Thanksgiving tips: How to cook the turkey, and more, stress-free

Thanksgiving tips: How to cook the turkey, and more, stress-free

First and foremost, take a deep breath. Prepping a Thanksgiving feast shouldn’t be stressful if properly planned.

DALLAS — Want to avoid the stress of cooking a Thanksgiving meal?

Ask someone else to do it! Just kidding.

Cooking for Thanksgiving should be an enjoyable experience. What better way to celebrate those you love than by spending hours in the kitchen making a meal that you’ll be too tired to eat, anyway? Just kidding. Sort of.

I’m not a trained chef, but I am the self-proclaimed best home cook in the WFAA newsroom and I’m here to save you from holiday stress. Don’t believe me? I made Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets ice cream from scratch.

Here are my top five tips for ensuring an anxiety-free Thanksgiving meal prep.

1) Set the table the night before

It’s often one of the last things on our to-do lists before eating. In my family, one of the adults yells at a child to “Come set the table!” and it’s a mad dash to make sure the forks are on the left, spoons and knives (blade facing the plate) are on the right, and water glasses in their proper place before the turkey hits the table. 

So, why wait and risk the rush? 

Setting the table the night before you plan to eat. Get this chore out of the way so you can focus on making sure the food is ready on time.

Plus, setting the table the night before gives you a chance to look over the seating arrangement and make last-minute adjustments to prevent any …unsavory…dinner arguments.

2) Get baking ahead of time!

Many of your side dishes can be baked a day ahead of time, stored safely in the refrigerator, and warmed in the oven on Thanksgiving — even mashed potatoes!

A perfectly executed Thanksgiving meal prep means the only food you’re actually cooking on Thanksgiving is the turkey.

Casseroles, dressing (yes, I said dressing – not stuffing), mashed potatoes, desserts, you name it — can be made ahead. 

Look at it this way — if your family came in early and you need a break, now you have an excuse to go to the kitchen for a couple of hours. 

On Thanksgiving day, reheat your casseroles and dressing in the oven. cover them with aluminum foil so they don’t dry out. For side dishes like mashed potatoes, you can reheat them on the stovetop. Pro-tip for reheating mashed potatoes: go low and slow. Reheating at too high a temperature can scorch them. If the mashed potatoes seem dry, don’t be afraid to add more butter!

Whatever you do — do NOT reheat anything in the microwave. I don’t care how tempting it may be. Don’t do it. 

3) Time to play Refrigerator Tetris

We all know the delicate balance of trying to store everything in the refrigerator the night before Thanksgiving. Dishes large and small are stacked on top of each other in hopes that nothing comes crashing onto the floor when you open the refrigerator door. 

Save time and anxiety by doing a dry run with empty dishes before you begin cooking. Figure out what fits best in different parts of your refrigerator and freezer so that when the time comes to store your food, you’ll know exactly where everything goes.

Storing leftovers comes with its own stress. Remember to let food cool completely before they go into the refrigerator. Putting hot food in the fridge not only can create bacteria that cause foodborne illness, but it also can lower the overall temperature inside the refrigerator putting your already-stored items at risk of spoiling. 

Here’s a handy FDA checklist on how to safely store food in a refrigerator or freezer.

This tip also gave me a good excuse to use this ridiculous stock photo. 

4) Double the gravy!

Gravy is the unsung hero of every Thanksgiving meal.

Let’s be real. There’s a solid chance that you won’t be able to get all the food on the table … at the same time … and HOT!

Don’t worry about it! You have a secret stovetop weapon that will save the day.

Double your gravy recipe. When it’s finished, keep one batch in the gravy boat on the table. Keep the second batch on the stove on low heat with a lid so it stays hot. 

If you’re like me, you pretty much pour gravy all over your Thanksgiving plate. Pouring hot gravy all over your Thanksgiving plate means the rest of the food gets a warm gravy hug. 

When your gravy boat runs dry, you’ll have a hot backup batch on the stove ready to go.

5) Clean 👏 as 👏 you 👏 go 👏

Do not wait until after the meal to clean the kitchen.

Do not wait until after the meal to clean the kitchen.

You’re asking for trouble. The dishwasher will be full, dishes will be stacked in the sink, the garbage bin will be overflowing, and Aunt Karen will be yelling for you to clean the kitchen. (No offense to anyone who has an Aunt Karen.)

Clean as you go. As you make each dish, take a minute or two, stop down, and clean up your prep space. 

Also, divide and conquer! If you’re cooking the meal, you shouldn’t have to clean the kitchen. I don’t make the rules. I help everyone follow them.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of wisdom to make your Thanksgiving cooking stress-free. But, it’s a start! 

Or, you could just order pizza. No one said you had to have turkey on Thanksgiving.

From me to you this holiday season, here’s to a safe, joyful, and delicious Thanksgiving 2022!