After a year apart, we're back together again for Thanksgiving. That's something to be thankful for.
But with shortages at the grocery store and the price of Thanksgiving foods higher than ever, we need to get crafty. That's why we're bringing in our team of TODAY Food all-star chefs to lend their entertaining expertise and dole out their genius ideas for swaps, substitutions and solutions.
From turkey tips to dessert directions, we've got all the answers to your last-minute Thanksgiving cooking questions.
Martha Stewart: Use a T-shirt to keep your turkey moist.
You can use a soaked cheesecloth to keep your bird moist (see Jet Tila's tip below), but for those who don't have cheesecloth, Stewart says any clean cotton T-shirt works fine.
Soak your (clean) T-shirt in a mixture of butter and wine and put it on top of the turkey breast, which tends to dry out the fastest, and then put it into the oven, T-shirt on.
Jet Tila: Save time and brine and thaw at the same time.
Take a frozen turkey and thaw in a brine solution and kill two birds with one stone (get it?). It will take about 12 hours or overnight. Leave a thermometer in to make sure water doesn’t get above 40 F.
For moist turkey: Butter under the skin keeps the white meat moist and skin crisp. Combine 1 stick softened butter to 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper, work into a paste, then loosen skin and add half of the paste per side.
For crisp skin: Air-dry in the fridge overnight. Moisture is the enemy of browning and crispness. When ready to cook, drape with a cheesecloth soaked in 1 bottle of wine combined with 3 sticks of melted, unsalted butter. Drape on bird and bake.
Alejandra Ramos: Use jam to take your turkey to the next level.
Grab a jar of jam from your pantry to add a sweet and fruity finishing touch to your favorite Thanksgiving mains and sides. Here's how:
- Use a pastry brush to glaze your turkey once it’s roasted: Just brush your favorite flavor on — apricot works really well with classic roast turkey flavors — then pop under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes to set.
- Mix up your homemade or store-bought cranberry sauce by stirring in a cup of your favorite jam. Try a tart raspberry or blueberry jam, or add a tropical twist with a fun flavor like guava, pineapple or mango.
- Brush over roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes, or add a few spoonfuls to your go-to glazed carrots recipe.
- And don’t forget drinks: Swap in jam for the simple syrup in your fave cocktail for a fruity and festive sip!
Phil "The Grill" Johnson: Cant find a whole turkey? Make turkey meatloaf instead.
If you'd rather not make a whole turkey, you can still get that Thanksgiving flavor in a different main dish. Consider grabbing ground turkey and making a turkey meatloaf. This one's got a festive barbecue-cranberry glaze.
Matt Abdoo: Opt for chicken instead of turkey.
Can’t find a turkey during the turkey shortage? Roast a chicken! Everyone loves a good roast chicken and it makes for a beautiful centerpiece.
Also, if you forgot to buy or can’t find a roasting rack, you can use whole carrots and celery or pieces of aluminum foil bunched up for the bird to rest on.
Kwame Onwuachi: Use leftover turkey to make a bacon melt.
Forget your boring old leftover turkey sandwich. Instead, confit your leftover turkey legs in olive oil, then make a bacon melt with them.
Leah Cohen: Make roux in advance for an easy gravy.
The day before Thanksgiving, you will want to make your roux with chicken fat and flour. (Chicken fat creates a more flavorful roux than oil or butter can.) Store in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, gather your pan drippings, add your pre-made roux and add either a homemade stock or low-sodium chicken stock, stirring until the gravy has reached your preferred consistency. If you'd like to add additional flavor, you can add fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme or sage, but make sure to strain your gravy before serving.
Maneet Chauhan: Don’t throw away those pumpkin seeds.
Fill hollowed-out pumpkins with your gravy and other sauces for a festive presentation. And don't throw out the pumpkin seeds — roast them to make a satisfying snack to munch on while you cook.
Kevin Curry: Try these everyday pantry staples if you run out of an ingredient.
If you run out of an ingredient or can't find it at the store, don't fret — there's probably an easy substitution for it.
If you're out of butter, use mayo in its place.
If you don't have any more brown sugar, make a mixture of white sugar and molasses (1 cup to 1 tablespoon).
If you're low on wine (for cooking!), use chicken stock with lemon juice or white wine vinegar.
Stefano Secchi: Use leftover Parmesan rinds to make a simple pasta sauce.
Here's an easy tip for a simple pantry sauce for pasta, which can be a side dish or vegetarian main: Slowly cook rinds of Parmigiano cheese and butter until it's the color of cappuccino. Then add a bit of sage, or any favorite herb, pasta water and grated Parmigiano to top things off.
Eric Kim: Switch it up and make pizza stuffing.
Imagine Thanksgiving stuffing but with the red-sauce flavors of cheese pizza. Tomato paste and dried oregano, bloomed in buttery onions, do the heavy lifting in this comforting dish, as does an ivory shower of shredded mozzarella, which melts and gets gooey in spots. Stale bread works best, so dry out the bread the night before you plan to make this, or bake the torn pieces in a 250-degree oven until they’re brittle. You can also assemble the stuffing the night before Thanksgiving; just keep it covered in the refrigerator and bake it the next day while the turkey is resting. Serve this warm, while the cheese is still molten.
Roze Traore: Use canned foods to make a last-minute side.
If you're looking for a last-minute dish to bring everything together, turn to your pantry. Utilizing a couple canned ingredients won’t make you less of an authentic home cook. Spice up your creamed corn by grating on some fresh Parmesan cheese or sprinkling on some toasted almonds with chopped oregano. Have fun enhancing these canned foods with fresh ingredients as well like garlic, herbs or any other vegetables you’d like.
Hillary Sterling: Use your leftover onions to make a tart.
Surprise your family and friends by making a savory tart (aka torta) with your leftover onions — it's unexpected and incredibly delicious.
This savory torta is a refreshing departure from the overload of sweet pies at Thanksgiving. The caramelized onions and creamy cheese sauce fit the flavor profile for any fall meal.
Hawa Hassan: Use citrus to brighten things up.
Thanksgiving dishes can sometimes feel a little heavy. Hassan likes to add a little acid — lemon and lime, specifically — to liven things up. Here's how:
- Squeeze some into your mashed sweet potatoes.
- Mix citrus zest and juice in some softened butter to rub onto your turkey.
- Add a little zest and juice as a finisher for a green vegetable dish like green beans or Brussels sprouts.
Marisel Salazar: No breadcrumbs for stuffing? No problem!
If you're out of breadcrumbs for stuffing and other sides, you can use soaked bread, oatmeal, crushed pork rinds, boxed stuffing mix, instant potato flakes and even cooked rice instead.
Regardless of what you use, no one likes mushy stuffing. To create crispiness while retaining moisture (and speeding up the cooking process), bake your stuffing in muffin tins. Plus, you can easily dole out single servings.
Mariah Gladstone: Roast a whole head of garlic for a multi-use flavor bomb.
To add flavor to all your vegetables and sides, do this today: Take a full head of garlic, trim the top to expose a bit of the cloves, drizzle some olive oil over the exposed garlic, wrap it in foil and roast it in a 400-degree oven for 40 minutes, until it’s buttery soft. Leave it on the counter and squeeze it into any side — mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, you name it — for an instant boost of flavor.
Anthony Scotto: Cook your vegetables in advance.
Cook your veggies a day or two ahead and store them in the fridge. On Thanksgiving, pull them out and let them get up to room temperature about an hour or so before serving. Place them on top of the oven so they warm up without using up valuable oven space. When you're ready to serve, just warm up some chicken broth or make a glaze and pour it over them.
Sarah Thomas: Set up a mocktail station.
The absolute easiest way to set up a drink station is to get a base drink you like, like lemonade or apple cider, and stir in an herb or a spice to give it something extra. You can make your drinks with sparkling water, cider or ginger beer for the added fizz — bubbles always feel special. From that point, you can pick and choose how many steps you want to add in based on how much time you have and the ingredients you have on hand. It’s easy to make flavored simple syrups, but you can just as easily just add in the ingredients to a pitcher and let it be. If you set up a station, here’s the basic formula for drinks:
- Add a juice (apple cider, pear nectar, lemonade, tart cherry, pineapple): If it’s a very sweet juice or nectar, have some citrus like lemon or lime on hand. If it’s a very tart juice, have some sweeteners on hand.
- Add sweetener, if using: Honey, maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, regular or flavored simple syrup.
- Add a flavor: Stir in herbs like rosemary, sage, tarragon or thyme, or spices like cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or ginger.
- Make it sparkle: Top your drinks with club soda, spicy ginger beer, sparkling cider or sparkling grape juice!
- Garnishes: They’re optional, but floating some frozen cranberries, cinnamon sticks, whole star anise or sprigs of thyme or rosemary in the glass makes everything more festive.
Lazarus Lynch: Cool down your wine — or warm it up.
If guests arrive way too early or you just need a little something while you work, here’s a fast wine-cooling tip: Wrap bottles in a damp dish towel or paper towel and stick it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.
After the holiday, if you have a few leftover bottles of wine, you have a couple options: You can cut up some fresh fruit and make a morning-after sangria for the folks who want to keep the good times rolling. You can also make a bright wine reduction or glaze to add new life to your Thanksgiving leftovers.
Elizabeth Heiskell: Turn a less-than-perfect pie into a trifle.
If you’re pie gets messed up, cracks or looks disastrous, break it up, add a few ingredients and turn it into a trifle.
Jocelyn Delk Adams: Make a pie crust using pantry items.
If your grocery store is out of pie crust, you can make one using pretty much any store-bought dough — think phyllo, puff pastry or cookie dough.
But you can also make a pie crust using ingredients you might find in your pantry, like sugar cones and cereal. Here's how:
Cornflake Crumb Crust
1⅓ cups corn flakes crumbs (about 3 cups corn flakes)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
Mix together thoroughly. Press into a 9 inch plate. May use as is or bake at 375 F for 5 to 7 minutes. Will hold up slightly better and has a crisper taste when pre-baked.
Crispy Rice Cereal Crust
3 cups crispy rice cereal
1/3 cup butter, softened
Combine cereal and butter in a 9-inch pie pan. With the back of a spoon press the mixture evenly and firmly on the bottom and sides of the pie pan to form a crust. Chill for an hour.
Crispy Rice Cereal Treat Crust
6 cups crispy rice cereal
10 ounces mini marshmallows
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the marshmallows and stir until melted. Add the crispy rice cereal and stir to combine. While it’s still warm, transfer to a greased 9- to 10-inch springform or pie pan, using a greased measuring cup to press down the cereal. Press the edges against the springform pan to create walls. Set aside.
Sugar Cone Crust
1½ sugar cone crumbs (about 2 four-ounce boxes of cones)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, mix together the crumbs and melted butter. Stir well. Grease a 9- to 10-inch springform or pie pan. Press the crumbs onto the bottom and about 1 to 1½ inches up the side.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let cool completely.