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Chef-Approved Hacks That Get Thanksgiving Dinner On The Table Faster

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Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of cooking days, the day when humble home cooks take on roasting a 15-pound turkey while simultaneously making pies and sides from scratch, waking up at the crack of dawn and chaotically swirling around like the Tasmanian Devil, the day passing by in a blur and ending with a sink piled high with dishes.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. You can wake up at a reasonable time, catch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (and even the Purina Dog Show) and enjoy a blissful day off surrounded by loved ones with a manageable to-do list in the kitchen. We’ve tapped the expertise of professional chefs from around the country to share their tried-and-true tips for getting Thanksgiving dinner on the table easier and faster.

Plan and delegate before the big day

Let’s get the most obvious hack out of the way first: Thanksgiving dinner is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s no shame in getting some help. Planning ahead and making dishes in the days leading up to Thanksgiving is the best way to ensure you’re not spending the entire day cooking instead of enjoying time with your family. Reheating food on Thanksgiving Day is much easier and faster than making it from scratch.

Planning ahead and delegating “is how chefs think about and plan for event days,” said Brian Bornemann, chef and co-owner of Crudo e Nudo in Santa Monica, California. “Make cranberry sauce on Sunday, stuffing on Monday, green bean casserole on Wednesday, and then deep fry the turkey and warm your prepared dishes on Thursday. Save yourself on the dish duty and invite others to bring pumpkin pie and additional sides. Instead of constructing the day around kitchen masochism, have some bubbly rosé at 10 a.m. and pick one fun project (i.e., deep frying, smoking or grilling the bird) knowing full well that the rest is already done or delegated out.”

Hate peeling potatoes before you boil them? Don't do it.

annick vanderschelden photography via Getty Images

Hate peeling potatoes before you boil them? Don’t do it.

Don’t peel your potatoes

Shave some time off your prep work and avoid unnecessary peeling accidents (which you’re at higher risk for if you’re stressed and rushing) by boiling your potatoes with the skins on and shocking them in an ice bath when they’re cooked through. “The skins will come right off,” said Craig Cochran, chef and owner of NuLeaf in New York City. “It’s a major timesaver.”

Spatchcock, don’t roast

Waiting for tukey to finish cooking while the rest of your meal is ready to go and your guests are waiting is no fun. This year, consider spatchcocking to get that beautifully cooked turkey on your table faster.

“Rather than going the traditional roasting route that takes forever, try spatchcock cooking!” said Jennifer Toomey, executive chef and partner of Huckleberry Bakery and Café in Santa Monica, California. “Remove the back bone, flatten out the bird and roast it skin side up. It cooks in less than half the time, and you still get that juicy meat and crispy skin.” (Check out our guide to spatchcocking here.)

Rob Sonderman, executive chef at Federalist Pig and Honeymoon Chicken, added that this technique allows for more even cooking. “Pull your turkey out of the oven when the breast hits 155 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and the legs are a little over 165, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour or more before cutting into it.”

Skip the whole turkey

Speaking of time-saving turkey hacks, opting to not cook a whole bird saves time and is ideal for smaller gatherings. “Instead of trying to negotiate with a whole bird, I like to purchase turkey breasts and drums!” said Heather Ashby, executive sous chef of DiAnoia’s Eatery in Pittsburgh. “Turkey breasts can be stuffed with whatever you like, cook faster and retain more natural juices. Drums can be roasted, smoked, deep fried; the possibilities are endless!” (Check out our favorite turkey breast recipes.)

Preheat your roasting pans

As your oven is preheating, put the pans you’ll be using to roast your vegetables inside so they heat up with it. Bonnie Shuman, executive chef of Weavers Way Co-Op in Pennsylvania, explained that doing so will help your potatoes, squash and Brussels sprouts (or whatever you’re cooking) roast faster and more evenly. Preheating pans “is a must in an industrial kitchen as a timesaver and it also helps immensely at home because it lends itself to multitasking which is so important when cooking a full Thanksgiving meal,” she said.

Make gravy in a blender

Skip the stirring and simmering and let your blender do all the work of thickening and getting the lumps out. “When I roast my turkey, I put herbs and butter up under the skin, then add the mirepoix about an hour before the bird is done,” said Todd Rogers, director of culinary operations at The Pearl Hotel in Florida. “Then, when I’m making my gravy, I deglaze my pan, with all the drippings and the stock and the mirepoix, and I put it in a KitchenAid or a blender. I add the stock and the giblets and trimmings from the bird to that, then add heavy cream, and that makes the gravy thicken itself — making a coulis, so you don’t necessarily have to make a roux. Some people want to make a roux and add the stock and then the giblets, but you can do it all in a blender and it cuts down on the process, making it quick and easy.”




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