Hacks for Making Traditional Thanksgiving Dishes

A typical Thanksgiving meal usually consists of a roasted turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a pumpkin pie for dessert. Every family has their go-to recipes for preparing this special meal, ones that are usually passed on from generation to generation. The following hacks on how to get the best taste for each dish work with every recipe, regardless of specific ingredients.

Before preparing your Thanksgiving meal this year, take a look at these hacks for making the best traditional Thanksgiving dishes.

The Turkey

Brine your turkey

Coat the turkey with a mixture of salt and water before cooking to keep it moist and favorable. Keep in a Ziplock bag with coating for 24 hours in your refrigerator. Skip this step if you bought a fresh turkey or your turkey is pre-salted.

After you brine your turkey, remove it from the bag and let it sit in your fridge, breast up, for another 24 hours. This step forms the pellicle in the skin, aka the crispy part.

Use a roasting pan

With the pan covered and roasting in high heat, the turkey braises and roasts at the same time, also making cooking time shorter and keeping moist levels up. Remove the cover for the last 10-15 minutes to get crispy skin.

Remove legs

The meat on turkey legs is denser and requires longer cooking time; cut them off and prepare them separately or freeze them and use them for a later meal.

Let the turkey settle before carving

Don’t carve the turkey straight from the oven or all the juices will spill over and it will dry out. Delaying the carving for a few minutes allows the moisture and juices to settle.

The Gravy

Prepare a roux for lump-free gravy

Whisk butter (or another type of fat, like oil) and flour with a 1:1 ratio. It’s important to whisk vigorously so that the mixture is free of lumps and the flour blends perfectly with the fat, creating a consistent texture. This prepares a roux, which is used to thicken sauces.

Cook the roux for a few minutes before combining it slowly with the pan juices, all the while stirring consistently. Continue to mix gently till the gravy thickens. Then bring to a simmer and season.

Skim the fat from the gravy

Easily scoop up the fat in the gravy by putting some ice cubes in the saucepan. The fat will stick to the ice and your gravy won’t have clots of fat floating around in it.

 The Pumpkin Pie

Blind bake the crust

This step goes a long way in preventing the crust from getting soggy. Pre-bake your crust for 15 minutes or so in a pre-heated oven (400 F/200 C). Afterward, line the edge with tin foil, add the filling, and bake till set. The tin foil prevents the edges from burning.


Egg wash your dough before baking to get that golden brown shade.

Chill the dough repeatedly whilst working with it

This step is the top-secret to pie crust making. After making the dough, chill in the refrigerator. Then, take it out and divide it into smaller balls of dough. Chill again for about half an hour, then, take it out and place the balls of dough in pie dishes, flattening them out. Chill again for another half hour before popping it in a pre-heated oven for blind baking.

The Mashed Potatoes

Don’t add potatoes to boiling water

Place the potatoes in cool water, boil, then reduce heat. This way the potatoes cook evenly and through on the inside.

Cut Potatoes in medium size quarters

Small size cuts of potatoes absorb too much water and larger sizes don’t cook thoroughly. Make sure your potatoes are cut to a medium size and that they are even.

Mash by hand

Don’t use food processors or blenders. When you overwork the potatoes, too much starch releases and makes the texture gluey. Be gentle and mash with a fork or a hand masher.

Don’t add butter and cream straight from the refrigerator

Add butter and cream separately and only after you’ve melted the butter and heated the cream. If you add them in straight from the fridge, the coolness will prevent the starch molecules from absorbing the cream and butter.

The Cranberry Sauce

Do not stir

When cooking the cranberries, add sugar and bring the mixture to a boil without stirring. This makes for a thicker, jelly sauce you can then use for making jam. 

Add a citrus flavor

Orange or lemon juice added to the cranberry sauce provides a light, bittersweet flavor often missing from the Thanksgiving table and adds depth to the regular version of densely sweet cranberry sauce.


About Dana Torres

Born and raised in Israel with a ten year interval in New York, Dana considers both places her home. She first made the choice to commit to a frugal life when she signed up for a degree in the Humanities. Today she loves nothing more than to share her newly learned skills and experience in thrifty living with others.

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