Our Worst Thanksgiving Disasters Ever—And How We Fixed Them
When not everything goes as planned, you have to get creative.
You might think that folks who work at food publications have Thanksgiving down. We talk about food every day of the year, so when a big food holiday like Thanksgiving rolls around, all of our dining tables must look Norman Rockwell painting perfect, right? Yeah, not so much. Even the most committed food writers, chefs, test kitchen creators, and stylists are just human, and that means we've collectively experienced our fair share of mishaps, recipe flops, and kitchen catastrophes. The good news is that kitchen mistakes mean that you can get creative, whether that means replacing the burned mashed potatoes with instant mac and cheese, or just doubling up everyone's portion of pie to replace the sad, dried out turkey. Here are some of our worst Thanksgiving mistakes, and how we managed to soldier through.
Margaret Eby, Senior Editor at My Recipes
The disaster: On Thanksgiving several years ago, I was put in charge of the gravy. As a Southerner, I take gravy very seriously, and I knew that gravy duty at Thanksgiving was the big one: the Super Bowl of gravy assignments. I saved the turkey drippings, separated out the fat, made a roux, and got the gravy just right—enough pepper that it has a little kick but won’t take away from everything else on the plate, enough salt to be seasoned but not overly salty. And then, on the way to transferring it into the gravy boat, I tripped over a step and spilled it everywhere. All that perfect gravy running over the counters! Luckily it wasn’t piping hot, and the spill was mostly contained to easily cleaned surfaces, but it was still a disaster.
How we fixed it: The host of the meal, sensing my distress, pulled me over to the pantry and produced a packet of instant gravy granules that she kept on hand just in case. We mixed it with hot water, threw in some herbs and pepper, and it looked just as good in a gravy boat as the homemade stuff. Now I always keep one in the cabinet for gravy emergencies.
Ashley Kappel, Digital Content Manager
The disaster: The day after Friends-giving, I decided to make sweet tea and enjoy a day at home. I turned on the front burner of my apartment-style stove and turned my back to fill up the pot of water. When I turned back around, the entire surface of the stove was on fire. I didn’t know what to do, so I dumped the pot of water on the flaming stove, which was a terrible idea, but worked. I was on the phone with the maintenance line complaining about an electrical shortage in my stove when my roommate’s boyfriend walked in, surveyed the scene, and asked if he was responsible. Turns out he had pulled the turkey out of the oven and couldn’t figure out what to do with the grease, so he poked a hole in the bottom of the disposable metal roasting pan and let the grease drain out in a uniform layer across the stove, which dried clear, and immediately caught on fire when I started up the stove the next day.
How we fixed it: Made him clean our kitchen ;)
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Hayley Sugg, Associate Editor at Allrecipes
The disaster: For Thanksgiving over half a decade ago, I decided to make a lasagna. Not traditional Turkey Day fare, but as a vegan I wanted to bring a dish I knew everyone would enjoy, and hearty tomato sauce with rich tofu ricotta fit the bill. I was going over to my then-boyfriend's (and now husband's) parents' house and since his whole family knew I was big on cooking, I felt like I had to make this dish top-notch. After hours of simmering the sauce, roasting the veggies, mixing up the tofu ricotta, and baking, it was done. And it was glorious. I popped a lid on it, grabbed some oven mitts, and headed to the car. The obnoxious neighborhood dog, Katie, decided to greet me, jumping and flailing about to get a bite of lasagna. Once I finally got to the car (and hoisted the dog off me) I tried to open the door. While doing so, I managed to lose my grip on the casserole dish, which I quickly caught again but not before ripping the entire lid off. The whole lasagna hit the leaf-covered ground and Katie began violently choking down the incredibly hot dish. I cried the entire 30-minute drive over, partially in embarrassment for arriving empty-handed and in part as mourning for that delicious lasagna.
How we fixed it: While it was too little too late for that year's Thanksgiving, as soon as I got home from the festivities I ordered a Pyrex Casserole Carrier. The snap-on lid ensures that it won't easily pop off, and the zippable carrier keeps the dish hot and protected from wild animals. Since then, I haven't even had any close calls when it comes to transporting holiday dishes.
Kat Kinsman, Senior Editor at Food & Wine
The disaster: I played myself and I fully admit it. When I was in college, my aunt knew full well that I was a vegetarian, but as per her usual, she assumed she knew best and decided she would trick me into seeing the light. I went to stay with her over the holiday and she informed me that we'd be going to her friend's house for Thanksgiving. I asked if I should bring something that I knew for sure I could eat (and share!) and she told me no, that would be rude (which what?) and that of course they knew and there would be plenty of meat-free options for me. Of course when we got there, every single dish was made with meat stock or had meat in it (except for the mashed potatoes, and I don't like mashed potatoes), and the solution she'd arrived at with our hosts was that they'd leave any meat chunks large enough that I could "pick them out." To add insult to injury, I was seated at the kids' table with a bunch of elementary schoolers I'd never met, and while others feasted around me, I just gnawed on rolls.
How we fixed it: Boundaries, baby! While that year was a wash, I learned something really valuable: that I should only spend these special occasions with people who respect me and my dietary needs. And I should bring my own dang food if I need to—the infinitely ruder thing is to let a guest leave hungry.
Ashley Kappel, Digital Content Manager
The disaster: Thanksgiving in Alabama is pretty cool, so when we ran out of fridge space, we stashed the coconut cake outside on top of the grill to sit overnight until Thanksgiving lunch the next day. When we woke up the next day, we found that a family of racoons had managed to have a feast on top of the grill, eating every bit of the icing off the cake, but leaving the layers alone. They didn’t even knock it off the grill, even when they somehow tore the bakery box open.
How we fixed it: Dessert that year was boxed brownie mix and vanilla ice cream.
Meg Clark, Senior Audience Engagement Editor at Food & Wine
The disaster: Several years ago, our friends, a couple from London, came to visit my boyfriend and me, not realizing that the dates they picked happened to be the week of Thanksgiving. Since we didn’t want to abandon our houseguests mid-week to go home to our families, we decided instead to host, and invited a few Australian friends who’d never had a proper American Thanksgiving either. It was our first time ever hosting together, and we were excited to plan the menu and show the Brits and the Aussies our tradition. Then, our fridge broke. My absent, terrible landlord ignored our increasingly panicked calls and emails for over three weeks. Everything in the fridge went bad and had to be thrown out, and we had no idea how we would manage.
How we fixed it: My boyfriend’s employer was moving offices and getting rid of the old office’s furniture—including a small cube mini-fridge, which he brought home. It was just big enough to fit a turkey, and with some creative Tupperware tetris, a handful of sides. Luckily, it was a cold November, so we kept some less-perishable things outside on our patio, and supplemented with a cooler full of ice. We managed to conjure an entirely acceptable dinner out of that minifridge and cooler! In December, the landlord finally sent a fridge repairman. (Said landlord is presently embroiled in a variety of lawsuits with other wronged and disgruntled tenants, and the tiny fridge now lives next to our couch, filled with easy-access La Croix and champagne. A happy ending all around.)
Jaime Milan, Digital Editor, News & Lifestyle, at EatingWell
The disaster: A few years ago, I was living in an old house from the early 1900’s that was divvied up into four apartments. I rented the main floor, but the house was *definitely* not up to safety code—all the windows were painted over, and there was no fire alarm installed. Well, my parents came to my house for Thanksgiving, and my mom was baking a pecan pie. She forgot to put a baking sheet under the pie, and the corn syrup dripped down to the bottom of the stove. Needless to say, there was a very large, corn syrup-induced fire inside the stove, and we had no way to put it out.
How we fixed it: I panicked and dumped water on it (since, as a dumb 20-something, I didn’t have a fire extinguisher) and thick, smelly, black smoke filled the kitchen. We couldn’t open the windows (since, ya know, they were painted over), and had to open the front doors of the house to let all of the smoke out. I’m sure the neighbors thought it was hilarious. And after turning off the oven and allowing it to cool, we were able to scrub the oven and save the pie. Plus, lots of wine helped.