinks and good conversation.
Forgetting to make a dish entirely
Really, how often do you cook six-, seven-, eight-dish meals? Unless you’re some kind of domestic Goliath, we’re guessing not so often. And who hasn’t sat down to Thanksgiving dinner only to hear the dreaded words, “Wait, where’s the gravy?” So we have one word for you: lists. They’ll save your culinary life. If you’ve ever left out an element of your Thanksgiving meal, try making a to-cook list this year. If writing a simple checklist of courses works for you, great. Need subcategories for ingredients and detailed prep instructions? Great. Either way, making lists will free up brain space for corralling family members, which we’re guessing you’ll need.
Pumpkin Pie Fails
You may forget to make a dish this Thanksgiving, but we advise you to forget pumpkin pie. Leaving out this perennial favourite may result in a Thanksgiving riot. Screwing up the pumpkin pie can also be achieved in many ways: it can be too sweet, or not sweet enough, or runny, or — disaster — burnt. So measure ingredients carefully, watch your timer, and don’t pull it out of the oven until a crack has appeared on the surface (a telltale sign that it’s cooked). But honestly, the real failsafe is having a store-bought backup in the freezer. No shame.
Going it alone
If you dream of being a Thanksgiving hero, you may be tempted to try to make the whole dinner on your own. But most of us have learned the hard way that while all the glory will be yours if you succeed, so will all the disgrace if you fail. So let others make some of the dishes — and if you’re a total control freak, delegate. Having help in the kitchen will not only make the gargantuan task of cooking more manageable, it’s also more fun. So hang out, have a glass of wine, and trade family gossip. You may enjoy meal preparation as much as dinner itself.
Putting together Thanksgiving dinner is a huge undertaking, and bringing family together can be…tense. But Thanksgiving is about appreciating those around us and stuffing our faces with food — activities that are best enjoyed in relaxation mode. Many of us are haunted by the ghosts of Thanksgivings past, when we didn’t keep stress and emotions in check. So remember: Cranberry sauce not working out? That’s why there’s gravy. Tensions between rival siblings rearing up? Time to steer the conversation toward the latest episode of Game of Thrones. It can be hard to avoid stress on the holidays, so make a game plan for potential disasters ahead of time. Making it through the holiday incident-free is definitely worth giving thanks for.