ThanksgivingHow to Cook

We’ve Got 99 Thanksgiving Problems (and Solutions to Every One)

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Whether it’s a small frustration (the pumpkin pie cracked?) or a large predicament (forgot to thaw the turkey?), you can breathe easy—anything that goes wrong tomorrow can be fixed.

We've broken down the 99 most likely Thanksgiving problems you'll run into with handy guides on the set-up, drinks, turkey, potatoes, stuffing and sides, pies, main event, and aftermath below—or feel free to just control+F search for your particular conundrum—we bet it's on here, and we can solve it.

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Photo by Rocky Luten

It Begins

1. Help! Do I have enough serving dishes? Set out all the dishes on the table now with a sticky note marking each one—this Type-A trick is guaranteed to make life easier and reduce stress levels later on.


2. I forgot about centerpieces! Anything can be a centerpiece. Seasonal fruit or vegetables or gourds, pretty rocks from the front yard, doodads and small plants from around the house—we call them conversation starters.


3. Tall, elegant vases work, right? Better not: Make ‘em low. Everyone should be easily able to make eye contact. Plus, you don't want to tip anything over when you pass the salt and pepper.

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4. Oops, I'm low on forks (or plates or chairs). Call up your favorite guest! Or run to the neighbor’s.


5. Nobody's talking! Put on a good playlist. They may start dancing.

6. How much alcohol can (and should) 17 adults really drink? Assume each person will have two drinks in the first hour and then one drink per hour after that and buy accordingly
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7. Uh-oh—we need more counter space stat! Your ironing board has a new purpose in life (a trick we learned from Food52er vvvanessa).


8. Cousin Gary, you came so early! Hand him a drink and remind him of the family tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving.


9. Everyone else, you came so early, too! Put out snacks! Cheese, crackers, olives, pretzels, whatever you’ve got.


10. I don't have a coat closet, per se. Collect coats and other belongings from your guests and put them someplace else, like your bedroom. Even better: make your kids or another early bird do it.


11. There's too much to do! There's no time! There's never any time! Delegate. 


12. Why are all these people in my kitchen? Kick them out. It’s your kitchen.


13. I can't remember where I put the coasters/corkscrew/turkey. Pour yourself a drink. Excuse yourself for a minute to take a breather. Repeat as needed.


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Drinks

14. I don’t have enough matching wine glasses (or any wine glasses). Mix in mugs and jars and embrace your new decor theme: quirky.


15. The sparkling​ wine definitely isn’t cold. Chill it in 7 minutes flat by wrapping it in a wet dish towel and sticking it in the freezer.


16. I can’t find the beer bottle opener. Use a spoon.

17. I can't find the wine key. Wrap the bottle in a dish towel, tuck the bottom into the heel of a shoe, and firmly tap the shoe against a wall until the cork starts to come out. 


18. I found the wine key, but half of the cork broke off. Pretend like you’re starting over—just work the spiral part of the corkscrew back into the cork and remove as usual.


19. Actually the cork completely crumbled into the bottle. Strain the wine through cheesecloth or a coffee filter to catch all of those little pieces.


20. Now I can’t get this cork out of the Champagne. You just want us to give you the go ahead to show off, right? We’re on board—saber that bottle.

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Turkey

21. I forgot to thaw the turkey! Soak the bird in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. It should take about 30 minutes per pound.

22. I haven’t started cooking the turkey yet, but I'm already stressing about how long it will take. Spatchcock it so it will cook faster.

23. No spatchcocking for me, thanks. Not in the mood. Use Barbara Kafka’s high heat roasting method—a 15-pound bird will cook in under 2 hours.

24. The turkey’s undercooked! Keep cooking it! Try Michael Ruhlman’s technique of breaking down the bird and braising it after roasting it, the turkey will cook faster in pieces, plus it will stay moist and juicy.


25. The skin isn’t getting as crispy and brown as I’d like. Crank up the heat to 450° F for the last 30 minutes or so, or give it a quick trip under the broiler.

26. The skin’s getting too brown. Tent it with aluminum foil.


27. The skin burned! No, it “fell off” while you were slicing it.


28. I just want to just eat the skin myself. Okay, it “burned.” 


29. How will I know when the turkey’s done? Use a thermometer. After resting, a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh should read 165° F.


30. I don’t have a thermometer! The leg should feel a bit loose when you wiggle it, and just slice into the thigh joint to peek—if the juices run clear and the flesh looks pale and firm, not suspiciously pink, you’re good!


31. How do I keep the turkey warm while the sides finish cooking? It will stay warm longer than you think—it's big! If we're talking hours, keep the turkey in a foil-lined cooler (really).


32. The turkey's out and looks great! I'm going to start carving. Cease and desist! That bird needs to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Grab a cocktail and chat with your guests.


33. I don't know how to carve a turkey. Watch Amanda and Merrill carve a chicken—you’ll be ready to tackle any sized bird​.


34. I'm still worried. Carve the turkey alone in the kitchen and just bring out the platter (we do this!).


35. The turkey’s dry. I'm crushed. Make more gravy! Ina Garten even reheats hers in the gravy. No one will know if it’s overcooked!

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Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

36. The mashed potatoes are lumpy. Push them through a sieve or strainer. 


37. I don’t have a sieve/ I don't want to use it. J​ust own those lumpy potatoes. They’re rustic.


38. The mashed potatoes sat too long and thickened up. Warm milk to stir in when you reheat the potatoes just before serving. Our co-founder Merrill Stubbs always adds a couple dollops of sour cream or crème fraîche with the butter and milk for tang.


39. Well, now I've done it. The mashed potatoes are gluey. Cut up little pats of butter and tuck them into the potatoes to melt. 


40. I don't even want to risk making the potatoes gluey when I reheat them. Put them in a low baking dish, sprinkle them with cheese, and bake or broil instead. 


41. Someone threw away the giblets. What do I make gravy with? You don’t need them, just use the pan drippings.


42. I don’t have enough pan drippings for all the gravy I want. You don’t need those either, make a vegetarian gravy that the whole family will love.


43. The gravy's a little too salty. Dilute it with some unsalted broth and/or cream
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44. The gravy's way too salty. Make another batch without salt and combine them. You can never have too much gravy. 


45. I don’t have enough stock/drippings/cream to make another batch. Potato cooking water is useful for stretching gravy, too—just don’t forget and throw it out!


46. The gravy’s too thin. Keep reducing it, it will thicken up.


47. The gravy’s still too thin. Do as the Modernist Cuisine Team does: "Wondra is an incredible thickener—dust Wondra over a flavorful liquid; use 4 to 5 grams of Wondra for every 100 grams of liquid. Whisk to distribute the starch evenly, simmer, and then remove from heat." 


48. The gravy’s lumpy. Press it through a sieve or strainer, or purée it with an immersion blender.


49. How do I keep the gravy hot at the table? Warm the gravy boat up ahead of time with piping hot water (then dump it out and fill it with the gravy). 


50. It doesn’t all fit in the gravy boat. Good, you'll have plenty! Keep extra on the stove for quick warming.

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Stuffing & Sides

51. The stuffing is looking dry. Drizzle on a little broth (or potato cooking water, or cream) to help moisten it.


52. The top isn’t looking as crispy and golden as I’d like. Drizzle on some melted butter or duck fat and pop it back in the oven.


53. I don’t have the right pan size for the stuffing. It’s a blessing in disguise! Our cofounder Amanda Hesser says to spread stuffing in a larger dish than your recipe calls for so you end up with 50% mush, 50% crisp.


54. I forgot to leave the bread out overnight to get stale. Cut your loaf into cubes, and toast the bread, dry, in a 350º F oven for 15 to 20 minutes.


55. The stuffing looks soggy. Add extra bread cubes and put it back in the oven uncovered.


56. I overcooked my vegetables and now they’re mush. Turn them into soup. No one will know butternut squash soup wasn’t on the menu to begin with
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57. My roasted vegetables are too salty. Mix them in with the stuffing or save them for a frittata this weekend.


58. My roasted vegetables look perfectly browned, but they aren’t fully cooked. Lower the oven temperature to 350° F, drizzle them with a few tablespoons of water, and cook until they're tender.


59. The salad dressing is too sweet. Add something savory like salt, anchovies, soy sauce, or miso—keeping in mind the other flavors of the dish.


60. The salad dressing is too salty. Temper the saltiness with something sweet—sugar, maple syrup, or honey.


61. The salad dressing is too acidic. Add something creamy that works with the flavors of your dressing, like avocado, tahini, or even a soft-boiled egg.


62. The salad dressing is one-note and blah? Try a flavor-brightener: grated hard cheese, preserved lemon, mustard, or horseradish.


63. Something is just unsavable​? Don’t serve it! No one will miss it.


64. I feel the need to apologize for the food not being right. You’re allowed, but only once says Nigella Lawson.


65. I f​orgot to soften butter for the bread. Cut it into pats and leave it in a warm (but not too warm) spot. 


66. Oops, it over-melted. Mix it all together and smooth it into a crock. Sprinkle some fancy salt on top.

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Pie

67. I'm running out of time to chill the pie dough in the refrigerator. Chill it out in the freezer for 10 to 20 minutes. 


68. Oops, I left the pie dough in the freezer too long and it's rock hard. You could just let it soften for a moment at room temperature, but you could probably use a stress reliever: Beat it with your rolling pin until it becomes malleable.


69. My pie crust is very crumbly. Sprinkle a little cold water over the dough and gently work it in until the dough comes together.


70. The dough is breaking when I press it into the pie plate. Use scraps from the edges to patch up any cracks and smooth the seams with your fingers.


71. The dough is just a complete, un-fixable disaster. Make the dessert crust-free. Pretend the plan was to serve pumpkin pudding and apple crisp all along.


72. The crust shrank when it baked. Smooth whipped cream all over it—you meant to leave room!


73. It shrank too much to hide with whipped cream. Serve the pie already sliced and plated.

74. The crust is too pale. Bake it longer! Brush it with an egg wash to guarantee a shiny, bronzed crust. 


75. The crust is tough. Serve the pie with ice cream or whipped cream


76. The crust is really tough. There’s always pie shakes.

77. The crust on my fruit pie is soggy. Try putting it back in the oven for a few minutes on the very bottom rack. (Think: reverse broiler action, you’re putting the under-baked bottom closer to the heat source.)


78. The crust on my custard pie is soggy. Scoop the insides into a glass serving dish and top with cookies and whipped cream. Pumpkin trifle!


79. My pumpkin pie filling cracked. Top the whole pie with a layer of whipped cream.


80. My fruit filling is too liquid-y. Let your pie set at least thirty minutes before cutting into it, the filling needs a little bit of time to settle in before slicing.


81. My fruit filling is still too liquid-y. Again, this is what the pie shake was invented for.


82. The fruit filling is fine, ​but the crust is a complete disaster. Scoop the filling out into a baking dish, make a buttery crumble to top it with, and pop it back into the oven until it’s bubbly.


83. How do I make one of those pretty lattices? It looks complicated. It’s not as hard as it looks, here’s how to pull it off
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84. I'm over lattice-topped pies. Top it with something else! Try a simple design, like oval-shaped leaves or polka dots.


85. I overwhipped the cream and it's looking globby. Just fold in a little more unwhipped cream to smooth it out. If that doesn’t work, serve just the pouring cream or skip it. 


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The Big Event

86. Lull in the conversation? Ask everyone to share one thing they are thankful for. 


87. That only killed 8 minutes. Ask everyone to share their funniest Thanksgiving memory. Or a lightening round of Thanksgiving Would You Rather. Or just bring up Justin Bieber.


88. This conversation is threatening to head into uncomfortable territory. An Adele sing-a-long can fix it. 


89. OK, I've talked enough with cousin Gary for now. Plan on making everyone switch seats at dessert to keep the conversation lively—another Amanda Hesser pro tip.


90. I spilled a whole glass of wine on myself/the tablecloth/grandma. Dry them, and laugh it off. There’s not much that a smile can’t fix, and just think about how funny it will be next year!

91. We're out of my pre-batched cocktail! Challenge your guests to come up with a new signature cocktail from your bar cart.


92. I misjudged how much 17 adults can drink, and ran out of everything. Send out a willing guest if there’s a convenient nearby store. 


93. There’s no store nearby. Just keep guests going with any other beverage option you have—water, coffee, tea.

The Aftermath

94. The meal's over, dessert's done, and everyone is hanging out aimlessly? Pull out cards or a board game.

95. Don’t have fridge space for all of the leftovers? Pack them up and send them home with your guests.


96. Don’t know what you’re going to do with the leftovers you kept? Start with Thanksgiving Leftovers Breakfast “Burritos” and then work your way through these other 20 ideas
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97. Can’t handle the thought of the mountain of dishes in the kitchen but don’t want your guests to feel like they have to leave when you start washing them? Just say so.


98. Just can't handle the thought of the mountain of dishes, period? Ignore them. They can wait until morning.

99. Want your guests to leave and can’t get them to pick up the hints? Borrow the words of Nigella: “All right then, I’m going to leave you to it! I’m off to bed.”

Did we miss something? Ask us in the comments, we'll try to solve it—or head over to the Hotline for help!


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