So you’re making Thanksgiving dinner this year. Maybe it’s your 50th time, maybe it’s your very first foray into the world of turkey dinners. Lots could go wrong (not saying it will), and in those moments of panic, you need a place to turn to. Fortunately, you have us. We’ve collected some of the most common Thanksgiving emergencies — and solutions to those problems. Fear lumpy mashed potatoes no more, and read on.
1. Everything is going great. I haven’t burned anything yet, I remembered to turn on the oven this year and my bird looked perfectly golden when I pulled it out at the planned time. Now I realize the breast is cooked, but the thighs aren’t. Can I fix this?
Yes! Create a foil tent for just the breast (it’s fun!). The foil slows down the cooking so the breasts don’t dry out, and the exposed thighs and legs continue to cook. You can also carve off the turkey legs and thighs and return them to the oven to cook separately.
The solution: Try dry brining your turkey, which helps ensure extra moisture and makes it more forgiving if your breasts end up being overcooked in the process of completely cooking the thighs and legs.
2. Ugh, my turkey is dry. And I really don’t want to have to live through people politely smiling through their teeth and insisting “the turkey is soooo good!” Lies. Lies!
Prepare for the worst: Plan to have a saucepan with extra turkey or chicken stock warming on the stovetop, or just have it around to quickly heat up. Fan out sliced turkey on a platter and ladle warm stock right over top. It’s like a moisture bath for your bird. Then it’s all about presentation: Right before serving, drizzle with warm gravy and your guests will think you’re a pro. Add a sprig of thyme and you’ll blow their minds.
The solution: Again, dry brining is magic when it comes to encouraging a moist bird, even when it’s slightly overcooked.
3. You know that nightmare where you’re naked in a crowd? Mine is forgetting to thaw my turkey. And it came true.
It’s the day before and you notice that the turkey is still frozen. Place it in the sink and cover with cold water, being sure to drain and refill the sink every half hour. It thaws at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound — so if your bird is 12 pounds and it’s 12 pm, tell your guests to arrive at 6 pm and prepare them for three hours of charades and a 9 pm dinner time. (It takes six hours to thaw and three hours to cook.) Position it as “Late Night Thanksgiving.” So hip.
The solution: Set a reminder on your phone. Seriously.
4. The stuffing isn’t hot enough, but the turkey is cooked.
Make sure the temperature of the stuffing comes to 165°F for food safety. (The turkey must be at 165°F, too.) But if you pulled the turkey out of the oven to check its temperature and the stuffing hasn’t come to 165°F yet, scoop out the stuffing and transfer it to a baking dish to go back in the oven, and bake while the turkey rests before carving. You can get a crispy crust on it this way, too.
The solution: Try loosely packing the stuffing in the turkey and baking any extra in its own side dish. Or don’t stuff it all and use aromatics (like whole lemons pricked with a fork, fresh herbs and onions or shallots) placed in the cavity to infuse the bird with fragrance and flavor. Or just cook the stuffing outside of the turkey in a separate dish.
5. My mashed potatoes are lumpy. Not on purpose.
A) Don’t care, and call them “smashed,” homestyle” or “rustic.”
B) Add a good splash of extra milk or half & half and cook over low heat, giving them a gentle mash and being careful not to stir too frequently, until the lumps begin to soften. This also works in the microwave. Or, add other textures to the mashed potatoes to mask the lumps, like stirring in 365 Everyday Value Crispy Onions.
Unfortunately, there is some cold hard truth: If your potatoes are truly undercooked, you can spoon out the un-cooked chunks … or you’ll have to start all over again. If it’s too late and your guests are knocking on your door, just skip the potatoes. Everyone will survive.
The solution: Lumps usually come from undercooked potatoes, or from not cutting them into equal pieces when simmering, which prevents them from cooking at the same rate. Keep an eye on both of those things for next time.
6. I was determined to make gravy this year and it’s, ahem … textured. How do I get rid of those lumps?
Pass it through a sieve or give it a whirl in a blender or food processor right before serving. Just be extra cautious of the hot liquid.
The solution: Adding flour too quickly to the simmering stock will produce lumps. Avoid this by gradually adding the flour into the gravy base.
7. My pie is burnt. Like, really burnt. Please tell me this is salvageable.
Turn it into individual parfaits by scraping off the burnt areas, scooping the filling into wine glasses and layering with whipped cream and crumbled bits of the less-burnt pieces of crust. Repeat with multiple layers if you are able to rescue a good amount of the pie. Now pat yourself on the back and be thankful it wasn’t the turkey. (Be sure to taste it since the burnt flavor can get into the parts that don’t appear burnt. When all else fails, just swing by Whole Foods Market and buy a pie. We are here for you, you know.)
The solution: If you notice your crust is burning, you can cover it up with foil, so the filling continues to cook and the foil slows down the browning of the crust. Or just … pay closer attention? Sorry, but it’s true.
8. Despite watching cooking shows religiously for weeks in preparation, my pie has the dreaded soggy-bottom syndrome. After I’m done drowning my sorrows in whipped cream straight from the can, what can I do?
First, give yourself a break. Everyone has a soggy bottom now and then. Abandon the idea of a crust altogether — who needs crust?! — and spoon out fruit-based filling over ice cream, or treat as you do a burnt pie and go for individual parfaits.
The solution: If you blind-bake the crust either partially or fully, try a genius tip from Lisa Ludwinski at Sister Pie and spread 2 tablespoons of cream cheese over the crust before adding the filling to prevent the wet filling from sinking in.
9. My pumpkin pie has a crack on top so large that I could hide inside of it in baking shame.
The easiest fix of all—top your cracked pie or cheesecake with a mountain of whipped cream and your guests will be none the wiser. (Have you tried our 365 Everyday Value Pumpkin Spice Whipped Topping? Get on that.)
The solution: Avoid the crack by cooking a custard-based pie for less time. Custards need to cook only until just set, then gradually cooled by turning off the oven, propping the oven door slightly ajar and letting it come to room temperature before refrigerating.