Tips & Techniques

Merrill's Last-Minute Thanksgiving Tips

November 26, 2014

There's still time to make this Thanksgiving even better than the last. We asked our fearless co-founders for the back-pocket tips they live—and cook and entertain—by. Read on for Merrill's, and find Amanda's here

Merrill tackles the whole meal, dish by dish. 

  • Mashed potatoes: Always dry out cooked potatoes in the pot after draining them by stirring vigorously over medium-low heat for about thirty seconds. Mash in warm milk and soft butter for the best texture, and save some of the warm milk to stir in when you reheat the potatoes just before serving (mashed potatoes thicken as they sit). I always add a couple dollops of sour cream or crème fraîche with the butter and milk for tang.
  • Gravy: Don't be afraid to get your roux quite dark for a richer gravy. Add enough stock to make it a little looser than you want it to be at the table, since like your precious mash, it will thicken as it sits.

More: Make that gravy on autopilot—without a recipe.

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  • Cranberry sauce: To add a little dimension at the last minute, try adding a combination of both orange and lemon zests.
  • Stuffing: Remember to use lots of herbs and aromatics, since this is where most of your flavor will come from. And drizzle plenty of (salted) melted butter over the top of the stuffing before you brown it in the oven for a really great crust.

  • Sweet potatoes and butternut squash: Salt them generously to balance out the sweetness, and make sure to incorporate an element of richness like olive oil, butter, or cream.

More: Incorporate 2 of the 3 with Amanda's recipe for Butternut Squash Purée.

  • Chocolate turkeys are also a sacred tradition in my family—if they're one in yours, too, seek out the smaller ones wrapped in cellophane so that they complement rather than distract from the table setting. And we switch up everyone's seats to spark new conversations, but only before dessert—because that's when people start to wind down.

What are your fail-safe tips for Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments! 

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • PG Tipsy
    PG Tipsy
  • Jaime Polter
    Jaime Polter
  • luvcookbooks
  • AntoniaJames
  • Merrill Stubbs
    Merrill Stubbs
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


PG T. November 24, 2015
Ohhhh - one of the most memorable taste sensations of my life - the (mysterious - my mom's a very solid good cook but sticks with her standard playbook) time my mom added sour cream, and minced chives, to the mashed potatoes! Usually, I don't really dig mashed potatoes, but I loved those doctored up spuds! Did it really happen, or was it all a dream???...
Jaime P. November 24, 2015
We are all on the same page, how about a brown sage butter?? I think I will make my stuffing in the am, then pop it back in the oven while the bird rest - this is when I will drizzle the butter for crimping - fantastic idea!
Jaime P. November 24, 2015
Ha ! That's crisping, not crimping.... Auto correct....????
luvcookbooks November 26, 2014
I like the idea of pouring melted butter over the stuffing. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!!
AntoniaJames November 26, 2014
I recently saw a recommendation to drizzle duck fat on stuffing, which sounds absolutely divine. I don't make duck confit nearly as often as I should; I've put a note on my calendar to do so next fall in time to have some for this purpose. (I highly recommend the Melissa Clark Genius "Really Easy Confit" recipe, by the way.)
In the meantime, the melted butter sounds pretty darn good. Great suggestion! Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! ;o)
Merrill S. November 26, 2014
Ooh, duck fat....
AntoniaJames November 26, 2014
Agree. Duck fat, yes. So, so yes. ;o)
AntoniaJames November 16, 2015
It's become a new tradition (2d year in a row makes it a tradition, right?) for me to make Melissa Clark's duck confit in October, so we'll have plenty of duck fat on hand for the crusty topping on our stuffing! (And duck in October and November, when the chill in the air just makes you really want some.) ;o)
AntoniaJames November 26, 2014
This may seem like a minor detail, but it actually makes a big difference come carving time, which can be a fairly stressful moment for many, for a wide variety of reasons. Take the wishbone out before putting the bird in the oven. Makes all the difference in the world.
Also, after putting zest (and a variety of different spices) in my cranberry sauce for years, I've found that just a few bay leaves can transform it. I put at least several spiced pickles on the Thanksgiving table, so taking the savory route makes the cranberry sauce less redundant as well. I made another wonderful discovery this year which I'll describe in more detail later within the body of my recipe for bay-scented cranberry sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving! ;o)