Your Top Thanksgiving Cooking Questions, Answered


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Earlier this month, we asked our readers: What are your Thanksgiving dinner questions this year? You asked, and now we’re answering.

Thanksgiving dinner is always a major undertaking for any home cook, but 2020 has added a few extra hurdles. Whether you’re making a smaller dinner this year or you’re not sure in which order you should cook your dishes, here are the answers that can help you have the best Thanksgiving possible.

The biggest problem I have is timing! It’s hard to juggle all the dishes so that they come out hot at the same time, especially if you’re making food for a group, i.e., 12 or more people. You’re usually using all the burners all at once or the rolls can’t be in the oven the same time as the turkey, etc. Can you suggest what can be made ahead, how to keep things hot while you’re preparing other dishes, or any cold side dish recipes? ― Matt C.

First of all, Thanksgiving dinner should be a little easier this year, since we’re encouraged to keep gatherings small during the pandemic. But it’s still a challenge to juggle all the issues you just mentioned, and this is easily the question I hear asked the most every year. Luckily, a huge percentage of the meal can be made days in advance. We’ve got a handy guide to timing your Thanksgiving meal perfectly: It outlines what you can make ahead, how far in advance you can make it, how to store it and how to reheat it so it’s all ready at the same time.

Don't over-handle your pie crust!

Don’t over-handle your pie crust!

Pie crusts eludes me. A somewhat-accomplished cook and baker, I can’t seem to get it right. It’s either not flaky enough, or if it is, it shrinks too much in the pie pan. Suggestions for improving on this skill? ― Amy Stern

Hi, Amy! You’ve asked the right person ― I absolutely love making pie crust. There are a lot of little details that go into getting a crust right, but the biggest key is this: Don’t overwork the dough, and keep your butter/shortening very cold. The more you play around with the dough and overwork it in your hands, the more the gluten will tighten up (which results in it shrinking away from the pie plate later on). And the longer you play around with it, the warmer the butter/shortening will get, making the pastry lose that flaky texture you want. Here’s a link to a video tutorial (from the Martha Stewart test kitchen) that I love.

My other favorite tip: Once you’ve rolled out your pie dough and placed it in your pie plate, always freeze it for about 30 minutes before putting it in a hot oven. As Martha often says, “Make it cold, bake it hot.”

If you run into any other issues with your pie crust, we’ve got an article that addresses a lot of common mistakes people make.

Best of luck with your pies! And if all else fails, to be perfectly frank, sometimes the Pillsbury premade pie crusts (found in red rectangular boxes of two in your refrigerator aisle) aren’t the worst thing in the world. (In fact, other readers have agreed.)

What is the best homemade stuffing recipe? Found out I’m corn intolerant this year so box mixes are out. ― Jessica McGuire

Oh boy, what a question. I think you could start a major debate about the best homemade stuffing recipe ― people have very strong allegiances to cornbread, sourdough, Stove Top, oyster stuffing, etc., based on where they were raised and who brought them up.

Here’s the secret to making your own without a boxed mix: No matter which recipe you choose, you can always substitute any type of bread you want for the kind you can’t eat. As long as you maintain the correct ratio of bread to liquid to aromatics (vegetables, bacon, etc.), you can mix it up however you want. For example: If a recipe calls for 6 cups of cubed cornbread mix, you can substitute it with 6 cups of cubed sandwich bread, or 6 cups of cubed sourdough or even 6 cups of cubed croissants. (Yes, I made croissant stuffing last year and it was amazing.) Just make sure you let your cubed bread sit out for a day or two to get nice and stale. (It’s one of the rare times you actually want to cook with stale food!) You can combine different types of bread, too ― just make sure you maintain the amount and ratio from the original recipe, and you’ll be good.

Want some recipes to browse? Our favorite stuffing recipes are right here ― you’ll find that croissant stuffing recipe I mentioned.

Stuffing Recipes

I am a grandma who won’t be with family. I would like to bake a turkey breast, but how small a breast can you get for just one person? ― Ginny Simons

Great question, Ginny! I’m a big fan of cooking turkey breast for Thanksgiving ― my family is full of vegetarians, and many years I would cook up a turkey breast just to appease my turkey-loving dad.

Here’s the trick when looking for turkey breast in the grocery store. There are basically two kinds: 1. turkey breast that’s still on the rib cage (it can look almost as large as a full turkey!) and 2. boneless turkey breast, which is much smaller. I recommend the boneless turkey breast if you want to make a small, easy meal. (You can buy just half a breast if you want ― it’s not much larger than a typical boneless chicken breast you’d buy at the grocery store.) I’d suggest calling your local grocery stores to ask if they carry it, to prevent you from going on a wild goose chase ― or rather, turkey chase.

You can cook turkey breast in a slow cooker, a pressure cooker or just bake it in the oven. Here are a few of our favorite recipes:

Thanksgiving Turkey Breast Recipes

Hello, Kristen. Due to COVID-19, I am unable to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mom, who lives in an assisted living facility. However, I do want to celebrate Thanksgiving with her by sharing a homemade meal with her from a safe distance by leaving a bag filled with delicious goodies at her door. What kind of festive dish(es) can I make that will still taste and look wonderful after reheating it/them in a microwave? ― Wendy Griffin

That’s such a sweet gesture, Wendy! Here’s what I’d recommend ― in my experience, everyone’s favorite part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. And fortunately, Thanksgiving leftovers reheat wonderfully and taste even better the next day. If you’re already making your own Thanksgiving meal, here’s what you can do: There’s a blog called Life Tastes Good that has a recipe for a Thanksgiving Leftover Casserole ― it basically combines the best of all the dishes you’ve already made for Thanksgiving, and turns them into a casserole that reheats beautifully. You can just use the recipe as a loose guide; you don’t have to follow it to a tee. (And if you’ve decided to do a low-key Thanksgiving like many of us are this year, you don’t even have to include turkey. Just make the casserole from your stuffing and sides!) Spoon it into some reheatable containers for your mom.

If you wanted to deliver a slice or two of pie but aren’t confident it’ll transport well and hold its shape, I’d recommend making small servings of an apple crisp (or whatever flavor you like) and transporting it in Mason jars. Here are a few recipes for some inspiration:

Fruit Crisp Recipes For Thanksgiving

Just keep in mind that if you’re leaving perishable food on someone’s doorstep, it should never be out at room temperature for more than two hours. If you can get it either in the fridge or reheated before then, you’re golden.

I make sweet potatoes every year that my family won’t eat. I have cooked them numerous different ways. This year I have some delicata squash from the farmer’s co-op I was in. Is there a way to make them up similar to sweet potatoes? ― Shandra Elwood

Hi, Shandra! Sorry about your luck with the sweet potatoes, but I think your odds with delicata squash are good, considering they’ve got a different flavor profile from sweet potatoes. They’re less sweet and have a milder flavor, so they may be more palatable for your family’s taste. There’s a really simple way that my grandma always prepared them, and the result is similar to mashed potatoes ― they’re kid-friendly and loved by adults, especially if you douse them with lots of butter and salt, like you would mashed potatoes:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Halve each of the squash lengthwise (use 2 or 3) and place the halves on a cookie sheet, cut sides up. Rub them with oil or butter (your preference) and salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven until the flesh of the squash is very soft when you poke it with a fork, which could take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size or your squash. Remove it from the oven when it’s done and let it cool enough until you can handle it — scoop out the seeds and discard them, and then either mash the flesh with a potato masher or toss it into a food processor if you’d like a smoother purée. If your mixture is a little bit thinner than you’d like, just heat it in a saucepan until some of the liquid has evaporated and it has thickened to your liking. Then season it with butter and salt and pepper and you’re good to go! Bonus: It can be made a couple days in advance and stored in the fridge. It reheats beautifully.

Do you have any good hand pie dessert recipes or tips? In my family each household is fixing Thanksgiving at their own houses, but we are getting together for 6-foot-distanced dessert. I thought hand pies might be an easier dessert vehicle this year. ― CW

Absolutely! I’ve rounded up some of my favorites just for you. Check them out here:

Hand Pie Recipes



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