10 Expert Fixes for Common Thanksgiving Fails

Here's how to deal with those Thanksgiving nightmares — including that still-frozen turkey, burned pie and lumpy gravy — that can jeopardize the big feast.

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T-Day 911

When you've got six (or more) dishes planned for a single meal, mistakes are going to happen. It's how you recover from the fumbles that determines your status as accomplished host or nervous wreck. Here are ten time-tested ways to rescue your meal from the brink of disaster. Your guests will never need to know.

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The Fail: Dry Turkey Meat

Your thermometer is off, the oven spiked, the recipe failed — it doesn't matter how it happened. The result is that you're stuck with an overcooked bird. The fix? Warm some turkey or chicken stock, transfer it to a food-safe spray bottle and generously spritz your platter of carved meat. (Alternatively, drizzle it on with a spoon.) For really dry meat, put the carved pieces in a baking dish, pour stock over them, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F until warmed through, about 10 minutes. The warm broth will seep into the meat, making each bite juicier.

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The Fail: A Partially Frozen Turkey

A 12-pound frozen turkey can take up to three days to thaw in the fridge. Forgot to take yours out in time? No worries. You can speed up thawing by sealing the bird well and submerging it in cold water (an ice cooler works well for this). Change the water often and make sure it is cold. If the turkey is still not fully thawed on the big day, cut it in half between the breasts or into eighths. Place the turkey pieces on a rimmed baking sheet with aromatic vegetables and herbs, then roast until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. The breast pieces will cook faster than the dark meat, so be sure to take them out earlier.

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The Fail: Dry Stuffing

To moisten overcooked stuffing, combine melted butter and turkey or chicken broth in a bowl, then baste the mixture over the dry stuffing. Cover with foil, return it to the oven and bake for a few minutes until a little steamy. 

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The Fail: Soggy Stuffing

If your stuffing's too wet, spread it in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and return it to the oven until it dries out.

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The Fail: Thin Gravy

To thicken up a soupy gravy, combine equal parts flour and water in a bowl to form a paste. Bring your gravy to a boil and whisk in dollops of the paste until the mixture thickens to the desired consistency. A cornstarch-and-water paste will also do the trick.

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The Fail: Lumpy Gravy

When you're faced with a gravy full of clumps or one that won't come together, transfer it to a blender — or use an immersion blender — and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Reheat before serving.

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The Fail: Gluey Mashed Potatoes

Too much whipping (or mashing) will give you sticky — not fluffy — mashed potatoes. Make the best of it and turn them into cheesy mashed potato cups: Mix the potatoes with grated cheddar and an egg, then scoop the mixture into lightly greased muffin cups. Sprinkle the cups with more cheese and bake at 350 degrees F until the tops are crispy and golden.

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The Fail: Lumpy Mashed Potatoes

Lumpy mashed potatoes generally indicate undercooked potatoes. If you get to this point and realize you've undercooked your potatoes, just add a little bit of milk or cream, then cook the potatoes over low heat until the lumps begin to soften.

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The Fail: Cracked Cheesecake or Pumpkin Pie

A crack on the surface of your dessert is no big deal; there's nothing a little confectioners' sugar or whipped cream can't hide. Top your cracked pie or cake with one or the other — your guests will admire you for remembering the finishing touches.

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The Fail: Burned Pie Crust

First assess the damage. If the edge on the top crust is just lightly burned, use a fine rasp grater to file off the darkened part. If the edge is completely burned, carefully trim it off and pipe or dollop whipped cream in its place. Burned the entire top crust? Carefully remove it. Then make a crumble topping by mixing together flour, oats, brown sugar, butter and a dash of cinnamon. Sprinkle it over the filling and bake until golden.

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