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12 Thanksgiving Hacks to Save You Time in the Kitchen (Your Guests Will Never Know!)

Although I’ve been a serious home cook for almost 30 years, I hosted my very first Thanksgiving dinner only a few years ago. My aunt has handled that holiday for as long as I can remember and I was only too happy to let her.

But circumstances dictated that I host Thanksgiving, and – well, I panicked. There is so much hype around “the dinner,” and I was overwhelmed at the prospect of getting it all on the table – beautifully presented, delicious, and as much “from scratch” as possible.

It was like the New York City Marathon of cooking. I researched, took notes, created timelines, and stayed up late every night for the week leading up to the big day.

It was awesome – and though my family was as impressed (and appreciative) as I hoped they would be, I was too exhausted to enjoy it. My aunt took over again the following year, and then again the year after.

And sure enough, last year I found myself hosting Thanksgiving again.

This time, I was prepared. Yes, I would still need to plan, prep, and make dishes in advance. And yes, the dishes would all be “wow” worthy and delicious. But I had a few shortcuts and tricks up my sleeve to help save time, cut corners, or just make life easier in general. And I’m sharing them all here!

  • Thanksgiving Timesavers, Tips and More! 1 of 13
    Thanksgiving hacks

    Thanksgiving can strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned cooks. Don't freak out! Whether you've been cooking for years and years or are just starting out, these tips will help guarantee a beautiful, bountiful, and mouthwatering feast!

  • Keep the appetizers store-bought and simple, to focus on the main event 2 of 13
    spiced walnuts

    While you don't want to fill your guests up before the big meal, it's nice to have a few nibbles ready when they arrive. Rather than fuss over fancy hors d'oeuvres, keep it simple. Think cheese straws, spiced nuts, crudites and cold shrimp. And this is the place to take shortcuts - there are so many high quality frozen and prepared appetizers available that there's no need to sweat the small stuff.

     

    However ... these spiced nuts are super easy, always a hit and can be made weeks in advance. Just saying.

    Get the recipe at Donuts, Dresses and Dirt

  • Brine the turkey overnight 3 of 13
    brine a turkey

    Do you know THE secret to a guaranteed moist and tender turkey? Brine it. Brining is the process of soaking the turkey overnight in a mixture of water, sugar, salt, and an array of vegetables and seasonings. Whatever shortcuts you decide to take, don't skip the brine.

    Read how to brine on Babble

  • Pick vegetables that don’t need to be peeled before roasting 4 of 13
    roasted vegetables

    Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of most root vegetables, winter squashes, and fall fruits. It also makes for a beautiful presentation on the holiday table. But did you know that the skins of many are edible? Save time (and enjoy the extra dose of vitamins) and roast your potatoes, apples, and delicata and acorn squash with the skins on!

    Try these Babble ideas for squash recipes for Thanksgiving.

  • Cook side dishes in pans that double as serving bowls 5 of 13
    bake and serve dishes

    Many stuffings, gratins and casseroles can be assembled and refrigerated a few days in advance. Cut down on the dirty dishes and use pretty oven-to-table serving pieces.

    Try these Babble recipes for 25 gluten-free Thanksgiving side dishes.

  • Serve store-bought bread, but make a flavored butter 6 of 13
    rachel cooks cranberry cinnamon honey butter

    Not everyone is comfortable baking breads, rolls, and popovers. It's totally okay to use packaged or refrigerated dinner rolls. But you can fancy them up by serving a flavored - or "compound" - butter alongside. Just whir the ingredients up in your food processor and keep in the freezer till ready to use. It can be made weeks in advance too, and looks so pretty on the table.

    Learn how to make flavored butter at Babble

  • Bake your pies, mash the potatoes, and chop up veggies in advance 7 of 13
    do ahead mashed potatoes and chopped vegetables

    Knowing what can be prepared in advance is critical for a meal like Thanksgiving dinner. For example, pies are best made a day or two in advance so that the flavors have time to develop (store fruit pies at room temperature, custard pies in the fridge). And believe it or not, mashed potatoes can be made a few days ahead too (to reheat, stir in a bowl set over simmering water). And I always peel and chop my vegetables ahead of time, storing them in plastic containers or ziploc bags (be sure to label which dishes each veggie is designated for!). 

  • Invest in the best mashed potato invention ever, aka the potato ricer 8 of 13
    potato ricer

    Speaking of mashed potatoes ...

     

    I don't know about you, but mashed potatoes are a must-have on my Thanksgiving table. For years I resisted buying a potato ricer, thinking I didn't need such a "single-purpose" tool. But when it came time for me to host Thanksgiving I wasn't taking any chances, and broke down and bought one. Game. Changer. Creamy, fluffy, PERFECT mashed potatoes every time. Your guests will swoon.

  • Pre-cut the apples (for pie) and store in cold water so they won’t brown 9 of 13
    apples in cold water

    Peeling and chopping apples for pie is one of the more time consuming holiday baking tasks. Get a head start by submerging the apple pieces in a bowl of cold water. Turn a few times to make sure they're all covered, and stick in the fridge till you're ready to use. They'll come out unblemished and crisp, even hours later! (Hint: This works beautifully with peeled potatoes too!)

  • Top your homemade pie crust with a simple egg wash, to make it look professional 10 of 13
    Home-Baked Apple Pie

    Though I love to bake, pies are definitely NOT my specialty. Here are few tricks to make your pies look "pro-made" (even if you start with a prepared crust).

     

    Always brush the top crust with an egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water. This gives that lovely "sheen" to the dough. Better still? Add a sprinkling of sanding sugar (available at most craft or kitchen stores) for extra crunch and sparkle.

  • Make this no-roll pie crust in half the time 11 of 13
    cafe johnsonia No Roll Pie Crust

    You can skip rolling out the dough altogether and make this genius "no-roll" recipe - which has been permanently bookmarked for every pie I'll ever make again!

    Read how on Babble

  • Use tin-foil to guarantee your pie crust will not burn 12 of 13
    foil pie crust shield

    Here's another great pie trick: If you find that your crust is browning too quickly, you can cover it with this easy-to-make pie shield. Make it before you put the pie in the oven, so that it's ready to go and you're not fumbling with a hot dish.

     

    Here's how:

    1. Cut a 12" square of aluminum foil.

    2. Fold it in half in one direction, then in half again in the other direction, to form a square.

    3. Working with the folded corner, cut out a quarter circle, starting at 3 to 4".

    4. Discard the circle and unfold the foil. Check for size; the foil should only cover the rim of the crust (if the hole is too small, refold the foil and cut a larger circle). Place over your pie and gently tuck the edges under.

    You can put the shield on before you place the pie in the oven, or hold it and watch to see if the crust is browning before the pie is cooked through. 

  • Make a huge, foolproof slab pie (enough dessert for everyone) instead of a bunch of small pies 13 of 13
    babble apple slab pie

    Serving a crowd this year? Think slab pie. Baked in a rimmed baking sheet, a typical recipe will easily serve 20-24. The crust is a dream to work with, flaky and buttery, and essentially foolproof. I promise, you cannot mess this up! There are loads of slab pie recipes out there, but this apple version is a beauty.

    Read how on Babble

Read more from Sheri on Donuts, Dresses and Dirt
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