Not Enough Food & Other Thanksgiving Dinner Misadventures:  How to Prevent These 6 Common Cooking Mistakes

Not Enough Food & Other Thanksgiving Dinner Misadventures: How to Prevent These 6 Common Cooking Mistakes

8 minute read

Mark Twain once wrote, "some of the worst things in my life have never even happened." We can assume that he wasn’t talking about things like still-frozen Thanksgiving turkeys, whole-family food poisoning, or the thing that keeps most good hosts awake at night--not enough food.

Of course this is all in jest, but we know there’s always a hint of truth inside jokes. The last thing any of us want this Thanksgiving 2021 is for any misadventures to occur in our kitchen or at our dinner tables. A joyful holiday with our closest friends and relatives, good, wholesome food, and an attitude of gratitude are the number one menu items every year, but especially this year.

But as they say, sh*t happens, and even the best laid Thanksgiving plans don’t always work out, even when we’ve done our due diligence. I recall one example when my mother invited the whole lot of us over for a special dinner of chicken cordon bleu with a recipe she was trying out for the first time. As the 12 of us sat around the table and cut into the juicy chicken cutlet stuffed with ham and melty Swiss cheese, my sister, ever the diplomat, blurted out, "ew, it’s raw inside!" and pushed her plate away.

Everyone stopped, gulped, and began to inspect their cutlet, most of which were now half eaten. I checked mine and spied a clear, pink fleshy hue indicative of undercooked chicken, but I surmised that could also just be a bit of ham. I couldn’t be sure. So, I inspected my sister’s cutlet and saw that it was indeed raw in the center. My ever-prepared mother had pre-made the stuffed cutlets and cooked them from a frozen state. Needless to say, most of us acquired wretched stomachs and bowels for the next 36 hours! My poor mother was mortified.

You don’t want to poison your family (well, not really). But even on the lighter side of things, you’d prefer that nothing go wrong this Thanksgiving holiday. So, we’re going to cover some of the most common Thanksgiving dinner mishaps (besides any belligerent behaviour inspired by too much wine), to first bring your attention to what could go wrong. That heightened awareness should be enough to avoid most issues. Then we’ll cover how to prevent or correct these little mishaps from occurring in your kitchen.

#1 The turkey doesn’t thaw in time

Once this reality is upon you, there’s not much you can do about it, other than feeding your guests at 2 a.m. when the bird is finally ready. That’s why prevention is paramount. 

A safe, general rule to allow 24 hours of thaw time to every 5 lbs of turkey. So a 15 pound bird, suitable for approximately 12 people, would require 3 days of refrigerated thaw time. 

So, what if you follow the rule and it’s still a bit frosty? Here’s a trick: keeping it wrapped, submerge the turkey in a sink full of cold water. After 30 minutes, drain the water and refill the sink. Repeat this process until the turkey is thawed. 

How to thaw a turkey overnight? Refrigerate the frozen turkey overnight then apply the 30-minute cold-water rotation process described above to bring it to a full thaw. 

#2 The turkey is too small

Another general rule applies here with prevention in mind: plan for 1.25 pounds of turkey per person. Of course, some people are big eaters, so being a little generous here doesn’t hurt. Turkey leftovers are never a problem, especially for the creative cook.

But what if unanticipated guests arrive? And worse, what if they follow a vegan diet? It always pays to have an extra, though smaller, main dish. A small honey ham is a suitable back-up or supplementary option. However, we recommend having a vegan or vegetarian friendly dish, just in case. A nut loaf is an excellent choice. It’s easy to make, super delicious, and it satisfies big appetites so it’s a good stand-in when the bird falls short.

#3 Goopy mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes that resemble glue aren’t edible, and there are very few who can argue with that! An obvious tip is not to use instant potato from a box -- stick to the real thing. 

Yukon gold potatoes are the best spuds for making creamy mashed potatoes with just a hint of sweetness. Whole milk or cream, cream cheese, or plain full-fat yogurt are the best options for bringing that creaminess up a notch without any resulting glue-like consistency. Of course butter and salt factor in here too!

However, the main ingredient in preventing goopy mashed potatoes is not actually an ingredient -- it’s a method. Overworked potatoes, which may result from being a bit overzealous in preventing lumps, end up being too starchy. Instead of using a handheld masher, use a potato ricer to break down cooked potatoes into small pieces with little effort. Once you add the other ingredients and give them a gentle stir/whip, they’ll turn into smooth, fluffy, mashed potato clouds of heaven.

Check out our free Priority Chef Guide on The Best Small Kitchen Appliances of 2021 for making your Thanksgiving cooking easy and efficient.

#4 You try out new recipes

If you read the chicken cordon bleu example at the start then you know what can go wrong. In all your years of cooking, you’ve probably experienced a handful of times (at least) in which a new recipe just didn’t work out for no noticeable reason. When you’re in the throes of Thanksgiving dinner, you’re surrounded by kitchen chaos (even the organized kind), so you’re not giving your full attention to one thing in particular. 

Keep it tried, tested, and true, and leave the experiments for another, less auspicious day. If you’re set on attempting a new dish, test it out in advance, even just for yourself.

#5 Cold food

Getting the timing right on cooking so everything lands on the dinner table hot and fresh might be your biggest challenge. There’s only so much real estate on your stove top and in your oven, so oftentimes, dishes have to take turns. Whatever can be reheated and maintain its desired taste and texture can be cooked first and warmed at the last minute. Ensure that the foods that can’t sit around are finished cooking just before the eating starts. 

If that sounds complicated, it certainly can be if you don’t organize a schedule in advance. Write your process down and set timers for different sounds to alert you when particular dishes must go in or come out of the oven (or on or off the stovetop). 

In addition, choose recipes that can be made in an air fryer or a slow cooker. We dug up this delicious recipe from Stephanie’s Kitchen YouTube Channel for Holiday Yams in the Slow Cooker.

#6 The gravy is lumpy

While this may not be the worst thing that can ever happen, it’s certainly disappointing! Gravy is one of those nice "extras" that you like but kind of take for granted until you don’t have it. Then you wonder how turkey ever got on without it!

The trick to smooth gravy is to sift the flour first and then take time sprinkling it in while whisking vigorously. That should prevent any lumps from forming. However, if lumps do appear, simply pour the gravy through a fine-meshed sieve and "push" the lumps through.

Thanksgiving turkey

3 Extra Tips…

Don’t make too many dishes in advance or too far in advance. 

Double-check the expiration dates on all ingredients, particularly if you’re using any stuff that has been in your fridge for a while. 

Ask for help. Some cooks work better alone, but remember -- Thanksgiving is about family and togetherness so try to find a way to involve a few people and give them easy tasks like arranging decorations, setting the table, dividing up the condiments, or folding the napkins. 

For more great kitchen tips and awesome deals on exclusive kitchenware, join our Insider's Club.

From our kitchen to yours, Happy Thanksgiving to you & your family! We hope it’s a fantastic feast!

« Back to Blog