The 6 Most Common Thanksgiving Disasters & How to Fix Them

You've got this.

November 21, 2018
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Well, tomorrow's the big day. I never played organized sports, so I'm not exactly sure how a good pep talk should work, but—elaborately cracks knuckles and motions for everyone to gather in a huddle—we've got this. Take a deep breath, stick to your plan if you've got one, and let's do this, team.

Chances are, everything's going to go as smoothly as a pomme purée, or as a cider sage gravy, or as a—you get the idea. But just in case, we've pre-troubleshot a few common mishaps.

Read on for six frequent Thanksgiving "disasters," and importantly, how to fix them. Psst: Don't forget to use our hotline if anything out of the ordinary comes up. We'll be there until Thursday at 8 p.m.

Happy cooking!

1. It's Thanksgiving morning and I forgot to defrost my turkey. HELP!

Cold turkey? No problem.

Soak your frozen bird in cold water, making sure to change out the water every 30 minutes. It should take roughly 30 minutes per pound. (If you need to cut down on your cooking time as a result, might we suggest spatchcocking? Or, if that's not your speed, try this faster high heat method.)

2. My gravy won't thicken. Is it trying to tell me something?

It's all gravy!

Simply make another roux in a separate saucepan big enough to fit your whole gravy. Once the roux is ready, slowly whisk your too-thin liquid into it a little bit at a time until you have a smooth, thick gravy. (If it's lumpy, run it through a sieve, or purée with an immersion blender.)

3. I Can't Tell If My Turkey's Done.

Make a small slit where the thigh meets body, and press down lightly—the juices that flow from the slit should run clear.

If they do, grab a good meat thermometer—like an instant-read one—and take your turkey's temp. Aim for the thickest part of the meat in each of a breast and a thigh. According to the USDA, it's finished when the thermometer indicates 165°F.

4. My Mashed Potatoes Look Like Gluey Wallpaper Paste.

Over-mashing happens to the best of us. No matter: Just spoon them into an oven-safe dish, and grate a bunch of cheese over the top. (If you've got panko or breadcrumbs laying around, sprinkle a big handful over the top as well.) Pop under the broiler for a few minutes—keep an eye on it!—until the cheese is melty and bubbly, with toasty browned spots in a few places. Voila: You'll have a delicious alternative potato dish.

5. My stuffing is sooooo dry and flavorless.

You're in luck—stuffing is incredibly versatile. Give it a pat (or taste) so you can get a sense for exactly how dry it is. Then, brown some butter (start with a half-stick or so) and drizzle it over the top, along with a few tablespoons of stock. Season with salt and pepper, then throw it back into a low oven to warm through. Taste for moisture and flavor, and add a little more of everything as needed. And just remember: A garnish of chopped herbs never hurt anyone.

6. I burnt my pie.

First and foremost, if we're just talking a deep tan, don't sweat it. Taste a little bite before serving, of course, but you might find that you've brought out an even deeper flavor dimension.

If your pie is really scorched up top, you can cut the top layer of pastry away with a knife or kitchen shears, and make a quick streusel topping. Sprinkle it all over the exposed pie interior, and bake at around 325°F until the streusel browns and crisps, about 15 to 20 minutes. Ta-da, you have a delicious pie-crumble.

If the top of your pie and the top of the filling are burnt, go to plan B: Scoop the non-burnt portions of the filling (from the bottom of the pie) into ramekins, and top with a festive blob of whipped cream to serve as individual puddings.

What'd we miss? Let us know in the comments.

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.