7 Scary Things About Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner That Really Aren't
1) "Cooking turkey is hard."
Honestly, it's not. Buying a turkey can be a pain. Prepping a turkey is awkward and a little gross. But once that bird is in the oven, time and temperature finish the job for you. For added foolproof-osity, put aluminum foil over the breasts to make sure the skin doesn't burn, and use a cooking thermometer to tell you when the turkey is done. Do that, and making turkey is about as risky as making toast. Here's a really simple turkey recipe (plus video) to guide you.
2) "It's impossible to get everything to come out hot."
It's not easy, but it's not impossible either. Your slow cooker can keep mashed potatoes warm (as in this recipe), and gravy too. Also—once the turkey is ready to come out you have a free oven for 25 minutes while the bird's juices settle and you carve it. Use this time to warm up casseroles and rolls. This video—Thanksgiving Timed Right—is an outstanding guide for getting a full dinner cooked in one day and served hot. Critically, it includes time for wine breaks.
3) "Turkey meat is always dry."
Mine ain't! The secret—although it may not be much of a secret anymore—is brining the turkey overnight. (Hey, I was brining WAY before it was cool.) The salty brine traps water molecules in the turkey meat by some chemical process you can read more about on Wikipedia, preventing the meat from drying out as you roast it. Fair warning: At least one relative will blurt out "this is the best turkey I've ever had," make sure you distract whichever non-brining aunt has been cooking the turkey for the last three decades when they do. Here's a good basic turkey brine recipe.
4) "I'm going to have to rush to get everything done."
Nah. If you start early enough you can get a lot of the prep work out of the way. I'm usually up at 7am, chopping veggies and measuring out spices for later. This way the whole day proceeds at a leisurely pace, most people's favorite kind.
5) "Vegetarians are coming, now I have to make two dinners."
You don't need to make extra dishes if you've got vegetarians greening up your guest list. Here's why: Stuffing can easily be made vegetarian, often just by substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth. Extra veggie sides and potatoes are easy to make, and are totally meatless if you serve additions like bacon and gravy on the side. And, for a second main dish, make macaroni and cheese (if you live in the South, you're probably making this anyway). Stuffing, veggies, mashed potatoes, and mac & cheese? That's a feast anyone would be thankful for.
6) "That's a lot to cook in one day!"
True...but you don't have to do it in a day! Here's 35 make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes, including gravy, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. You won't see pies on this list, because they're usually best made-ahead anyway; they set better given a day in the fridge.
7) "The grocery store is a madhouse."
Sure, if you go at 6pm on Wednesday night. Instead, find the nearest 24-hour supermarket and go late Tuesday night or very early Wednesday morning. I do this every year—it's as low-stress a grocery trip as you'll ever have.
Give yourself plenty of time, take deep breaths, and stay confident—you'll be surprised at how well everything turns out.