Cooking for Thanksgiving? 10 tips for success — and sanity

WASHINGTON — At this point, you probably have all the recipes you need to get through Thanksgiving. Um, right? (If you don’t, we’ve got 60 for you.) But whipping up a once-a-year meal for a houseful of people requires a lot more things to go right, and that’s where foodie and food attorney Mary Beth Albright comes in with 10 tips to get you through.

  1. Have things for people to do while you’re cooking. “People always want to help out,” Albright told WTOP, but usually they just end up “roaming around the kitchen, picking at things,” asking whether you need help with anything, and “sitting around drinking.”
    Give them a task, Albright said, and if delegating sounds like its own challenge, don’t be afraid of handing out busy work. “Just have a bag of onions for people to cut up — and then put them in your refrigerator for your cooking next week.”
  2. Sharpen your carving knife. It’s the detail so many people overlook, and it can make a big difference in how cleanly you carve your turkey. And you do know how to carve a turkey, right?“ There’s nothing worse than taking a bird out of the oven, and you’re like, ‘Oh, right; I don’t know how to carve this … I guess everyone’s just going to have to dig into it, like a trough.’ No,” Albright said.
    If you have time between now and Thanksgiving, roast a chicken for yourself, and practice carving on it. It’s the same basic principle as a turkey, Albright said, just smaller. (And have a look at tips from a pro from Amphora Catering.)
  3. Pick compatible wines. Go to a fancy wine store and get expert help if you can, Albright advised, but “If you’re standing in front of a bajillion bottles of wine at Costco,” just get a few bottles that will go with a wide variety of food, “because you’re going to have a wide variety of food. ” She suggests an unoaked chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.
  4. Make your own turkey stock. It’s not a hard process, and it comes out so much better than a boxed stock, Albright said. Just toss some turkey parts into a big pot, cover them with water and add some vegetables. And they don’t have to be fresh, new vegetables.“
    The wilty old celery that’s at the bottom of the bin? That’s fine for stock. Same thing with carrots; same with onions. “Anything that looks like you would never actually use it in a dish — that’s fine for stock,” she said.
  5. Your turkey needs a stylist. “When you put your turkey on a platter, there’s nothing on it,” Albright observed. Those fancy-looking turkeys on the covers of magazines are styled — surrounded with figs cut in half around them, purple kale, little pears and a collection of relatively simple things.“ You want to make sure that you have a platter that looks inviting and warm, and like you didn’t just plop a piece of meat on a plate and say ‘Here you go!’”
  6. Remember (as hard as it might be sometimes) that you like the people at your table. “Things are going to go wrong,” Albright said, and it’s reasonable to be a bit nervous on Thanksgiving. “But these people are people who you love; they’re people who have chosen to spend this great American holiday with you. And if you just remember that you want to be around these people, that’s like human Xanax.”
    Encourage everyone — including yourself — to turn off the phones, pick up a beverage and “let it be a meal together.”
  7. Warm your plates at a very low temperature in the oven. The ideal, of course, is for every dish to come out at the same time at its optimal temperature. Yeah; well … “That’s just never going to happen,” Albright said. Warm plates will make a big difference in how people perceive the temperature of their food.
  8. Label your serving dishes. Write the name of each dish you’re making, and put it in the serving dish you’re going to bring it to the table in. It not only saves you from having to make such decisions on the fly, Albright said; it forces you to figure out whether you have enough serving dishes. If you don’t, that’s not something you want to find out with the guests already sitting at your table.
  9. It’s just a turkey! “It’s already dead,” Albright said; “you’ve already won. Don’t worry about it.” The worst that will happen is, it’ll get dry, and that’s what gravy’s for. And it won’t get dry if you just remember to baste it every 30 minutes.
    Afraid you won’t remember? Set a timer for every 30 minutes. “It has never been easier to set a timer in the history of humankind,” Albright said.
  10. Have a cocktail ready. Maybe two. “You can drink the wine,” Albright said, “but I think that it’s nice to have a seasonal cocktail. She has two recipes, both involving bourbon and apple cider. The hot version also includes whole cloves, whole star anise, whole cinnamon sticks and whole allspice, all thrown into a cauldron-like pot. The cold version uses applejack brandy, lemon juice, Angostura bitters and a bit of simple syrup.
    In either case, however, Albright is clear: “Taste it to make sure there’s enough bourbon. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up