Thanksgiving is stressful enough with the preparation and planning that goes into enjoying a festive meal with loved ones. From figuring out when to buy the big bird to planning the perfect Thanksgiving holiday menu, hosting T-Day takes a lot of time to make sure everything tastes as good as it should. you planned, your guests will have a night to remember, and everything goes well. without difficulty.
Although you can plan for every obstacle that may arise and interfere with your Thanksgiving dinner preparations, sometimes the unexpected cannot be avoided. When such moments occur, it can be difficult to get back on track. Before you know it, hungry guests are knocking on your door as you frantically continue an impossible race against the clock, nervously checking your timer as you measure the temperature of each dish.
To make your life a little easier, we talked to professional chefs to get their expert tips for cooking a time-saving Thanksgiving dinner. While their advice can help ensure you can spend fewer hours in the kitchen and more time giving thanks, if you find you’re still crunched for time, you can also check out these 20 Minute Thanksgiving Recipes Everyone loves an ending.
Plan a week or more before Thanksgiving.
Chef Omar Loney de Kokomo, a Caribbean restaurant based in Brooklyn, recommends planning your menu and grocery list ahead of time—preferably at least a week before Thanksgiving. This way, you can make sure you have everything you need and don’t have to scramble to find ingredients at the last minute, while also paying premium prices.
“You can buy your non-perishables a few weeks ahead of time, but make sure you have a set list of everything you’ll need for the days leading up to the big day,” advises Loney.
Buy produce that is already chopped.
“Chopping vegetables takes a lot of time, so buying your produce already cut, diced or chopped can save time,” he says. Erica Barrettowner of SOCU Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar.
So, if you’re making a green bean casserole, try picking frozen green beans that have already been washed and cut. Buying pre-cut sweet potatoes for a pie or casserole can save you time and energy, too—because no one wants to wrestle with a spud on Thanksgiving morning.
Thaw and prepare your turkey ahead of time.
If you’re planning to cook a traditional whole turkey for Thanksgiving, make sure you allocate enough time in advance to thaw and prepare it.
“Some turkeys can take up to six days to defrost. So make sure you do your research and pay attention to the directions to make sure your turkey is done in time,” says Loney. “I recommend not doing it on the day of, because there will be many other things going on.”
Make other dishes ahead of time, too.
News Flash: Not everything needs to be cooked on Thanksgiving Day.
“It will make your life a lot easier if you make the desserts – brownies, cakes, pies – the night before, because they won’t go bad from sitting out overnight,” says Loney.
Also, make freezer-friendly meals your best friend.
“I’m not talking about TV dinners, but dishes you can make ahead of time that will be fine to sit in the freezer for a few days,” Loney continues. This includes, but is not limited to, cranberry sauce, gravy, pie crust, and so on. “Then, all you have to do is thaw them the day before to be ready for Thanksgiving.”
Use a skillet with different sections.
Why sit and wait for your Brussels sprouts to cook on the stovetop when you can multi-task with multiple side dishes? You will save big minutes by investing in a skillet with different sections.
“You can cook multiple dishes at the same time by using a multi-cut skillet instead of waiting for one dish to finish cooking before you start on the next,” says Barrett.
Also, using a multi-cut skillet instead of multiple pans will save you some cleanup time after Thanksgiving dinner, so you can spend less time scrubbing over the sink.
When it comes to preparing a meal as big as Thanksgiving dinner, make sure to delegate.
“All hands on deck are needed on this day. So my suggestion is to ask friends or family members who are serving to bring a side dish or dessert, so you don’t have to do everything that goes on the table to cook,” says Loney.
However, if you are planning to host a Thanksgiving potluck style, make sure you give your guests a chance a few weeks before the dinner. This courtesy will enable them to have enough time to shop and also prepare their dishes.
Put a lid on it.
Whether it’s stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, or another mouth-watering side dish, don’t forget to put the lid on the pot or pan.
“Your food cooks faster when you have a lid on top and keep the heat in,” he says Ebony Austinowner of Atlanta-based Nouveau Bar&Grill.
Cut ingredients into smaller pieces.
Try to reduce the surface area of your food, suggests Austin. Cutting up veggies or meat into smaller pieces will help everything cook faster.
“This is really important when you’re baking any kind of dish,” says Austin. “For example, it’s faster to bake a few pieces of chicken that are cut up than it is to bake a whole chicken.”
Another tip: “When cooking mashed potatoes, cut the potato into small potatoes [cube-shaped] pieces before boiling, so the potatoes cook faster,” says Barrett.
Use an all-purpose seasoning.
Instead of rummaging through the spice rack or disorganized bottles in your cabinet or pantry, opt for an all-purpose season.
“If you use an all-purpose seasoning, it will prevent you from sifting through your seasonings to find the right one,” says Barrett.
Fry your turkey.
If you have a fryer big enough for your bird, put it to good use on T-Day.
“Using the fryer cuts cooking time down a lot,” says Barrett. “Frying a turkey can take up to 45 minutes [depending on its size]rather than spending three or four hours cooking a turkey traditionally in the oven.”
Turn up the temperature on meats.
“Cooking at a higher temperature will definitely cook your meat faster,” explains Austin. “But please make sure to use a food thermometer to make sure your meat is done and cooked to your liking.”
FYI: According to the USDA, turkey must reach an internal temperature of 165°F, while beef, pork and lamb should be cooked to at least 145°F for food safety.
Soak dried legumes.
If you plan to serve a dish that calls for any raw legumes – such as black beans, pinto beans, or chickpeas – be sure to soak them for at least four hours before preparing your dish. Or better yet, make the time to feel them overnight.
“joking [legumes] they make them softer and reduce the cooking time,” says Austin.
However, to save even more time, you can buy these items canned instead.