Your Most Common Thanksgiving Conundrums, Solved

turkey, gravy, relish, drinks, and stuffing
Mikkel Vang

Thanksgiving comes but once a year, and that's why cooking this holiday feast can feel like such a challenge. For many home cooks, it's easily the largest meal they ever prepare, and that unfamiliarity can feel overwhelming: There's a good chance guests will be in attendance, so home cooks are tasked with serving more people than they're used to (as well as finding enough dinner plates and dessert forks to accommodate their entire guest list) and cooking and baking dishes larger in size and different to those they make each week.

There's also the turkey to think about. It still rules the Thanksgiving dinner table, and if you're not adept at preparing a large bird, the process might be daunting. Whether you're putting together a full holiday meal with the entire family, celebrating Friendsgiving with your inner circle, or cooking for just a small group, there's still the feeling that the menu is not complete unless it's centered around the turkey, so you surely want yours to shine. But how much turkey do you really need, and how can you fit it into the refrigerator ahead of Thanksgiving Thursday? How can you thaw it safely? Do you need to carve it, or will a guest step up to the platter?

We can't forget about the sides and desserts, either—they're arguably everyone's favorite parts of the feast. Though they're not the stars of the show, we all still want to avoid issues with our gravy or shrunken pie pastry. If those are your pitfalls, we can help: Our test kitchen experts, who have cooked countless Thanksgiving feasts for both the magazine and in real life, know exactly how to prepare a beautiful roast turkey and a selection of sides and pies with aplomb.

Our sage advice is gathered here. Simply find your question and get our answer in a useful gallery of Thanksgiving wisdom. Then, go forth and prepare (and enjoy!) a delicious, flawless holiday feast.

01 of 13

How Can I Get Ahead with Prep and Cooking?

prepped ingredients in plastic tubs
Marcus Nilsson

The key to pulling off a successful Thanksgiving dinner is being organized, planning your menu, ordering ingredients in advance, and determining which elements of the meal you can make ahead. There are some dishes that you can make from start to finish well before the holiday (hello, cranberry sauce!), dishes where you can prep ingredients earlier in the week, and dishes that can be assembled in advanced, but baked that day. Use our get-ahead timeline to help you determine what to prep when.

02 of 13

How Do I Brine a Turkey?

best brine for thanksgiving turkey

First, decide if you'll go with a dry brine or wet one. A dry brine is just a salt rub by another name. We like that approach and use it often; if you'd like to go that route, our Easy Roasted Dry Brined Turkey is the one to try. Are you interested in trying wet brining, that fabled method of soaking a whole turkey in salted water (the brine!) for 24-plus hours? The actual process isn't hard; for most of us, the biggest challenge challenge is finding a vessel large enough to hold the turkey and several gallons of water as well as a place to let the turkey sit. Follow our step-by-step guide plan to do a wet brine this year.

03 of 13

What's the Best Way to Carve a Turkey?

smokey turkey carved on platter
Paola + Murray

You've roasted a beautiful, moist turkey, but now it's time to carve and you're concerned about ruining your great work. Don't be afraid! Carving is a straightforward process if you follow our four-step guide.

04 of 13

What's the Secret to Making Great Stuffing?

Marcus Nilsson

There's no secret to making everyone's favorite Thanksgiving side. With flavorful ingredients and a good recipe, you're pretty much guaranteed a delicious dish.

05 of 13

Should I Stuff the Turkey?


We're part of team don't stuff, and we generally prefer to cook the stuffing (or dressing) in a separate dish for safety and ease. As an added bonus, it gets crispier that way. If you do want to stuff your bird, follow our step-by-step guide.

06 of 13

What Are the Best Vegan or Vegetarian Mains to Serve for Thanksgiving?

stuffed acorn squash mixed grain stuffing
Louise Hagger

There are so many options! Delectable vegetarian entrées and vegan main courses just right for the holiday feast include a favorite stuffed vegetable (think acorn squash), risotto (with rice, for sure, but also with barley or farro; just substitute vegetable stock for chicken when cooking), and all manner of delicious savory pies and tarts.

07 of 13

What Can I Serve Guests Who Are Gluten-Free?

plate of thanksgiving food
Paola + Murray

Omitting gluten from the Thanksgiving dinner might seem complicated, but it's actually totally doable. Turkey is gluten-free, and so is the wine you'll be serving alongside it! If you plan to use bread in your stuffing, be sure to bake it separately rather than stuff the bird (technically, this will be called dressing). Separating the two will ensure the turkey remains gluten-free. Prepare at least a few sides that are gluten-free, and plan to thicken your gravy with cornstarch instead of the usual flour. See our gluten-free Thanksgiving recipe collection for more delicious ideas.

08 of 13

How Can I Fix Lumpy Gravy?


With the right ingredients and equipment, making a smooth, silky homemade gravy is simple. Pan drippings and giblet stock make for classic gravy, and Thomas Joseph, our Kitchen Conundrums expert, recommends using instant flour to thicken gravy. If the gravy still has lumps, whisk it to break up the lumps, then strain it through a fine-mesh sieve.

09 of 13

How Do I Get Everything on the Table While It's Hot?

Thanksgiving Wisdom

If you need help with timing, know that the key to getting everything ready on time is organization. Sarah Carey, our editorial director of food and entertaining, says, "Base your menu around your turkey. Decide what time you're serving dinner and plan back from there, allowing time for the turkey to rest—and using that resting time to warm other dishes in the oven or on the stove top." She recommends making a timeline so that you know what to do when and what will be ready when.

10 of 13

What's the Best Way to Manage Limited Oven Space?

Marcus Nilsson

There's no way around it: Your turkey is going to monopolize the oven. Give it the space it needs (and save yourself a headache) by serving stovetop sides like Buttered Rutabagas and Béchamel with Greens. Make-ahead dishes that will only need to be heated through, like our Hasselback Potatoes, will help round out the meal. If you can, pies should be made the day ahead (or earlier if the recipe allows), or frozen. Another route is to grill or smoke the turkey, leaving the oven for pies and sides.

11 of 13

Why Does My Pie Pastry Shrink?

pie crust techniques
Nico Schinco

Whether your problem lies in making the dough or baking it blind, we can help. Be sure to use very cold unsalted butter, and get out the food processor, as that's the method we recommend.

12 of 13

What Are Some Dishes Kids Will Want to Eat?

Sweet potato mash
Bryan Gardner

You mean besides dessert? A lot of kids do like turkey (it's just a big chicken, after all), and with a variety of sides on the table there should be something to appeal to most small palates. If you know a youngster who doesn't like mashed potatoes or is especially picky, add a dish that you know he or she will adore (maybe mac and cheese?). Sweet potatoes should be a winner—how could kids not like this simple Sweet Potato Mash or this Sweet Potato Casserole?

13 of 13

How Can I Make Cleanup Easier?

Ryan Liebe

If you did the cooking, someone else should be in charge of cleanup. Make things easier all round by keeping the kitchen tidy as you work; "clean as you go," as pro chefs do. This is key when preparing a big meal with a lot of recipes, dishes, and potential for mess. Don't keep stuffing dirty dishes into an overflowing sink; wipe surfaces, tidy, and wash or clear away what you can as you finish prepping a recipe. And share our test kitchen tips for dishwashing with your appointed cleaner upper.

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