It never fails: every year at Thanksgiving I run out of space or equipment to get everything cooked on time. Then we have cold stuffing or gravy that has separated — and a frustrated cook. So this year, I’ve read every single Thanksgiving cooking hack on the Internet (not quite, but whoa), and I’ve picked the ones that actually seem helpful. Because, no, tinfoil origami to save my pie at the last minute just doesn’t seem helpful in real life.
These 10 Thanksgiving cooking hacks, on the other hand, do.
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Thanksgiving cooking hack #1: Shop the salad bar
I actually use this hack all year long, but it’s especially a lifesaver when you’re cooking for a crowd. Instead of spending your entire day chopping and dicing, hit up your grocery store’s salad bar for pre-cut veggies. Or browse the produce or frozen foods sections to see if your store offers packaged pre-cut options. It’ll be a little more expensive, but the time saved might be worth it.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #2: Use ice as a fat separator
I don’t own a fat separator and can’t quite bring myself to buy one since I’ll only use it once a year. So when I saw the tip to use ice cubes instead, I was intrigued. It turns out that if you drop ice into the drippings, the fat will cling to the cubes and solidify. After a few minutes, you can pull them out… along with all the fat.
Just be careful: Hot grease with spit and pop when you first add the ice, because science. If that makes you nervous, another option is to put your drippings in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to let the fat solidify — and separate.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #3: Make mashed potatoes in the microwave
Don’t take up a whole burner on your stovetop just to boil potatoes, which can also take a while. Instead, cook them in your slow cooker or, even better (because the slow cooker can be doing other things…) follow our recipe for making mashed potatoes in the microwave. Game changer.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #4: Use a thermos to keep sauces warm (or cold)
I seriously over cook on Thanksgiving (which is half the fun), and it takes all the burners we have… and more. Which is why I hate to use one just for keeping our gravy warm. But cold gravy? No thanks. Instead, once it’s ready, you can store hot gravy in a large thermos.
Many brands will keep your hot liquids warm for up to 12-14 hours. And, hint: You can also use a thermos to keep your cranberry sauce cold if you’ve run out of room in the fridge.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #5: Use the dishwasher to wash potatoes
This one sounds crazy to me, but so many people swear by washing potatoes in the dishwasher. Do you dare try it? If so, you can find the step-by-step directions over at WikiHow. They promise your potatoes will come out clean, and a little par-cooked, which can be convenient if you’re roasting or mashing them.
Another option: Put the kids in charge. Washing and peeling potatoes is the perfect job for them. Before you call them into the kitchen, fill a large bowl (or cooler, if you’re making a ton of potatoes) with water and let the potatoes soak for 30 minutes or so. When the kids pull them out, you’ll see the dirty water left behind. A quick rinse and scrub or peel is all they will need after that.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #6: Use a cooler for drinks (or the turkey)
Don’t waste valuable refrigerator space on drinks when a cooler will work just fine. We’ll be loading ours with LaCroix, juice boxes for the kids, and maybe a bottle or two of wine.
That said, just like your thermos, your cooler can keep items warm too. Stack casserole dishes (with cardboard between them) to keep sides warm while you wait on the turkey, or slow roast your turkey overnight and keep it warm all morning in the cooler while your sides cook up.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #7: Make your whole meal in one Instant pot
Photo by Claire Lower for LifeHacker
This recipe for Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy in the Instant Pot at LifeHacker is brilliant if you’re feeding a small group. It puts all the work on our favorite appliance, leaving you free to make pie or just watch the parade with your family.
If this won’t work — or just doesn’t appeal — you can still use your Instant Pot to help take things off of your hands, off of your burners, and to speed things up too. Check out our round up of Instant Pot recipes for Thanksgiving for a full run down of what your IP can take care of for you.
Who knew Thanksgiving cooking could be so easy?
Thanksgiving cooking hack #8: Make a DIY roasting rack
If using your oven, it’s pretty important that you cook your turkey on a roasting rack so that heat gets all the way around the bird. (This is true whether you’re roasting a whole turkey or a spatchcocked bird.) But what happens when you realize too late that you don’t have one? Make it yourself!
You can MacGyver a rack by shaping aluminum foil into a spiral shaped trivet on which you can set the bird. Or make a “rack” out of carrots, onions, celery, and other aromatics like in this slide show at Cooking Channel (scroll through to see!). Practical and delicious.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #9: Make one big pie
This recipe for a Four-Flavor Sheet Pan Pie at Food Network is brilliant (and the recipe comes with a video tutorial!). Finally, we don’t have to choose. Make all the Thanksgiving pies in one shot and impress the family with this show-stopping hack.
Thanksgiving cooking hack #9: Don’t baste the turkey
I used to be religious about basting my turkey every 30 minutes, but it turns out that doing so is actually a bad idea. It doesn’t help that much and all that oven door opening-and-closing lowers the oven temp. No wonder the turkey is never done on time!
Instead, mix together butter (or your favorite fat) with your herbs and spices of choice (you can use one of these compound butter recipes). Put a thick layer underneath the turkey’s skin, between the skin and the meat, and rub any leftover on top. Then leave the oven door closed the whole time you cook — you’ll still have a turkey with crispy, delicious skin.