Whether you’re a first-timer trying to impress friends and family or a seasoned cook looking for new tricks, our experts are here to help you make sure your celebration is a success. Here, some can’t-miss secrets for from our culinary and lifestyle pros:
Molly Siegler, Food EditorGo ahead, experiment with the turkey. “For most of us, Thanksgiving meals require many super-traditional-to-you recipes. My biggest piece of advice is not to fight that. One item people don’t tend to feel too attached to is the turkey, so use your itch to experiment here. Try a brine (I love this one for a classic flavor, or this dry brineto mix things up), or grill the turkey. It will free up your oven and act as a fun topic of conversation.
Be prepared for famished guests. “Give them something to nibble on upon arrival. I like to have the world’s simplest appetizers on hand — these should be easy to make ahead or frozen items that you can pop in the oven right before people arrive. These Pimiento Cheese Crackers are so easy to make (and make ahead!).” Want to prep a cheese plate? (Skip to tips from our chief cheesemonger.)
Do a trial run with the gravy. “If you’ve never made it before, a test run isn’t a bad idea. Gravy is the last thing that happens before the sit-down dinner, so it’s possible you’ll have an audience. Check out our video for extra tips and a step-by-step walk through.”
Kate Rowe, Managing Editor for Culinary ContentSet aside some space. “Try to find room for a staging area where you can organize all of the dishes and serving pieces you plan to use. Label them so you know what recipes will go in which dishes.
Don’t forget a salad. “I think salads tend to be overlooked at Thanksgiving, so I’d recommend the Spicy Celery Salad. Full of fresh celery, mint and parsley, with a sweet-tart dressing made of dates and lemon juice, the flavors offer a refreshing break for the palate from the many rich dishes of a classic Thanksgiving spread.”
Plan for leftovers. “To be ready to make the most of your leftovers the weekend after Thanksgiving, go ahead and plan for your leftovers. Do you love turkey soup, or turkey sandwiches, or hash? Make sure you have the ingredients on hand to make those, to save a trip to the store Friday morning.”
Theo Weening, Global Meat CoordinatorSource your turkey carefully. “Many conventional grocers advertise ‘fresh’ turkeys that are actually harvested nine months or more before Thanksgiving. At Whole Foods Market, our fresh turkeys are raised to the perfect size and processed just before the holiday season so we can offer the freshest and best tasting turkey possible.”
Keep the door closed. “Resist the urge to frequently open the oven door and check on the turkey. It causes temperature fluctuations and lengthens the cooking time.”
Check the temp. “The fresher the turkey, the faster it cooks. Follow the cooking guidelines on the packaging carefully and keep a meat thermometer handy to test the thickest part of the thigh not touching the bone for doneness. When the thermometer registers 165°F, it’s ready. And, when you pull out the turkey, be sure to give it a rest. Turkey needs to rest for about 30 minutes. This redistributes the juices and makes for smooth carving. If you want the skin to stay crisp, don’t cover it.”
Cathy Strange, Global Cheese and Specialty Foods BuyerLove your cheesemongers. “Cheesemongers can point out what’s best to eat now. Serve both bread and crackers. Different textures enhance the experience. Reminder, the cheese is the star so keep the selection of crackers to complement the cheese(s).”
Balance the sweet and savory. “Savory additions to a cheese plate like olives, roasted nuts and marinated vegetables are key. Seasonal fruits rule. The sweetness in fruit complements the saltiness of cheese and the acidy highlights the cream.”
Cheese is alive; let it breathe. “Letting cheeses ‘breathe’ for 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving enhances the flavors."
Jeanne Tamayo, Global Lifestyle BuyerCandles provide that little something extra. “Place a citrus or green scented candle in the bathroom to keep it fresh and tapers on the table. Thistle Farms, a non-profit social enterprise, makes 6 candles and room sprays . Fresh Pine is usually a holiday favorite. And Big Dipper has the best tapers made with 100% Beeswax in lovely colors.
Dress comfy. “Wear a sleek pair of black leggings and coordinating knit cotton tunic. The natural fabric “breathes”, and stretches, which will make you feel comfortable whether you in a hot kitchen, in front of a fire or at a dining table. PACT and Synergy are favorite apparel brands that make easy separates with flattering silhouettes.”