When it comes down to the final few days before Thanksgiving dinner is served, a little extra help can be necessary, and who better than the stars of Food Network to fill you in on all their turkey day prep tips to make sure it's as perfect as can be? With Thanksgiving just a few days away, there's a lot that probably still needs to be done to prepare one of the most memorable meals of the year, and it can be a stressful and time-consuming experience, but these celebrity chefs are sharing all their favorite last-minute cooking and preparation tips to help make the process as easy as possible for you.
Also, be sure to check out all of the Thanksgiving specials airing on Food Network leading up to the big day for more tips! You can find the full schedule here.
1. Prep the day before
If you can get as much done as possible on the day before the big day, then you have more time to really enjoy the holiday and spend time with your friends and family. "Carve out time to do most of your prep the day before," chef Aaron Sanchez says. "So you don't feel rushed to make it all happen that day. Also, prep and marinate your turkey in the same pan that you'll cook it in; this way you keep all of the juices and flavors." Sanchez also suggests getting your shopping done as early in the day as possible not only to have more time to prep but to also avoid crowds and make sure you're getting the freshest produce.
Chef Alton Brown has a long list of tips to make sure you're as organized as possible while prepping. Some of the most helpful tips on his list include slicing and dicing all vegetables a few days before and storing them in Ziploc bags in the refrigerator, peeling all potatoes beforehand and storing them in cold water in the refrigerator, and using serving pieces that can be used for cooking and vice versa, especially a cast iron skillet.
2. Follow this day-of plan
When it comes to Thanksgiving day, Food Network has come up with a fool-proof plan and schedule to make sure you don't become overwhelmed in the kitchen. "Preheat your oven in the morning and get your turkey going," the site reads. "If you premade bread, let it defrost at room temperature. Put your wine or beer in the fridge to chill. While the turkey roasts, prepare your other side dishes since they can stand at a room temperature for an hour or keep in the fridge. When the turkey is done, let it rest while you make the gravy, reheat side dishes and prep salads."
3. Make your meal family style and keep the drinks flowing
Serving your dishes in huge portions and passing them around the table makes for a much easier meal as opposed to just putting everything out buffet style. "It brings people together and makes your life in the kitchen a lot easier," chef Spike Mendelsohn says. "Also, keep the drinks flowing. Sometimes things don't go perfectly when you're throwing a holiday get-together, and that's OK, but drinks for the crowd always help."
4. Let guests bring some of their own dishes
The more people bring, the less you have to do. "I find that inviting people to participate in the meal we're all about to share gives them something to talk about and diffuses any awkwardness that can arise among relatives who see each other only once or twice a year," chef Jose Garces says. "Plus, I get a whole crew of sous chefs to assist me!"
"If people volunteer to bring something, I let them!" chef Giada De Laurentiis told Yahoo! Food. "It's so much easier on the cook. Plus, everyone likes to show off their specialties this time of year and it makes the meal feel much homier."
5. Serve premade appetizers
Having something already out when your guests arrive is always a good idea, and that doesn't always have to mean extra cooking time. Having a table full of premade appetizers is a great way to not only save time, but keep your guests busy. "There is absolutely no shame in serving a platter of premade meats, slices of grilled bread with mozzarella cheese, little jars of pickles, little jars of olives to make an antipasti bar of delicious stuff," chef Alex Guarnaschelli wrote in her blog for People. "I am a professional chef and somehow that means I have to make absolutely everything from scratch. If you are making a whole Thanksgiving feast and spending the day (if not two) in the kitchen baking pies, roasting turkeys etc. there is absolutely no guilt in laying out some delicious salami, prosciutto, mustard and toasted bread and letting everybody go to town. Who doesn't like that?" She also suggests a cheeseboard with some cheese, crackers, fruits and smoked nuts as a great and easy way to start the meal.
6. Keep a lot of chicken stock on deck
Chef Bobby Flay swears by this rule, as it helps bring so much flavor to your meal in the easiest way possible. "Have lots and lots of homemade chicken or turkey stock (or really good prepared stock) on hand," he says. "I use stock to baste the turkey and make gravy. And I use more than most people would deem necessary to make sure my bread stuffing is very moist." He believes this is a pantry staple and a go-to ingredient on Thanksgiving. He uses it five different ways throughout his meal prep. "In the bottom of the turkey roasting pan, for the gravy, to reheat the turkey when it's sliced, to put it in the stuffing and also to reheat the stuffing," he explains.
It also is a great way to revive your turkey if you over cooked it. "Before you spirit that platter of dried-out breast meat to the table, drizzle it with a little warm chicken broth," the site reads. "It'll help moisten the meat and add flavor. This is also a good trick for perking up slices that have gone from room temp to cold."
7. Fully set the table first thing in the morning
This can even be done the night before to really save time. It's a simple trick, but a lifesaver when mealtime comes. "When you wake up on Thanksgiving morning, fully set your table down to the last detail," Guarnaschelli says. "That way, even if dinner is not completely ready on time, you don't have to worry about the table, and you 'look' ready."
Having the entire house vacuumed, getting the wine ready and having some snacks on the table is also some things Guarnaschelli does to make the day easier for her. "That way, any panic about the turkey, stuffing, or cranberry sauce could be handled with the guests feeling totally happy," she wrote on People. "Your closest friends and family can be some of the hungriest people on the planet, and because they are your closest friends and family, they are also less forgiving if there's nothing to eat when they get there!"
8. Use a cooler to save space
If your refrigerator is packed with condiments and jars of food that are necessary for everyday use but not for this particular holiday, clear up some space by keeping these items in a separate cooler. Refrigerator space is something that is always needed on Thanksgiving, and this tip will help make sure you can take advantage of every inch. "Clear out those space-hugging bottles of dressings and pickles, and stow them in the garage in a cooler filled with ice packs," the site reads. You can also use a cooler as a warming drawer to keep your dishes toasty. All you have to do is line it with aluminum foil, add some folded towels and fill it with hot dishes as they come out of the oven.
9. Keep your mashed potatoes in a slow cooker
Sides like mashed potatoes are often easy to make the day before or morning of, and they're one item you want to make sure stay warm, but there isn't always room on the stove. "To keep your spuds warm when every burner of your stovetop is in use, butter your slow-cooker insert, add a little heavy cream and spoon in the potatoes," the site reads. "Set the temp to low and stir every hour or so to keep your potatoes smooth and silky."
10. Use your microwave
It can be hard to find a spot in the oven, especially when the turkey is taking up most of the room for a large amount of time, and this is when your microwave can come in handy. There are several aspects of your Thanksgiving meal that can be prepped in the microwave to not only save space but time as well. If you want to add a little something extra to your mashed potatoes, cook up some bacon crumbles in the microwave. You can also heat up pecans, froth milk for coffee, steam green beans, soften garlic, cook sweet potatoes, melt chocolate for dessert and make ginger simple syrup for cocktails all in the microwave. For directions on how to do all this click here.