We Asked Chefs, Caterers and Food Stylists How They Pull Off Their Thanksgiving Spreads
Here are 11 tips and tricks for a beautiful, seamless feast.
I love Charlie Brown but I wouldn’t say he’s the best person to turn for Thanksgiving dinner advice. While there’s nothing wrong with unique hacks to bring the final table together, relying on your canine companion to whip up a spread of jelly beans, buttered toast and snacks on a ping-pong table dotted with mismatched chairs only seems nice in a cartoon world. So instead, we turned to eight of our favorite chefs, caterers and food stylists to learn their tips and tricks to making a Thanksgiving spread as seamless and beautiful as possible.
From simple hacks for extra crispy turkeys, pies that are easy as the old saying goes, to a genius plating solution that involves something you’ve probably got sitting inside your desk drawer, you’ll be shocked at just how easy it is to achieve Thanksgiving dinner success.
Tips for Cooking a Top-Tier Turkey
“The key to a turkey that will be lusted over is a turkey that is both juicy and crispy. An easy way to yield that is adding about a tablespoon of all-purpose flour to an oven bag and shaking the bag generously before adding your turkey. Not only does this trick give you heavenly crispy skin, it locks in moisture and saves you clean-up time since all of that juicy goodness is inside the bag, and not stuck to your roasting pan. You can use this trick for your chicken and ham as well.”
-Claude Malone and Craig Baker, cofounders of Cornbread26 Food Co.
“Let's be honest, turkey can be quite bland. Growing up, we used to make a blend of dry spices known as a masala to rub on the turkey — chili powder, black pepper, garlic.”
-Noreen Wasti, recipe developer, food stylist, writer
Simple Steps for Stellar Stuffing and Sides
“Instead of traditional stuffing, I love a beautiful, bountiful platter of jeweled rice. Adorned with pomegranate, orange peel, dried fruit and nuts — it still feels very festive and hearty, but has a special, almost regal vibe to it. It's definitely an impressive and unique addition to your Thanksgiving spread.”
“I try not to get too fussy with my Thanksgiving table since there's so much to cook, but I always make sure I have a few things to brighten things up. I always have a few extra bunches of herbs on hand for any sides that need a little oomph like mashed potatoes (I cover them in chives or parsley) or squash (lots of sage), and then I add any leftover herbs to a big salad. Anything that looks a little drab gets some flaky salt, lots of cracked pepper, maybe some chili flakes and a drizzle of olive oil.”
-Jane Morgan, personal chef, recipe developer, and host Jane’s Supper Club
“Think in terms of what can warm in the oven without drying out. It’s why casseroles are so popular around large family gatherings when you never know when you’ll be able to get everyone to the table. Our Parsnip Kale Casserole is an ideal side: it’s got creaminess from puréed parsnips that will keep the farro moist and a crispy nut topping that’ll just get crispier.”
-Tiana Tenet, cofounder of The Culinistas
“I know that the bird gets all the attention, but when else are there so many side dishes on the menu? And most of them vegetable-oriented? Something I often try to remind cooks of is that a lot of this stuff can be served at room temperature. Roasted squash and other root tubers, rice and grain-based dishes, salads made with hardier veg like chicory, savory tarts and galettes, most of the appetizers. So much of it doesn’t need to be served warm. Knowing that I can set them out on the table in advance — which means getting them out of the kitchen or cleared from the fridge — is always something that makes me feel like I’ve checked an item off my list.”
-Lukas Volger, cookbook author, writer, recipe developer, and editor
Fuss-Free Baking Tips
“An apple pie can be fully assembled and refrigerated, unbaked, the day before. Then in the morning, you can take it straight from the fridge and throw it in the oven. Bake time will probably have to be extended by 5-10 minutes.”
-Melissa and Emily Elsen, cofounders of Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie bakery
“Bake your pies one or two days ahead of time and keep them in the fridge. You can also make your pie dough way ahead of time, form it into the pie pan, wrap it in plastic and store it in the freezer. If you want to make a fancy lattice type top you can also make that on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, cover with another piece of parchment, wrap the whole tray and keep it in the freezer. On the day you want to bake, just move the whole lattice top over the pie, let it thaw a bit, and then seal the edges.”
“Consider desserts that can be made in stages. For example, our Tarte Tatin. Caramelize the apples a day in advance and then just set them up in a cast-iron skillet, cover with pastry dough, and pop in the oven just before clearing dinner plates. You’ll have a bubbling hot, delicious dessert.”
-Jill Donenfeld, cofounder of The Culinistas
Notes on Setting the Table
“Using sticky notes has helped streamline my cooking prep because when I wake up on Thanksgiving morning to start cooking, the [stressful process] of pulling out platters and wondering where everything will go is [already done]. By taking all the platters out the night before and using sticky notes to label what will go in where helps me stay organized. Another thing I love about using sticky notes is that I can envision how the layout of food will look and the flow people will walk through when making their plate.”
-Katrina Goddard, baker and at-home cook
“When it comes to the table, I'm very much a more-is-more person. I love a mix of patterns and colors, vintage bakeware and serving ware, fun placemats and napkins, and lots of candles. Don't take it too seriously, ask for help, and have fun with it!”