How to Fix Common Thanksgiving Dinner Mistakes
For every great turkey feast, there are a dozen little “oh no!” moments.
My very first Friendsgiving was memorable. I was left to defrost the bird and make a few sides and appetizers, while my roommate worked the double shift as a Starbucks manager. Unfortunately, I misunderstood that I was actually supposed to be cooking the turkey, too. It was still sitting in the sink when my friends started arriving. Needless to say, it was not an early dinner.
Mistakes will happen with every meal, big or small, and with such a grand production, it’s likely your Thanksgiving might encounter one of these common issues. Here’s how to correct them (no one will ever know):
The centerpiece of most Thanksgiving feasts is also the one most likely to run into some snag or another on its way to the dinner table.
Not defrosting fast enough: Pop it in a sink full of cold water. Check and change the water every 30 minutes. If your sink is not large enough to fully submerge the bird, turn it over every 30 minutes. Allow a half hour of defrosting time for every pound of turkey, so we’re talking five hours for a 10-pound turkey.
Not cooking fast enough: Turn up the oven slightly (most recipes recommend cooking your bird at 350 degrees, so you could try 375-400 degrees) and cook until the breast meat is done. Remove the breast meat and place it on the carving board, allowing it to finish and the juices to flow to the surface. Meanwhile, cut off the legs and thighs and return them to the oven until done. While waiting for the legs and thighs to finish, cover the breast meat with foil to prevent it from drying out. Note: Your turkey, whether cooking breast meat and legs/thighs separately or roasting the entire bird, should rest for 30 minutes before carving.
The skin looks bland: Brown the bird by mixing a little melted butter and honey, then brush on the skin. Don’t crank up the heat; it’ll just dry it out. Remember to keep basting constantly during the roasting process.
Overdone or dry turkey: Don’t feel bad! It’s easy to do and easy to fix. After the turkey is sliced, ladle a bit of warm broth on top. If that’s not enough, add a few pats of butter and ladle gravy on top of that. No one will ever know! They’ll be too busy downing turkey and gravy.
Gluey Mashed Potatoes
Ironically, the number one way to prevent mashed potatoes from looking like the ones from your grade-school cafeteria days is to run them through a potato ricer instead of using a potato masher of any kind. Do NOT overwork them or use an immersion blender or any other potato-pulverizing tool. It will cause the potato to release more starch, compounding the stickiness.
Instead, try adding room temperature (or warm) milk and butter to the warm potato mixture and slowly, gently fold until smooth and creamy.
Be sure to choose russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, and boil them in salted water in large chunks so they don’t get overcooked as easily. Take the potatoes off the burner once they can be pierced through easily. Mash them while they’re still warm for best results—and never use cold milk or butter!
Some people love lumpy gravy. If you’re not one of them, put it through a mesh strainer or fat separator. You can also just puree it with a blender.
Watery or thin gravy is another story. The quick fix: Add a bit of cornstarch (try a half teaspoon) to a coffee mug. Thin it out with water and whisk with a small fork. When it’s a watery consistency, slowly whisk the mixture into the warm gravy on the stove at low heat. Continue whisking until the gravy thickens, then serve.
If you have a little more time, try simmering your gravy longer, until it thickens. If you’re down to the wire but have about a half hour, you could make another roux and blend the existing gravy into it.
Everyone loves stuffing, and it’s a tragedy when good stuffing goes bad. Here are our favorite stuffing saviors:
Salty stuffing? Add more dried bread cubes to some no-sodium broth and toss into the current mix, then reheat in the oven. If you like fruit and nuts in your stuffing, add more of those to blunt the saltiness.
For mushy stuffing, pour the whole batch onto a baking sheet and place it in the oven on low heat to dry it out. Check on it every 10 minutes and stir gently.
To reheat leftover stuffing—which is often dry—add a pat of butter and a little broth before microwaving (or heating on a low temp in the oven).
Burnt pie crust? Use a grater to work off some of the offending bits without dismantling the whole crust.
For a cracked pumpkin pie, you can allow it to bask in its rustic, natural glory, or simply slather slices in ice cream or whipped cream and serve!
Raw or watery pie? Pop it back in the oven on low heat, and cover the pie crust edge with foil to avoid burning it (see also: burnt pie crust).
Too Much Salt
Contrary to the old wives’ tale, you can’t add a cut-up raw potato to a dish that’s too salty; it doesn’t actually absorb the salt and you’ll just end up wasting precious time (and potatoes!). Instead, add more broth or a base ingredient of the dish you’re cooking. For oversalted mashed potatoes, try adding more milk and butter (or no-sodium broth).
Unfortunately, if it’s, say, green bean casserole, you’ll have to add more of the base ingredient, which may not be an option; however, making extra and setting it aside for guests who have special dietary requests is always a good backup plan. You can use the additional portions for readjusting or refilling your casserole, if need be.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving mess-up (and miracle cure)?