A Few Lessons I Learned From Thanksgiving

Roast turkey by Roland Bello.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve been taking on more responsibility for the family’s Thanksgiving meal. I really enjoy the process and think of it as a showcase for recipes and techniques that I hone throughout the year. That said, there’s about 30 minutes or so right before the guests arrive, where I become highly stressed. After all, there’s plenty to worry about in terms of the food presentation, how guests will actually be served, whether there’s enough wine and refreshments, and of course the inevitable stain on your shirt that you need to clean ASAP!

So this year, I thought I’d take a little time to rethink what I do during Thanksgiving and incorporate those lessons into my preparation next year. Who knows, you might be able to take something away too!

Lesson #1 – Prototype and prep your recipes as much as possible beforehand!

This year’s menu featured a range of dishes, which included:

  1. corn consommé,
  2. goat cheese tart with mixed salad greens,
  3. short ribs with pumpkin puree,
  4. roast pork fried rice,
  5. a vegetable casserole,
  6. whole roast turkey with sweet potato fries, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy, and
  7. various desserts including an almond pear tart, mixed fruit, and cookies.

In my case, the corn consomme and the goat cheese tarts were all new for me. I left the corn consomme to the night before, and it took me nearly 2 hours to boil, strain, skim, and repeat without knowing whether it would turn out right. In contrast, I tested the goat cheese tarts a week ahead, and knew exactly how the recipe would react in the oven, where I might have made a mistake, and how to serve it. Knowing how your recipes would turn out definitely helps keep the stress down.


Lesson #2 – Keep your knives sharp and clean!

Good knives are crucial to helping you carve a turkey easily and quickly on Thanksgiving. In case you need a tutorial on doing it the right way, Alton Brown is a favorite reference with this Good Eats clip on YouTube. And of course, there’s plenty of other things you’ll need to chop, dice, and slice throughout your prep. Don’t forget the bandages too, for the occasional nick.


Lesson #3 – Time your dishes to be made the night before as much as possible.

Out of all the dishes listed above, not a single one needed to be made the day of Thanksgiving aside from the turkey! So why not make everything the night before? Save yourself the hot kitchen and focus on entertaining during Thanksgiving day.


Lesson #4 – Enlist good help!

I couldn’t possibly have done everything by myself, which includes plating, presentation, serving, bartending, and cleaning. And if anything, I was fortunate to focus on cooking alone. I am absolutely grateful to my helpers who took care of everything else!


Lesson #5 – If you don’t enjoy making Thanksgiving dinner, don’t do it!

I know I’ll do it again next year because I love cooking! But if you want a break from the heat, try rotating the responsibility to someone else and call it being the guest chef! It’s far easier to backseat cook, and serves as a source of pride for someone who thinks they can’t cook. You’ll be able to take it easy and help someone learn to cook at the same time!


Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to reflect with friends and family about the fortunes of the past year. Happy holidays, dear reader!

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