How To: Time-Saving Food Hacks for the 7 Most Common Thanksgiving Foods

Time-Saving Food Hacks for the 7 Most Common Thanksgiving Foods

With T-Day on the horizon and approaching rapidly, you are probably in one of two camps. The one that is eagerly awaiting the holiday feast with barely-contained drool. Or the one that involves breathing heavily into a paper bag while worrying about your lack of oven and stovetop real estate, while also bemoaning the lack of multiples of you to get all the prep work done.

Fear not, group 2. We at Food Hacks, being avid home cooks ourselves, empathize with your plight. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to minimize the chances of an anxiety attack this Thanksgiving that we ourselves employ each year. And if all else fails, then break out the booze (and cook with it, too).

1. Mashed Potatoes

Yes, the carb-lovers' delight; you can't have a proper Thanksgiving feast without mashed potatoes! But this simple staple involves a lot of work, as anyone who has had to mash enough potatoes for 20–30 people can attest (yes, I mean me).

I've wasted a lot of time peeling potatoes in the traditional way, but there is a much faster way to peel potatoes that only takes a minute. If you have a clean, unused toilet brush (emphasis on unused) and a power drill, then you can kiss that flimsy vegetable peeler goodbye.

If you're not making enough mashed potatoes to feed your entire extended family, I recommend following this smooth video from CHOW:

Simply boil the potatoes with their skins on, then immerse them in an ice-water bath for ten seconds or until they're not too hot to touch. Then pick up the potato and pull the skin off with your hands.

Once your potatoes are peeled, they need some mashing. We recommend using a potato ricer for extra-fluffy taters if you've got one (and if you don't, you can find one here). And lastly, use the trick makes mashed potatoes fluffy without having to add extra butter or milk.

If you love potatoes but are getting bored with the same old mashed potato side dish, Hasselback potatoes, crispy roasted potatoes, and kid-friendly tater tots are equally tasty substitutes.

2. Stuffing

Stuffing is just as important as the turkey — and some may argue that it is more important, as its flavor is often used to enhance each bite of the big bird.

Since stuffing is basically a savory bread pudding, it also benefits from stiffer bread that will hold its shape despite being soaked with broth. Because of this, stuffing is a great way to use bread that has gone stale — and this includes stale bagels as well.

My favorite recipe for stuffing ever... too delicious! Image by Ingalls Photography/Saveur

While I love traditional stuffing and can eat it any day of the week, you may be looking for different ways to enjoy eating stuffing; don't worry, there are hacks for that.

3. Cornbread

I love me a moist, sweet-crumb cornbread baked fresh on the skillet. Not everyone is a fan of sweet cornbread. In fact, there's a bit of a debate over which should be considered real cornbread. But in my book, sweet trumps savory any day. (Guess that makes me a Yankee, which wouldn't be wrong, seeing that I grew up in Delaware.)

Looks so good, I can almost smell the cornbread baking! Image by Stacy/Wicked Good Kitchen

While I will admit that the boxed mix makes a decent cornbread, there's no reason you can't make your own mix in advance and bake it fresh for the feast. Better yet, add creamed corn to your homemade mix and watch the compliments pile up at dinner.

4. Cranberry Sauce

I've never been much of a cranberry fan; this is likely because I grew up with canned cranberry jelly and not real cranberry sauce. While I've made peace with my mother for the years in which I was cranberry sauce-deprived, I've vowed to never follow in her footsteps. Well, when it comes to cranberry sauce, that is.

Luckily, making cranberry sauce is super easy — so easy, in fact, that the directions for making cranberry sauce are often featured on the fresh bag of cranberries that you pick up at the grocery store. (For the lazy: 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, 12 oz. of cranberries. Boil, stir, enjoy.)

Fresh cranberries beat the canned jelly, any day. Image by Des/Life's Ambrosia

If you'd like to add a little pizzazz to the plain recipe, we've got a method that uses port wine in the sauce for added depth of flavor. Or, you may be tired of the same old boring recipes — in which case this cranberry chutney recipe is right up your alley.

5. Green Bean Casserole

It's now quite well-known that the ubiquitous green bean casserole was invented in 1955 by the Campbell Soup Company to promote the use of its cream of mushroom soup. The campaign was so successful that, nowadays, it's hard to imagine sitting down at the table on Thanksgiving without seeing this fried onion-topped dish.

Although using the canned soup is classic, I prefer to make the casserole itself from scratch: with homemade soup, home-fried onions, and fresh green beans (more specifically, of the haricot vert variety). If you choose to do the same, be sure to blanch your green beans before you add them to the casserole — both to preserve their bright green color and to shorten the overall time in the oven.

Best. Campaign. Ever. Image by Laura Sant/Saveur

As for the soup, you can follow a series of video tutorials that walks you through making cream of mushroom at home. And last — but most certainly not least — the fried onion has to be on point. That's why I use this recipe from The Pioneer Woman, which is not only easy to follow but sinfully delicious as well.

6. The Turkey

We've come to the climax of the show, the main star of Thanksgiving: the turkey itself! Turkey can make or break your entire meal, and it's essential to know the common mistakes that most people make to avoid making them yourself.

My favorite method of preparing a turkey involves brining, or submerging, the raw bird in a salt solution. The best part about brining, hands down, is not having to baste the turkey continuously while roasting!

It almost looks too perfect to eat, doesn't it? Image by Annie/Flickr

Deep-frying the turkey whole has become popular in recent years as well, and this preparation also produces juicy, flavorful meat. However, be aware that deep-frying comes with its own set of precautions: make sure you know how to put out a grease fire before frying up a bird at home.

And don't forget to switch things up once in a while, as prepping turkey the same way every year can get boring and become a chore.

Turkey Bonus Tip: Roasting Pan

For a traditionally-roasted bird, nothing beats a good old-fashioned roasting rack. Keeping the turkey off of the pan ensures both even cooking and a crisper skin, and the pan juices collect without being re-absorbed when the bird is held aloft by the rack.

A turkey, hanging out on the roasting rack. Image by Tim Pierce/Flickr

If you neglected to pick up a specialized roasting rack before the shops closed down for the holidays and are in a state of panic, don't worry! You can fashion a roasting rack out of aluminum foil and still get an even roast on your turkey. (You may want to see what else you can make with aluminum foil, too — it's quite versatile.)

7. Pumpkin Pie

This dessert is the highlight of the spread for me, and I always make sure to have space in my tummy for one slice (or two) at the end of my gluttonous meal.

The pie crust is probably the part of this dish that requires the most attention — and is often intimidating to new bakers. Check out our guide on what makes or breaks a pie crust to help you master the basics. And if you've got vodka lying around (who doesn't?), then you may want to give this vodka pie crust a go.

Save the last piece for me, please. Image by Dorothy Reinhold/Shockingly Delicious

As for the pumpkin, the big question is whether or not you want to use fresh pumpkin or use canned (which you should always keep in your pantry, both for pie and other reasons). If you decide that you'd like to go the extra mile and make the pumpkin filling from scratch, I recommend using a sugar pumpkin instead, which is smaller than the usual jack-o'-lantern-sized pumpkins and has higher sugar content.

However, if pumpkin pie has started to become trite at your dessert buffet, or if you're running short on time, these two-ingredient pumpkin brownies make an excellent, uncomplicated substitute.

Food Coma Ahoy!

Thanksgiving can be stressful in the hours leading up to dinner, but don't forget to enjoy yourself once everyone is gathered at the table. Even if your pie crust is a little burnt or your potatoes a little bland, the most crucial part of the holiday is to spend quality time with the people you care about most — while stuffing your face with gleeful abandon.

More Helpful Hacks for T-Day

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Cover images via Shutterstock (1, 2, 3, 4)

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