French for “everything in its place,” mise-en-place is the practice of prepping all the ingredients and measuring them out in advance. Making a stuffing? Dice up the celery and veggies the day before, and store them in a plastic container or plastic bag in the fridge. Using breadcrumbs? Spices? Measure them out into another bag or small container. If you’re baking your stuffing separate from the bird—recommended for food-safety reasons—you can even stash the mise-en-place parts inside the baking pan and store the whole thing in the fridge. Then, on Thanksgiving day itself, just pull the pan out of the fridge and mix-and-go. (Tuck a copy of the recipe into the pan when you’re prepping, too!) Repeat this for all your dishes, and you’ve already cut the big day’s work by more than half. And if something goes wrong while cooking, check out our simple fixes for 10 common Thanksgiving food fails.
Use the microwave
I know, heresy, but the microwave does a great job for cooking certain types of foods such as potatoes, asparagus, and string beans. Cooking starchy foods like potatoes is all about heating the starch granules up to around 180 to 190°F for the starches to melt and then gelatinize, and popping a potato in the microwave gets it up to around 212°F, the boiling point of water—well above the temperatures need to cook that potato. Figure about a minute to two per potato, checking as they cook. For veggies like asparagus and string beans, throw them in a microwave-safe bowl, add a few teaspoons of water, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave until the water starts to steam, four or five minutes. If you want to go fancier, you can always toss the veggies into a pan and sauté them in butter or olive oil and add spices.
Cook turkey breasts separate from the legs
Cooking a whole turkey is a challenge for a simple reason: turkeys don’t cook uniformly. Turkey breast meat will be finished cooking before the darker, leg meat because the ratio of the types of proteins in the meats differ, and different proteins cook at different temperatures. If you don’t mind giving up the tradition of standing at the head of the table and carving the turkey, try cooking turkey breasts and turkey legs separately. Experiment with cooking the turkey legs in a slow cooker in olive oil—they’ll come out moist and delicious after six hours—and roasting the turkey breast in the oven, just like any other type of roast. Beware of these turkey cooking myths that could ruin your Thanksgiving.