Win Thanksgiving – Tips from a professional Chef

Oct 5, 2018 | Cooking Tips

Thanksgiving day can be hectic and stressful. You are trying to cook a giant meal for way more people than you’re used to. You want everything to be perfect and put an unrealistic amount of pressure on yourself. There are people everywhere, kids under feet, and all you want to do is lock yourself in the bathroom with a bottle of wine until Thanksgiving is over.

What if I told you that there was another way? What if there were some tricks that professionals use to ease the pressure a little? Well, luckily there are some tricks that you can use. And luckily, I’m here to give them to you.

Do things ahead of time

One of the biggest mistakes people make when putting together a Thanksgiving dinner is trying to do everything on the day. Trying to do everything at once makes things much more difficult than they need to be.  There are some items that can be prepared a day ahead so that on Thanksgiving day you just have to finish them. These are small things, that are easy to do but take up time. Things like making the stuffing, peeling and dicing vegetables, making pie dough, and even dressing your turkey. Let’s look at stuffing for a second.

The most labour intensive part of making stuffing is cutting or pulling the bread. It’s not difficult, but it takes a lot of time. This can be done a day or two ahead. Or, if you have a big freezer, it can be done weeks ahead. Just cube up your bread, put it in a plastic bag and freeze it. Or, cut up your bread, put it in a large bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and set it out of the way for a day or two.

If the bread goes slightly stale it’s only going to make better stuffing. You can even season the bread with herbs at this point. Just don’t add anything fresh like chopped onions until you are ready to use it. But even the onions could be chopped a day in advance and kept in the fridge if tightly covered.

So, if you prepare your bread and onions a day ahead all you have to do is mix them, add a bit of fat and seasoning then bake. It will take you less than ten minutes to put the stuffing together on Thanksgiving day.

Vegetables are another item that is not difficult to prepare but takes a lot of time. Peeling and dicing of potatoes, carrots, and turnip can be done a day ahead. The potatoes will have to be kept in water to prevent them from oxidizing. The carrots and turnip just need to be tightly covered as long as it’s only for one day. These items should be kept in the fridge but if you don’t have space, keeping them in the coldest part of your house will be fine for one day as long as they are tightly covered.

If your vegetables are all peeled and diced, then all you have to do on the day is cook, season, and mash them. That alone takes away a lot of pressure.

Even Brussels sprouts can be trimmed and ready to go a day ahead. Pretty much any vegetable can be ready to go in advance.

Another time-saving trick is to pre-dress your turkey. Have it fully seasoned and dressed ready to pop in the oven. This way when you wake up in the morning all you have to do is put the turkey in the oven. No time spent messing about.

Even the pie dough can be ready. Pie dough will last in the fridge for four or five days as long as it is tightly wrapped. So, you can make it a few days in advance and then just pull it out of the fridge half an hour or so before you want to start making your pies.

Having everything ready at the same time

Having everything ready at the same time throws a lot of people off because it’s really difficult to do. But, the reality of it is, you don’t need to. Everything does not need to be ready at the exact same time. Yes, obviously you do not want to eat your carrots an hour after everything else but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.

Think of it this way. Your turkey needs to rest for a minimum of thirty minutes. Probably, closer to an hour depending on its size. That gives you at least a thirty-minute window to get a pile of stuff done. Even within that thirty minutes, you have a lot of wiggle room. Let’s use mashed potatoes as an example.

When made properly, mashed potatoes can sit, covered, for a half hour and still retain their heat. By making them properly I mean heating the milk and butter rather than adding them cold to the potatoes. This one simple thing will make your life so much easier. By heating the milk and butter before adding them to the potatoes, you are maintaining the temperature of the potatoes. Adding cold milk and butter drops the temperature and the potatoes can’t retain their heat.

Once the potatoes are cooked drain them into a colander. Let them sit in the colander for a few minutes while you heat the butter and milk together in the pot you just cooked the potatoes in. Once the butter and milk are heated, add the potatoes back into the pot, mash, cover, and leave on top of the stove until ready to use. After about a half hour the potatoes will start to lose heat.

If you are having mashed carrots and turnip, which was always a staple of my family thanksgivings, they can be prepared in a similar way to the potatoes. However, they will only hold their heat for about fifteen minutes. But, getting these two items mashed and out of the way will ease the last minute burden a lot.

Really, the only thing that needs to be done at the very last minute is any green vegetable. Green vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or peas don’t hold very well. They don’t hold heat and they lose their colour. So, cook those items at the very last minute.


Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what you have and spending time with the people you love. You shouldn’t be buried in the kitchen all day. And you shouldn’t be exhausted by the time dinner rolls around. By doing things in advanced, and staggering when dishes are finished cooking you will make your day a lot more enjoyable. You will give yourself more time to spend with your family, and you will be less stressed so they will actually want to spend time with you.

Before I go

Before I go I wanted to say one thing. This Sunday, October 7, 2018, I will be making myself available on social media to answer any Thanksgiving related food questions. So, if you have any Thanksgiving food emergencies feel free to contact me on Instagram or Twitter @chefbenkelly or on facebook @benkellycooks and I will answer your questions as quickly as I can.

Have a great Thanksgiving Everybody.



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