Thanksgiving Day stress is real. Between trying to set a beautiful table, plan a menu that will appeal to everyone, serve all dishes while they’re still hot, and steer conversations away from any political talk, it’s a lot to handle. For many families, the special holiday will be scaled back this year, with fewer guests and smaller celebrations. That doesn’t mean you won’t need a little help in the kitchen, though. When planning your Thanksgiving meal, consider these handy, chef-recommended tools to help your preparation run as smoothly as possible so you can really enjoy the holiday.
This is an essential for trussing a turkey, using tying it up to help promote even cooking (and make your bird look beautiful), says Evan LeRoy, chef and co-owner at LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue in Austin, Texas. You should use butcher’s twine to tie the wings and legs so they are “hugged” close to the body (check YouTube for lots of how-to videos). Since it’s made from cotton, butcher’s twine is food safe, oven-safe, and a better option than linen or synthetic twine, which can burn.
Buy it: Butcher’s Twine on Handy Dispenser with Cutter ($15), amazon.com
If you’re looking for a multi-use time saver, this tool is it, says LeRoy. For one, its compact size helps conserve precious countertop space on a busy kitchen day like Thanksgiving, and it’s much easier to clean than a full-sized blender. If you’re making anything you need to blend—such as butternut squash soup, gravy, or cranberry sauce—an immersion blender makes it simpler (and less messy) to puree batches. As a bonus, you can get one with a small food processor attachment that makes it a snap to prep mirepoix (a combo of chopped onion, carrot, and celery essential to Turkey Day!), says LeRoy.
Buy it: LINKChef Immersion Blender with Chopper Attachment ($34.99, list price $49.99), amazon.com
Flexible Dough Scraper
This handy device (which you can get for less than $3!) is “the closest you can get to using your hands when scraping anything liquidy out of a bowl,” says Lionel Vatinet, master baker and owner of La Farm Bakery in Cary, N.C. “I call it the million-dollar tool because it gives so much control, maintains the integrity of a product, and there’s no waste,” he adds. Use it for scraping pumpkin or apple pie filling, gravy, and more to ensure every last drop makes it into your dish.
Buy it: Chef Craft Flexible Dough Scraper ($2.28), amazon.com
Sure, sharp knives come in handy in the kitchen any day of the year. But when you have endless onions, vegetables, and garlic to chop into uniform shapes—we’re looking at you, Thanksgiving stuffing—a mandolin is your best friend, says Vatinet.
Buy it: Mueller Austria Premium Quality V-Pro Multi Blade Adjustable Mandoline Cheese/Vegetable Slicer ($35, list price $49.99), amazon.com
If you prefer chunky mashed potatoes to smooth, a potato masher is the perfect tool to get just the right texture, says Vatinet. Don’t forget to add lots of butter (or maybe even crème fraiche for extra decadence).
Buy it: KitchenAid Gourmet Stainless Steel Wire Masher ($20), amazon.com
Food-Grade Plastic Bucket
On Thanksgiving, you’re likely going to dirty a lot of dishes—especially mixing bowls. That’s why instead of a bowl, Ricky Moore, chef/owner of Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, N.C., likes to use a large food-safe bucket to brine his proteins (like turkey, duck, or fresh ham). Get one that’s at least 5 gallons: the ideal size for brining any piece of meat that’s larger than 5 pounds, says Moore. When you brine (a technique that adds a lot of moisture and flavor), there will be displacement, so you need a vessel this big to keep the brine from overflowing.
Buy it: Leaktite Food Safe Bucket 5 Gallons ($5), homedepot.com
A high-quality rolling pin that’s the correct length and weight is essential if you’re making pie dough, biscuits, or breads for Thanksgiving, as it will ensure you get the right thickness of your baked goods, says Robert Carr, executive chef with La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio. His go-to: a Matfer rolling pin that comes with adjustment wheels to keep thickness on track, but for a budget option, a simpler silicone pin will do the job!
Buy it: PROKITCHEN Adjustable Silicone Rolling Pin ($26), amazon.com
Stock up on a few rolls of this versatile paper in advance of Thanksgiving. For just about anything that’s roasting or baking in the oven, parchment paper helps ensure super easy cleanup, says Sharone Hakman, CEO and chef of Chef Hak’s. For example, you can line baking pans with it for roasting vegetables, loaf pans for making cakes, or a Dutch oven before making stuffing; they’ll all come out perfect.
Buy it: Reynolds Kitchens Parchment Paper ($4), amazon.com
Festive Casserole Dishes
Thanksgiving is often the one day a year many people pull out their fancy china and dishes to make the holiday feel that much more festive. Now’s the time to show off your beautiful heirloom dishes, too (just be sure the antique ones are oven proof). Moore suggests using a passed-down dish to serve one of your family’s traditional recipes: For him, it’s Grandma Lottie’s rutabaga pudding in an antique Pfaltzgraff baking vessel.
Buy it: Pfaltzgraff Plymouth Covered Serving Dish ($98), amazon.com
“There’s nothing worse than an inferior peeler when you need to peel all of your potatoes and vegetables on Thanksgiving,” says Marc Therrien, executive chef and managing director of Keeneland Hospitality in Lexington, Kentucky. A pro chef favorite: The Kuhn Rikon, which is less than $5. Scoop this trio of peelers to let family help with potato prep, or gift two to friends.
Buy it: Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler ($14 for three), amazon.com
Here’s a time-saving tip we can get behind: Every year, Moore starts prepping for Thanksgiving the first week in November. He makes recipes such as cranberry sauce, stewed vegetable preparations, gravy, pie fillings, and dressing base, then adds them to 1-quart bags and stores in the freezer. “This helps a great deal in terms of organizing and managing stress in the kitchen during the holidays,” he adds.
Buy it: Reusable Ziplock Storage Freezer Bags ($13 for 10), amazon.com
Fine Mesh Strainer
A good quality, heavy-duty fine mesh strainer—also known as a chinois—is a must-have for straining your Thanksgiving stock, which will result in better-quality gravy, says Therrien. Invest in a top-quality strainer, which will be worth it if you cook often, he adds, because cheaper ones break easily and won’t be able to handle heavy liquids.
Buy it: New Star Foodservice Stainless Steel Reinforced Bouillon Strainer ($28), amazon.com
“Look—we all tend to overdo it during the Thanksgiving holiday, and regardless of what we promise ourselves, there is always too much food left over,” says Moore. To minimize food waste and also share the bounty, he stocks up on to-go containers that he can send home with friends and family, and labels them with their names in advance.
Buy it: Compostable Clamshell Take Out Food Containers ($13), amazon.com
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