Ina Garten's Best Tips to Absolutely Nail Thanksgiving

How easy is that?

November 23, 2021
Photo by Ina Garten

We have dozens of how-to articles and thousands of recipes to help you tackle your Thanksgiving Day feast. But no one does it like Ina Garten. Her signature catchphrase, “how easy is that?” makes it seem like cutting fresh hydrangeas and hyacinths from your expansive backyard garden for your friend-slash-professional-florist to arrange is, well, easy. While that may be unattainable for all of us regular folks, the one thing that Ina ensures that all of us can do is throw a delicious, stress-free Thanksgiving feast. Here’s how she does it:

Setting the Table

We can’t talk about Thanksgiving—or Ina Garten, for that matter—without talking about how to set a beautiful table. We all know Ina is the pro at flower arrangements and layering linens. So how does she tackle something as daunting as the Thanksgiving table? For starters, she recommends assigning seats. “I always put the most talkative guests opposite each other, so that it makes for very good conversation,” she said in an interview with InStyle.

When it’s time to actually set the table, Ina wants things to look good, but never fussy. “I love to mix fine china and everyday. I’ll take a Crate and Barrel plate and an antique china dessert plate and put them together. They look really nice,” said Ina.

As for whether or not it’s cruel to have a kids' table, Ina believes it’s good for your little ones to join in on the grown-up conversation. But if they’re well-behaved and excited about the idea of having their own table, then by all means, have a kids' table!

Ignore the Pop-Up Thermometer

Now that your table is set, it’s time to talk turkey. What’s the best way to roast a turkey that results in a juicy and flavorful bird? For starters, ignore the thermometer that comes inserted in the bird. “The thing about the [plastic] pop-up thermometer is that when it’s popped up, your turkey is overcooked,” said Ina in an interview with InStyle. Instead, rely on a proper meat thermometer to check if the turkey is done. Insert it into the thickest part of the bird and wait for a reading of 160℉; as soon as it reaches that temperature, pull it from the oven. The turkey will continue to cook as it rests, ultimately reaching a safe temperature of 165℉.

Team Dressing, Not Stuffing

The problem with stuffing a turkey is that you have to cook the whole bird long enough for the stuffing in the center to cook, but in doing so, you ultimately will overcook the meat, causing it to become tough and dry. Instead, Ina likes to make dressing to serve alongside the bird, rather than cook stuffing inside it. Her favorite recipe calls for big chunks of crusty boule, dried cranberries, sweet and spicy Italian sausage, and apples. “Think of this as savory bread pudding,” she said.

Yes, You Can Roast Turkey In Advance

At least, according to Ina (who I’d trust with literally anything). “After years of stressing over the turkey, I found that roasting and carving it ahead of time, arranging it on an oven-proof platter over a bed of gravy, and then putting it in the oven before dinner is SO much easier than trying to carve a hot turkey at the table!,” wrote the queen of East Hampton.

To carve the turkey, Ina recommends cutting off each breast and then thinly slice each piece so that there is both some meat and skin on each piece. “It’s moister and looks better on the platter,” she said on Instagram.

Stand Mixer Mashed Potatoes

Wait, what? Instead of using a potato masher or ricer to mash boiled potatoes, Ina turns to every baker’s best friend: her KitchenAid stand mixer. “They turn out really creamy and chunky at the same time,” said Ina. To make mashed potatoes like Ina, add the cooked potatoes to the bowl of the stand mixer and turn it on to a slow speed, just to start breaking up the taters. Slowly add a hot mixture of one cup of whole milk and six tablespoons melted butter, “which makes the potatoes really creamy.” For extra silky-smooth spuds, Ina adds ½ cup sour cream, two teaspoons of kosher salt, and one teaspoon of ground black pepper for classic mashed potatoes.

Or for a few flavorful variations, add three tablespoons of room temperature truffle butter; one half cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese; or ½ cup garlic confit and oil.

As for what type of potato she uses, Ina prefers Yukon golds for their “creamy, buttery flavor.”

Ice Water Is Veggie’s Best Friend

Ina recently shared a photo of ​​Green Beans Gremolata to Instagram, inspiring her hundreds of thousands of followers to make the zesty side dish too. The beans were topped with garlic, lemon zest, Parmesan, and toasted pine nuts, but what really captured her followers' attention was how very green the beans were. “Ina, how do you attain the bright green color of those beans?” asked user @ataylorkapoor. The secret? After the beans are blanched in boiling water, she immediately submerges them in ice water, which stops the cooking. “They’re later reheated quickly in a sauté pan,” said Ina in a response.

To try this technique for any vegetable (it also works great with asparagus, broccoli rabe, or carrots), fill a large mixing bowl with water and lots of ice. Keep it handy as the vegetables cook, and then use a slotted spoon to drain them and immediately transfer to the ice bath.

Extra-Crispy Sprouts

Ina’s life may look perfect and honestly, it probably is. But when you watch her cook, she’s not always precise. Her method for roasting Brussels sprouts is proof of that. In a demonstration on her *Food Network** show, she halves Brussels sprouts and naturally, some of the outer leaves fall off. But instead of discarding them, Ina roasts them right alongside the fully intact sprouts. This way, they get extra crispy in the oven.

For stress-less entertaining, Ina preps the sprouts in advance and leaves them on a sheet tray with oil, diced pancetta, salt, and pepper, then pops them in the oven to roast just before dinner. Before serving, drizzle them with really good balsamic vinegar. And if you can’t find Ina-approved balsamic, she says that you can boil down “regular balsamic vinegar,” (aka the kind that doesn’t come from East Hampton) until it becomes a rich, thickened syrup.

The Perfect Pie Crust

You may be surprised to learn (I was!) that Ina is not above using store-bought pie crust. But when you want to make it yourself, she has a solution for making super easy pastry. Make it in a food processor! Ina’s favorite pie crust recipe calls for three cups of all-purpose flour, one teaspoon kosher salt, and one tablespoon granulated sugar. Pulse the dry ingredients in the food processor just until they’re evenly incorporated. Next, put in 12 tablespoons of very cold diced butter and ⅓ cup very cold vegetable shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. “I use butter for the flavor and shortening to the flakiness,” she said. Bring it all together with ½ cup ice water and pulse until the dough begins to form a ball.

Roll it into a ball, wrap it into plastic, and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. From here, you can bake some of Ina’s favorite pies for Thanksgiving like Deep Dish Apple Pie or her Ultimate Pumpkin Pie with Rum Cream.

What has Ina Garten taught you about cooking and entertaining? Let us know in the comments below!
52 Days of Thanksgiving
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  • Anonymous
  • Steven Williamson
    Steven Williamson
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Anonymous November 1, 2022
I cook a LOT of Ina foods for Thanksgiving. I love her savory “bread puddings,” which are actually “dressings.” Herb and Apple Bread Pudding, Mushroom and Leek Bread Pudding, are my favorites. I always do her make ahead gravy. She’s a huge fan of butternut squash and I love those recipes for a pop of orange, and actually one of my favorite “orange” veggies of Ina is her “Carrot and Cauliflower Purée,” which can be done ahead of time (even frozen) and is fabulous and might be my first choice for an orange vegetable. I adore her Ultimate Pumpkin Pie - which is mild and creamy, not overspiced, but this year I might do her Apple Pie Bars which are better than Apple Pie!
Steven W. September 18, 2022
I have done boned whole turkey several times. It's not that hard and once you get good at it, it's a breeze to stuff and roll and everyone gets a bit of everything. But if I don't do that, I spatchcock the bird (Or ask the butcher to do it.) everything cooks evenly and if you want just before the turkey is done, put your dressing in the bottom of the roaster and top it with the flattened bird for the last hour. (I've also done it the day before as suggested above!)