Chefs' 50 Best Thanksgiving Tips
Food Network Magazine turned to seven reigning Iron Chefs—and dozens of past competitors—for some holiday advice.
1. Start three days out with dicing your onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Keep them in Ziploc bags or in airtight containers.
Providence, Los Angeles
2. Go to your butcher weeks in advance and order a fresh turkey instead of buying a frozen one. The difference in taste is incredible.
Recette, New York City
3. Make it all from scratch—from the gravy to the cranberry sauce to the stuffing. Your dinner will be tastier and even more memorable.
MP Taverna, New York City
4. I feel like I've failed as a chef when there are no leftovers, so every year I cook a larger turkey, make a little more stuffing and make sure there is a lot of gravy.
5. I always use bourbon in my brines. Most bourbons have smoky, woody notes, which give a turkey fantastic flavor.
Cactus Club Cafe, Vancouver
6. Depending on how many guests you have, it may be a good idea to buy a cooked turkey. There are a lot of great barbecue joints that have turkeys ready to go, requiring only a worry-free reheat.
Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Fort Worth, TX
7. Make sure all of your side dishes are done the day before. That's right, you heard it here: They all should be done. There is no reason to stress about cooking the big meal!
IRON CHEF Geoffrey Zakarian
8. Have lots and lots of homemade chicken or turkey stock (or really good prepared stock) on hand. I use stock to baste the turkey and make gravy. And I use more than most people would deem necessary to make sure my bread stuffing is very moist.
IRON CHEF Bobby Flay
9. Serve a couple of dishes that you know how to make just in case you mess up the turkey. That way, you will still have something good to eat.
Animal, Los Angeles
10. Don't get sucked into ingredient ego. You don't need to source every last ingredient directly from the farm.
The Dutch, New York City
11. Cut the bird into 10 to 12 pieces and do a chicken-fried turkey (a riff on an eight-piece fast-food chicken order). Your guests can have their favorite cut, and you'll bring some playfulness to the meal.
Fig, Charleston, SC
12. Rub the interior of the turkey with concentrated chicken base (such as Knorr) or a homemade chicken-stock reduction and butter.
Adam Perry Lang
13. Create a delicious holiday aroma throughout your home by boiling a pot of water with orange rind, cinnamon sticks, whole star anise and whole cloves.
Ember Room, New York City
14. I like to spread a mixture of breadcrumbs, fresh herbs and pork fat under the skin of the bird, particularly under the skin of the breasts. The pork fat keeps the breasts moist and adds flavor.
Fiola, Washington, D.C.
15. For easier carving, remove the wishbone before roasting. Stash it in the roasting tray so it will cook; you can still make a wish.
Saxon + Parole, New York City
16. I put half a cup of coffee beans in the cavity of the turkey. It creates great depth of flavor.
Dahlia Lounge, Seattle
17. Use your oven space wisely: Make dishes like mashed potatoes ahead and heat them in a double boiler to save room in the oven for things that need to crisp, like stuffing.
IRON CHEF Jose Garces
18. I always have fun, upbeat music playing as people enter the house. Then during dinner we switch gears to piano or jazz to allow for more conversation.
Border Grill, Los Angeles
19. Leave your turkey unwrapped in the refrigerator overnight. You'll get crispier skin when you cook it.
Arlington Club, New York City
20. Don't be too cool for a meat thermometer.
IRON CHEF Michael Symon
21. Serve your favorite spirit shaken with cranberry juice, lime juice and a splash of orange liqueur to cover the cranberry part of the tradition.
Corvo Bianco, New York City
22. Before you roast the bird, insert several metal skewers into each turkey thigh. They direct heat to the thighs more efficiently, and the faster the thighs cook, the less time the breast has to dry out.
Empellón Cocina, New York City
23. A crown roast of lamb is one of my favorite Thanksgiving feasts. The lamb is rich and decadent for a fall celebration.
Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail, CO
24. I like to have a few bottles of white wine and champagne open along with several flavored liqueurs so people can create their own drinks.
August, New Orleans
25. One of my favorite dishes to make is mashed potatoes with La Serena cheese (a Spanish sheep's milk cheese). The cheese makes the potatoes so creamy.
Minibar, Washington, D.C.
26. Incorporate some games into the day! Whether it's a backyard touch football game or a beanbag toss, have a few things going on so people aren't crowding the kitchen.
The Spence, Atlanta
27. Although I love the idea of a picturesque whole turkey sitting in the middle of the dining table, I have yet to master cooking it that way. Instead, I like to break down the turkey: I braise the legs slowly and separately roast the breasts. This way, I know everything will be perfectly cooked.
Scarpetta, New York City
28. For me, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the season to be jolly, so I always make eggnog spiked with cognac or rum.
Mary Sue Milliken
Border Grill, Los Angeles
29. I always prefer two smaller birds to one big one. I find a large bird so much more difficult to deal with—from fitting it into my oven to carving it.
IRON CHEF Alex Guarnaschelli
30. Don't try to serve the entire meal hot—you usually don't have enough space or burners. One of my favorite dishes is a green bean salad that you can serve at room temperature.
Landmarc, New York City
31. For big groups, don't be afraid to use place cards. Strategic seating allows for better conversation by placing the extroverts in the right spot. No one wants to be stuck at the boring end of the table.
Good Stuff Eatery, Washington, D.C.
32. As my Thanksgiving crowd grew, I started doing the meal as a buffet. I put the food out in the kitchen and people walk through and take what they want. They gather in different areas to eat and mingle, and it's so much fun.
33. If you've never had a fried turkey, try it. It's delicious.
IRON CHEF Marc Forgione
34. I like to shave root vegetables and make a light and refreshing salad to offset the richness of the turkey and stuffing.
Incanto, San Francisco
35. Serve your meal in cast-iron pans or other heavy-duty cookware to keep things warm.
Perennial Virant, Chicago
36. Create a different experience for your guests by incorporating food from other cultures into the meal. I grew up in Sweden, so I add lingonberries to my cranberry sauce.
Red Rooster, New York City
37. My favorite gadget for Thanksgiving is a mini blowtorch. I pass it around for do-it-yourself brûlée on the individual pumpkin crème brûlées I make. People love playing with fire.
Playboy Club, London
38. My favorite side dish is Brussels sprouts. Fry them in oil, and instead of adding salt, add a little soy sauce and citrus. It's the best way to cut the grease.
Cafe Boulud, New York City
39. If you're making a salad as part of the meal, serve it during the main course instead of as a starter. It helps with digestion.
The Little Owl, New York City
40. It's always fun to have one main dish that isn't typically served at Thanksgiving, like a whole fish.
41. Serve cranberry sauce in hollowed-out apples to add some color to your dinner table.
Spago, Beverly Hills
42. Plan ahead for leftovers. Organize and empty your refrigerator before the feast starts so you don't waste time trying to jam in the leftovers after the meal. Have plenty of tin foil and containers on hand.
Imperial, Portland, OR
43. Drink rosé with turkey.
44. Make your own hand roll sushi with your family.
IRON CHEF Masaharu Morimoto
45. Always have a cleanup plan. One thing that'll make it go a lot quicker: Don't use your sink. Fill a big bucket or plastic bin with soapy water, and when plates come back let them soak in there. That makes the end-of-the-night job a whole lot easier and keeps your sink from overflowing.
Dirt Candy, New York City
46. I pulse leftover dark turkey meat in a food processor and mix it with diced baked sweet potatoes and stuffing. I pan-fry it until crisp to make a hash and serve it with a fried egg.
Tertulia, New York City
47. Every Thanksgiving, I order a classic cheesecake from Junior's in Brooklyn. I know everything is supposed to be homemade during the holidays, but I figure, why not have the best?
Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles
48. Buy white Chinese-food takeout boxes and fill them with the leftovers for guests to take home.
Art and Soul, Washington, D.C.
49. Instead of pumpkin pie, try making pumpkin ice cream.
Graffiti, New York City
50. Make a list of all the things for which you are thankful.
Annisa, New York City