Rocco DiSpirito weighs in on how to achieve a perfectly cooked turkey and reveals his recipes for quick sides to try in a pinch.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for years, but the hardest job has always fallen on my mother: Every year, our family treks to my parents’ house in Upstate New York. Although I baste the turkey and crimp the pie crust, my mother plans and handles all of the sticky logistics such as when to buy the turkey, how many serving platters are needed, how to set the table, and where we’re going to store all those leftovers… These are all considerations that have never even entered my mind. Until this year.This year, I’m hosting Thanksgiving. Everyone is coming to my house, which means that not only am I going to cook the meal, I’m responsible for figuring out where everyone’s going to sit, what they’re going to eat off of (because my four mismatched plates won’t do), and how to entertain everyone while the feast roasts, simmers, and bakes away. Planning the menu was easy. Organizing everything else was a bit of a challenge. Hosting Thanksgiving simply isn’t as casual as a Friday night dinner party with friends — nor should it be. But because of that, there are so many odds and ends to consider that might not otherwise cross your mind. And so I present: The 9 totally-random-but-important things you’ll need when hosting your first real “adult” Thanksgiving.A tableclothMy boyfriend and I eat all of our meals off of the cheapest Ikea table we could afford. Although we treated it with an attractive stain to improve the color, it still gives off major “I was cheap and belong in a college dorm” vibes. The best fix, short of buying a brand-new table? A simple, sophisticated linen tablecloth. Linen is the ideal fabric, because it can handle a few wrinkles without coming across as messy or disheveled. Measure your table, then add 12 inches at minimum to the diameter to account for the “drop;” add more if you want a formal look. Do your math!NapkinsI use cloth napkins for everyday meals, but this concept was foreign to my partner, who was happy tearing off a length of paper towel to catch any dinnertime spills. Although you certainly don’t need to invest in the reusable variety, you will want to have something actually labeled as a napkin on the table for guests. Extra-thick Bounty and your guests’ sleeves won’t cut it for Thanksgiving. Serving plattersServing dishes and platters are extraneous for everyday meals — why transfer the instant rice to a separate dish just to spoon it onto your plate? — but they’re a must for formal dining. Remember that in most Thanksgiving scenarios, your guests will be serving themselves from the table, not the stovetop. Anything that comes from a sauce pot, skillet, or roasting tray should be transferred to a heatproof platter or serving bowl. Most casserole dishes can be brought right to the table, but don’t forget a trivet to rest it on, so the heat from the dish doesn’t damage the table or your guests’ hands. And of course, you’ll need a large, wide platter for presenting your gorgeous carved turkey.Serving utensilsPlan on having a set of utensils for every platter. That way, you’ll avoid passing utensils back and forth across the table, or worse, forcing your guests to scoop up a second-helping of stuffing with their already-used spoon.More glasses than you think you needI drink everything, from tea to wine, out of a small ceramic cup I bought years ago. But a formal dinner calls for multiple glasses. Plan on everyone having both a water and wine glass with the meal, as well as extras for before and after. It’s not the biggest deal in the world to have to wash glasses midway through the day, but it is cumbersome. If you don’t want to break the budget on fancy stemware, scour thrift stores for old wine and water glasses. A quirky, mismatched set can be even more charming than costly goblets.Ample “comfy” seating You’ve no doubt accounted for everyone’s place at the table. But what about the time before dinner? While you’re bustling about in the kitchen, you’ll want to offer your guests a cozy place to relax. A welcoming living room space goes a long way in saying, “I’m happy you’re here and want you to stay” (even if you’re not, and don’t). Of course, some guests will congregate around you in the kitchen no matter what — but it’s nice to offer a cushy couch and plush armchair for quiet in-between-eating moments.Games, a television, and magazinesFor many, Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without the game or parade on TV, even if it’s in the background. If your family isn’t the television type, offer other means of entertainment while they wait for and relax after dinner. A deck of cards or a Scrabble board are both tried-and-true ice breakers!Watch: How to Make a Thanksgiving Leftover Breakfast Casserole[tiVideo is_video="1" video_id="408723"]Containers for leftoversA gracious host offers leftovers to his or her guests, so you’ll want to have enough takeaway containers to account for the food you plan on keeping and the food you’ll be giving. This is not the place for expensive glass containers — pick up a couple multi-size packs of inexpensive plastic containers, and you won’t be upset when, months later, your sister still hasn’t returned the one she borrowed.A first-aid kit and medicineNobody plans on accidents, upset stomachs, or headaches. But they happen — and if they do, you’ll be ready with bandages, antacids, and aspirin.
| Credit: Manny Rodriguez/Getty Images

Don’t panic, but Thanksgiving is next week. No, seriously, don’t panic. Yes, you might run into a last-minute emergency in the kitchen while you’re preparing your meal, and yes, in the moment, it might feel like a disaster, but there are tried-and-true ways to make sure you pull off a flawless dinner.

“The most common problem is the stress about performance anxiety,” Rocco DiSpirito, James Beard Award-winning chef and author of the forthcoming Rocco's Healthy & Delicious: More Than 200 (Mostly) Plant-Based Recipes for Everyday Life told me.The first mistake is getting worked up about Thanksgiving. It causes so much stress. It’s like the SATs. [But] it’s not that serious.”

chef rocco dispirito head shot
Credit: Courtesy of Rocco DiSpirito, Author of Rocco’s Healthy + Delicious

Courtesy of Rocco DiSpirito, Author of Rocco’s Healthy + Delicious

No matter what problem you might encounter in the kitchen, DiSpirito reassures me that “there’s no thanksgiving issue you can’t solve in five minutes.” He’s also an advocate of using store-bought ingredients for everything from your stuffing to a pre-cooked turkey if you’re running low on time or energy, and jokes that the Thanksgiving table can sometimes be “a weapon of mass dysfunction,” where tiffs between family members can easily break out over the mashed potatoes. Given the amount of stress you might already be facing this Thanksgiving, he advocates trying to “chill out” and taking it easy on yourself in the kitchen.

But even after you’ve taken a deep breath, and resolved to take a more Zen approach to cooking Thanksgiving dinner, you will probably still run into some problems along the way. Here are five common Thanksgiving emergencies you might encounter this year, and how to solve them.

The turkey isn’t properly cooked

First of all, if you plan to cook a turkey that uses a pop-up timer, throw that timer away. Once the timer pops up at 165 degrees, the turkey is overcooked. Instead, use a thermometer “to measure the temperate at the thickest part of the thigh.” When it hits 155 degrees, “take [the turkey] out of the oven, tent it with foil, let it rest for an hour.” DiSpirito stresses that letting the turkey rest is one of the most important parts of the process. If you don’t let it rest after cooking, you’ll end up with “turkey broth on the cutting board and a lot of dry meat.” As an alternative method of cooking, DiSpirito says you can “remove the thigh with the backbone attached and put that in for an hour and then put the breast on top of that and let it cook.”

“Deep frying pretty much solves all the cooking problems,” he adds, although he clarifies that it also adds logistical and safety issues. Before attempting this method, which takes about 45 minutes total, he recommends buying a frying kit, like this one by Bayou Classic, which you can buy on Amazon for $110 dollars, before attempting this method.

If you do end up over or undercooking your turkey, DiSpirito is firm in his belief that there is no shame in stopping by a grocery store like Citarella and buying pre-cooked turkey (he jokes that he’d be “thrilled” to be served a Swanson’s frozen turkey dinner because it would take him back to the 1970s, as long as there’s good wine to go with it).

The skin won’t get crispy

The skin on your turkey should naturally get crisp; if it doesn’t that means it’s too wet (either from the brining process or because it wasn’t completely defrosted) or your oven isn’t hot enough. Always be sure to fully dry your turkey off, especially if you chose to brine it, or make sure it’s completely defrosted. Then, cover your turkey with a type of fat that doesn’t contain any moisture, like coconut or olive oil before cooking it. If all else fails, melt butter in a big pan and “constantly bast [the turkey] with brown butter until the skin is crispy.” While the turkey is cooking, DiSpirito recommends not covering the turkey with anything.

You don’t have time to bake dessert

With the pressure of a cooking a whole meal, spending time crafting the perfect dessert might seem like an insurmountable task (although hopefully, your relatives are helping out by bringing over baked goods on their own). If you need a simple idea for a dessert that will still satisfy your guests’ sweet tooth, DiSpirito has you covered.

The first recipe the chef recommends is an instant pumpkin mousse, made with pureed pumpkin from a can, pureed avocado, and agave nectar. Just three simple ingredients, which you can pour into a pre-made pie crust and top with whipped cream.

“Another great one is chocolate bark,” he says. “Buy dark chocolate bars like Lindt that are 60% [dark chocolate] or better, and let them melt (but not fully). Sprinkle in pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, or almonds, and then place the chocolate in the fridge. You’ll end up with a sheet of chocolate, which you can break apart.”

If you’re feeling extra rushed, you can simply place the chocolate next to the stove on top of the paper it originally came in, until it melts. Once you stick it in the fridge, it should harden by the time you serve dessert.

The gravy won’t thicken

There are few different ways to thicken up your gravy, and most of them involve making a purée. You could, for instance, combine a sweet potato, some of the drippings from the turkey, and your original gravy, in a blender. Then you can strain it if you prefer a glossy sheen, but DiSpirito says he prefers a chunky sauce. He calls cornstarch a “cure all,” which you add to anything to achieve a thicker texture, as well as almond butter, regular butter or heavy cream. A quarter teaspoon of xanthan gum will also thicken an entire gallon of gravy.

If you’re really in a pinch, the chef’s go-to suggestion is Heinz pork gravy, blended with the dripping you already have from the turkey. Sure, it’s “low on the culinary totem pole,” but it works.

You're running low on sides

Running out of time before family arrives? You can quickly whip two sides if you’re in a time crunch. For the stuffing, simply moisten bread with boxed stock in a pan, season with Old Bay or another poultry seasoning, and stir. You’ll get instant stuffing. If you have no bread on hand, DiSpirito says to skip it altogether. Instead, mix Italian sausage with raw vegetables—he uses chestnut, acorns, and squash—and bake it like you would a meatloaf.

If your stuffing is soggy, you can always add more bread, or allow it to dry out on the bottom rack of your oven—just make sure you keep an eye on it, as it might burn.

To spice up canned cranberry sauce, all you have to do is mix the sauce with lemon or orange zest, clove, and agave nectar in a blender—the whole operation takes around three minutes. According to DiSpirito, this is the perfect make-ahead dish because the flavor of the cranberries will become even more distinct if left to sit for a day or two.

This article originally appeared on Food&

This Story Originally Appeared On