By: Brit + Co.
Focus on the bird!Prepping for your first Thanksgiving? Or simply tend to be accident-prone when it comes to a big feast? We scouted around and talked to renowned chefs Michael Mina, Andrew Zimmern, Spike Mendelsohn, Marcus Samuelsson, and Angie Dudley to find out what they learned from their biggest Thanksgiving mistakes. Read on to find out what you should do to keep your turkey day perfect as pumpkin pie.
1. Think Outside the Typical Spice Cabinet: Chef Marcus Samuelsson encourages you to think outside the box when it comes to the flavors of your feast.
I'm always mixing up Thanksgiving dinner, using different spices and adding unexpected dishes to the lineup. For example, I roast turkey with my favorite Ethiopian spice, Berbere, and I love making spicy cornbread stuffing. I think the biggest mistake someone can make is not thinking outside the box! It can be really fun to break the mold, whether it's as simple as an added spice to one dish, or a total departure from tradition in all parts of the meal.
2. Outsource All Your Sides, Focus on the Bird: Next up, Travel Channel food guru Andrew Zimmern encourages you to focus, focus, focus!
Thanksgiving is the day many of the country's least experienced cooks take on the daunting task of cooking 8 or 10 dishes that they only produce once a year. It's folly. I know of cooks who shop, prep, chop, dice and finally turn to the stove on the fateful morning only to find that they need 3 ovens and 7 burners to cook their menu. Sadly most kitchens have one oven and 4 burners of varying sizes. It doesn't work. Additionally, cooking a turkey well is almost impossible under most conditions. White meat needs to be cooked to 160 degrees AND with crispy skin. Dark meat needs to be cooked to 175 degrees for the connective tissue to break down. Oh, and stuffing complicates the matter.
Outsourcing all your sides to guests and focusing on the bird should be everyone's goal.
3. Do Your Allergy Homework: Now this is one we can all relate to. Top Chef contest Spike Mendelsohn reminds us to check about food allergies, dietary restrictions, and any other unusual circumstances before you plan your menu.
Find out if anyone coming over for dinner has allergies beforehand. Don't let all of your hard work and hours of labor go to waste because you didn't know your brother in-law can't eat chestnuts!
4. Calibrate Your Oven Ahead of Time: SF food legend Michael Mina has some rather practical learnings that boil down to one simple fact: All ovens are not created equal ;)
One Thanksgiving, I did a fairly standard technique of starting with a hot oven to crisp the turkey skin, then switching to low temp to finish the bird for a couple hours. We had a big holiday football party at our home and everyone was outside enjoying the day. My only job was the turkey! I was "the chef" so it made sense to give me that assignment. Everyone else had their side dishes prepared and ready to go. It wasn't until dinner time that I realized the 300 degree oven was much below that temperature and we had to wait an additional 2 hours for the turkey to cook through. It was very embarrassing that everyone else was prepared while the star of the show, my turkey, held us all up for so long!
Lesson from Experience: Ovens are not always calibrated. It's important to keep this in mind since time and temperature are very important when cooking a turkey. You don't want to dry the turkey out. I recommend using an oven thermometer to test the temp of your oven, and avoid the mistake I made years ago.
5. Relax, and Be Thankful: Angie Dudley, of Bakerella fame, shares her sage wisdom on keeping nerves out of the Thanksgiving equation.
Hosting your very first Thanksgiving can be way stressful. Don't let it be. Don't make the mistake of being too nervous. Just relax. No matter what happens, enjoy the moment being around the ones you love. And hey, if a dish goes downhill or that bird comes out a little burnt, that will just give you something to laugh about over turkey next year. Making memories is what's most important.
All in all, it seems like the keys to a good Thanksgiving are good planning, unusual flavors, and making sure that you make the most of the moment. Good lessons all around chefs! :)
For more Thanksgiving tips and tricks, head to the Thanksgiving section of Brit + Co. Happy Turkey Day!