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Chefs share their top tips for a downsized Thanksgiving — and ways to give back

Save time, boost flavor and give back with these last-minute Thanksgiving tips!
The restaurant industry knows a thing or two about having to change plans due to the pandemic.
The restaurant industry knows a thing or two about having to change plans due to the pandemic.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

61% of Americans have scaled back their Thanksgiving plans due to recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, according to a new poll by Axios-Ipsos. As a result, many of us are left grappling with how to pull off Thanksgiving feast with fewer cooks in the kitchen — and even fewer guests to feed.

The restaurant industry knows a thing or two about having to change plans due to the pandemic. Take a page from chefs from around the country who've shared their top tips for a deliciously unconventional Thanksgiving Day — including ways you can show gratitude and support to the farmers, chefs and servers who feed us all year long.

Matt Abdoo

Executive chef and owner of Pig Beach and Pig Bleecker in New York City

TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Taylor Donohue

Best way to give back: Buy some virtual merch. Many local restaurants are selling hats, shirts, aprons and cookbooks that help provide financial relief to their employees.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Smaller celebrations give us a reason to get creative. Make a pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling instead of the traditional pumpkin pie — or make cupcakes or cookies that the kids can decorate.

Bobby Flay

Chef and owner of Gato in New York City

TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / NBCU

Best way to give back: If you can, buy half of your Thanksgiving dinner from a local restaurant.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Prepare your cranberry sauce today — add some Campari and grapefruit to give it a kick!

Darnell Ferguson

Chef and owner of SuperChefs in Louisville, Kentucky

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Darnell Scott / Getty Images

Best way to give back: Buy a gift card from a restaurant now to use later. Let them know they're appreciated and say "thank you."

Top Thanksgiving tip: Can't find a small turkey? Buy a large one and just cook the wings or the legs — it will cut your cooking time in half. You can save and freeze the breast for another time.

Chinese Barbecue Turkey

Chinese Barbecue Turkey

Darnell Ferguson

Tiffani Faison

Chef and owner of Sweet Cheeks, Tiger Mama, Fool's Errand and Orfano in Boston, Massachusetts

TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Mike Diskin

Best way to give back: Order your Thanksgiving side dishes from your favorite restaurants.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Create leftovers as you cook! Don't halve a recipe for stuffing — only cook one batch on Thanksgiving and keep the other half in the fridge so you'll have fresh stuffing with your leftover turkey later in the week.

Samantha Fore

Chef and owner of TukTuk Sri Lankan Bites in Lexington, Kentucky

TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Dennis Cahlo / Cary Allen Productions

Best way to give back: Buy produce and herbs from local farms for sides and table décor.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Try these two secret ingredients to amp up your meal:

  1. Add bourbon to cranberry sauce, pecan pie and pumpkin bars — anything that needs that extra bit of depth to push it from good to awesome.
  2. Wake up your chocolate desserts with finely ground instant coffee for a deeper flavor.

Spirits can kick up the flavor of a dish! Add bourbon to gravy — it gives it a rich layer of favor.

Ayesha Nurdjaja

Gavin Kaysen

Chef and owner at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, Minnesota

TODAY Illustration / Libby Anderson / Getty Images

Best way to give back: Buy wine and cocktail kits to-go from restaurants.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Adding shredded cheddar cheese to Brussels sprouts really takes them to the next level. Just sprinkle it on before you put them in the oven.

Ayesha Nurdjaja

Chef and owner of Shuka in New York City

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Ayesha Nurdjaja / Getty Images

Best way to give back: Post the highlights of your meal or takeout dish on social media and urge people to patronize your favorite restaurant.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Spirits can kick up the flavor of a dish! Add bourbon to gravy — it gives it a rich layer of flavor.

Millie Peartree

Founder of Full Hearts, Full Bellies in New York City

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Millie Peartree / Getty Images

Best way to give back: Purchase meals or catering trays from restaurants and donate them to your local food bank or soup kitchen.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Embrace the magic of mirepoix (diced celery, carrots and onion) and prep it the day before. It can be used in stuffing, side dishes and as a flavorful bed for the turkey to roast atop.

Fernando Ruiz

Chef and owner of Palace Prime in Santa Fe, New Mexico

TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Fernando Ruiz / Getty Images

Best way to give back: Shop local for key ingredients — keep those dollars in your community!

Top Thanksgiving tip: Is your turkey dry? Make a sauce! Combine 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup of melted butter and let the turkey slices marinate in the sauce. You can baste the legs and wings in it, too.

Anthony Scotto

Owner of Fresco by Scotto in New York City

TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

Best way to give back: Advocate for more PPP and stimulus money for the restaurant industry — most restaurants that received help will run out of that money by the end of November.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Cooking a big turkey with fewer guests? Try these winning leftover ideas:

Justin Yu

Chef and owner of Theodore Rex in Houston, Texas

TODAY Illustration / Jenn Duncan / Getty Images

Best way to give back: When you go out, have a little patience and a little grace. Think about tipping a little extra to help the staff — or consider donating to nonprofits that help the restaurant industry.

Top Thanksgiving tip: Reserve a batch of your Thanksgiving herbs for salad dressing that can be used on Brussels sprouts, kale salad — even as a dipping sauce for biscuits! In a Mason jar, add equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar and then add a teaspoon of honey and Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and the chopped herbs.