Trying to juggle all the aspects of a Thanksgiving dinner on your own is a task that is bound to make even the most organized and ambitious person feel overwhelmed. You can make it easier on yourself with a bit of preplanning, though. A few days before Thanksgiving, take some time to write out your menu ahead of time and make a detailed grocery list, going through the ingredients of one dish at a time so that you're hopefully not running to the store at the last minute.
Even if you plan perfectly and you're meticulous about the details, something is always bound to go wrong or run behind schedule. This is when making sure you have a few tried and true Thanksgiving tips and tricks tucked up your sleeve can really come in handy if you're in a pinch this Thanksgiving, such as knowing how to revive dry turkey, how to make a DIY roasting rack and an easier way to make mashed potatoes. No one will remember what the pie tasted like or how fluffy the potatoes were, but they will definitely remember how you saved the big day with one of these 10 Thanksgiving hacks.
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1. Cook the Turkey in a Crock-Pot
Defrosting, brining and baking a turkey is a lot of work, and it takes several hours before it's done. Plus, you still have to check on it all day, not to mention the precious oven space a big turkey is going to take up. Give yourself one less thing to worry about on turkey day and let your trusty Crock-Pot handle the heavy lifting. Since your slow cooker is smaller than your oven, it's best to stick with small turkeys or even a turkey breast so you can be sure it's evenly cooked.
Add the turkey to the Crock-Pot along with a cup or two of chicken broth to keep the meat from drying out. Dress it with some dried herbs and chopped veggies, like onions, carrots, sweet potatoes and celery, and let it cook for a good six to eight hours. Put it on high for the first hour and then switch it to low for the rest of the time.
Try to avoid lifting the lid of your slow cooker to take a peek at the turkey since you'll let out the heat and prolong the cooking process. It will be worth the wait because you'll be left with turkey that is perfectly tender and juicy. This is a great option for Thanksgiving dinners without that many guests since you won't be overloaded with leftovers at the end of the day.
2. Boil Potatoes With the Skins On
One of the most tedious tasks in the whole Thanksgiving food prep process is the one where you stand over the sink peeling pounds of potatoes in preparation to make a batch of mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are a staple of any Thanksgiving Day meal, so you can't exactly leave it off the menu. Unfortunately, it's not a task that can be done the day before, which means it will inevitably take up precious time on Thanksgiving morning.
Save time (and a major backache) with this Thanksgiving cooking hack and just boil the potatoes with the skins on this year. It may feel like it's the wrong thing to do, but just trust us here. Boiling the potatoes whole with the skins on means you won't have to peel or chop the potatoes, so you'll have plenty of time to work on the other side dishes and maybe even socialize with your guests.
Get a bowl of ice water ready and leave it on the counter for later. Then, boil the potatoes in salted water until they are all fork tender. When they're done, quickly plunge the potatoes in the bowl of ice water to shock the spuds. The skins will literally slide right off without even trying. Then, you can mash them and add ingredients like whole milk, heavy cream and butter as you normally would. Finish with a dash of salt and pepper to taste, and the staple side dish is ready to go.
3. Use Cheesecloth to Cook the Turkey
The best turkeys are the ones with crispy, golden-brown skin and juicy, tender meat that falls off the bone. It's no easy feat to achieve, though. Turkey is notorious for drying out easily since the white meat cooks quicker than the dark portions. That won't happen this year thanks to a simple piece of cheesecloth. That's right, cheesecloth.
Melt a couple sticks of unsalted butter and soak the cheesecloth in it for five minutes. Drape the butter-soaked cheesecloth over the uncooked turkey and it will help seal in the natural juices and keep the turkey nice and tender. Use a pastry brush to evenly distribute any leftover melted butter over the cheesecloth-covered turkey. Set a timer to remind you to continually baste the turkey with the pan drippings every half hour or so the whole time it cooks. Just be sure to take off the cheesecloth in the last hour of roasting to get the skin perfectly crisp. Remove the turkey from the oven when the thermometer hits 165 degrees and let it rest on the counter for at least 10 minutes to seal in those precious juices before carving.
4. Easy Homemade Cranberry Sauce
If you forget to pick up the cranberry sauce at the grocery store, you actually did yourself a favor. Just say no to can-shaped cranberry sauce come Thanksgiving. Making homemade cranberry sauce from scratch is actually much easier than you might think. The only ingredients you'll need for this Thanksgiving side are a bag of cranberries (you can use either fresh or frozen depending on what your local store has available), sugar and water.
The first step is to create a simple syrup base of equal parts sugar and water. Boil the two together until all the sugar is dissolved. Then, add the cranberries and simmer until the berries begin to pop in the hot liquid. Remove it from the heat, stir and let it sit. As the cranberry mixture begins to cool, the natural pectin in the fruit will transform the soupy liquid into something substantial and satisfying. Trust us when we say that after you have yummy homemade cranberry sauce once, you'll never be able to go back to the canned variety again, and neither will any of your guests. Mix leftover cranberry sauce with a little mayonnaise for the perfect condiment for turkey sandwiches the next day.
5. Make Your Own Pie Weights
It's your turn to make the pies for Thanksgiving dessert, but you forgot to buy pie weights to pre-bake the crust, and now all the stores are closed. Don't panic. This is something you can easily make with things you already have around the house. Pie weights are used to prevent raw pie crust from puffing up during the pre-baking process. Rummage around in your cabinets for things like beans, rice and even coins that can be used to weigh down your unbaked pie crust.
Lay the pie crust in the tin and give it a light dusting of flour before covering the crust with aluminum foil or parchment paper. The flour will prevent the foil from sticking to the crust. Then, carefully pour in a layer of your chosen weight material and bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is firm. If you're making a pie with a no-bake filling, let the crust get to a nice golden-brown color. If the pie is going to go back in the oven, leave it a little blonde so it doesn't burn during the second round of baking. Let the entire thing cool before you try to remove the foil and the weights.
6. Make a Roasting Rack With Aluminum Foil
There's no need to run out and buy another kitchen tool just to make the Thanksgiving turkey. Sure, having a roasting rack in your kitchen arsenal will come in handy sometimes, but how many times a year will you really use it? A roasting rack is essential since it will lift the turkey, ensuring that every piece of skin gets crispy while cooking. You can easily DIY your own roasting rack in under a minute without leaving the kitchen.
Just unroll a few feet of aluminum foil and use your hands to form it into one long, thick rope. Then, bend the rope into a big spiral shape and place it in the bottom of your pan. This shape will easily be able to handle the turkey's weight and is guaranteed to fit pans of any size since you can manipulate it as much as is necessary. The best part is that the DIY version means it's one less thing you'll have to clean up when dinner is finished. Just toss it in the trash.
7. Use a Cup as a Biscuit Cutter
Maybe you're the type of person who has every size and shape of cookie cutter in your cabinets, and that's great. If not, that's cool too because you actually don't need a set of fancy cookie cutters to bust out a tray of perfectly symmetrical biscuits that will wow your guests.
Just head to your cupboard and grab a glass cup. Pour a little flour in a bowl and dip the rim of the cup into the flour. Then, just use it like you would any other cookie cutter. Re-dip the cup in the flour after a couple uses to prevent the dough from sticking to the glass. Also, when you press down to cut out the biscuits, push the cup straight down and straight up. Whatever you do, do not twist the glass. The twisting motion seals off the edges of the biscuits and will prevent them from fully rising in the oven.
8. Cranberry Sauce With a Twist
Everyone loves cranberry sauce. There is just something about the tart sweetness combined with all the savory sides and juicy turkey that makes it an irresistible component of any Thanksgiving feast, not to mention how good it is on leftover turkey sandwiches. Give your guests a pleasant but unexpected treat this year with this orange cranberry sauce recipe.
Add a half cup of orange juice and a bit of orange zest to brighten up your standard cranberry sauce and leave your guests begging for the recipe you used. You can also throw in a dash of cinnamon at the end for an extra kick. Consider making a few different varieties of cranberry sauce, like a boozy version with red wine or spiced rum instead of water, and let your guests vote on their favorites. Either way, this will be everyone's favorite part of the meal.
9. Use Chicken Broth to Rescue Dry Turkey
Turkey is known for being a little on the dry side, especially the white meat parts because they cook the quickest. There are things you can do to stop it from happening, like covering it in foil or cheesecloth and basting often, but it's still not a guarantee.
If you're accidentally distracted and leave the bird in the oven a few minutes too long this year, don't panic. If it's a little bit dry, all is not lost. It can be fixed. All you need to do is grab a jar of chicken broth and heat it up in the microwave. Carve the turkey like you normally would and pour a little of the warmed chicken broth over the slices of turkey. Let it rest for a few minutes before serving. This will re-moisten the meat and add extra flavor. This is also a great way to revive leftover turkey the next day.
10. Use a Cheese Grater to Cut Butter Into Dough
Anyone who has ever tried her hand at baking a flaky dough for biscuits or a pie crust knows just how tough it is to cut or mix the necessary cold butter into the dough with a fork. It may be an intense arm workout, but it's an essential step that simply can't be omitted. Pieces of cold butter dispersed evenly throughout the dough is a crucial element in the equation of getting those perfectly flaky layers in the finished pastry. It's no easy task, though, since the butter needs to be as cold as possible.
Beat the system by using your trusty cheese grater to shred in the cold butter and your arms will thank you all day. Cutting it in with a cheese grater instead of with the usual fork means the butter will actually stay cold while mixing it in, and the pieces will be uniform in size and shape. This is bound to be the lightest, flakiest dough around.