While it may be joyful, Thanksgiving is undoubtably a stressful time — especially when you’re hosting. And, let’s be frank —whether its a friendsgiving, traditional Thanksgiving or potluck with coworkers, there are a lot of opportunities to fuck up the meal. To save you time and embarrassment, we picked up some tips and tricks to share with you from Colorado’s Uncorked Kitchen’s “Thanksgiving Perfected” cooking class this week.
How to Time It Right
Fail to plan or plan to fail — as cliche as the saying is, it’s the foundation of pulling off a meal of this size.
“I hear that a lot of people get stressed because they’re cooking recipes they’ve never made before, and they don’t know how to handle it all at once. The best thing to do is lay out all of your recipes and work backwards to make a plan,” Uncorked chef and instructor Logan Scheer explained.
It’s not enough to cook each recipe linearly — start with the recipe that will take the longest, then do your best to plan ahead by weaving the recipes’ steps together. Write it out if you need to. Also, practice a chef’s technique of mise en place. Translating to “everything in its place,” it essentially means prep everything you can before starting the cooking process — all the chopping, all the measuring, etc.
Also, when cooking at altitude, some adjustments must be made. Always double-check for measurement or ingredient adjustments that are specific to each recipe, but Scheer suggests that you should increase your oven temperature by 25 degrees at Denver’s altitude and 50 degrees if you’re further up in the mountains, closer to 10,000 feet.
How to Tackle the Turkey
Because people cook it so infrequently, turkey can be the biggest potential downfall of Thanksgiving, but Scheer explained that there are three rules to follow to keep disaster from happening.
Rule number one for juicy turkey? Brine it a couple of days beforehand.
“There are tons of recipes online, but the brine will break down the proteins and make for a more tender turkey. And, the saltiness helps hold in the moisture.”
Season the exterior how you’d like, but rule two is about the stuffing.
“Despite its name, don’t put the stuffing inside the turkey. Make it separately,” he said. “It dries everything out. Make your stuffing separately on a baking sheet.”
Finally, rule three — after checking the temperature of the turkey at the thickest part or near the thigh bone, pull it out once it hits 130 degrees. Although many recipes say turkeys are best at 140 degrees, the bird will continue to cook once it’s removed from the oven during what Scheer called “carry-over cooking.”
“You need that 10 degree variance,” he explained. “If you take it out at 140 and let it sit, you’ll be cutting into a dry turkey when it’s time to eat.”
How to be a Better Host or Guest
There are two mistakes many hosts struggle with — keeping everything warm and staying calm. The planning ahead in tip one should help with both, but there are a few other things that may help the food stay hot and your demeanor stay cool.
“Do as much as you can before people arrive,” Scheer added. “That way, you can focus on hosting instead of cooking when guests are there.”
He also stressed to accept help when you need it or when its offered. And, while you’re entertaining, you can keep everything warm in the oven at 200 degrees, wrapped in aluminum foil. If you run out of oven space, many dishes can stay warm simply by sitting wrapped on the stovetop.
And remember — the host sets the tone for the day, so if you’re calm, your guests should be too.
Uncorked Kitchen is located at 8171 S. Chester St., Suite A, Centennial. View the entire cooking class calendar here including several more Thanksgiving cooking classes.
Unless noted, all photos by Alexandra Palmerton.