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How every Thanksgiving food is ruined (and how you can save them)

Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

I’m here to save your meal.

Every year we go through the magical social media dance of arguing which Thanksgiving foods should get axed from the table. Some want pie gone, others can do without turkey, the chaotic evil suggest axing macaroni and cheese. But there’s always one item that makes the cut: Bread rolls. This typifies every Thanksgiving meal problem.

Allow me to explain. The rolls are, largely, the one item untouched by human hands. Unless you have an overachiever in the family who wants to bake their own, rolls typically mean opening the bag of King’s Hawaiian, and if you’re a little fancy, warming them in the oven. This tells me that we have an inherent problem with every other item on the table. Clear signs they’ve been totally screwed up and created bad memories. I am convinced that if America was used to eating properly cooked poultry they’d never cut out the turkey, but every year it’s the first to go.

The internet, more specifically the websites you visit, will likely rank and order every Thanksgiving food. Hell, we’ve done it in the past. However, this whole minefield of botched food made me think about a better way to discuss the holiday. What if we don’t just aim to say what’s best, but rather how you can save these foods.

I’m not going to lie, a lot of these are difficult. Trying to save an overcooked turkey is damn-near impossible, and it might just infuriate your host — but let’s dive in anyway.


Common Problem: Cooked to dust and dry as hell

The main problem with the humble turkey is that this country has been conditioned to rely on that stupid turkey button. The dumb plastic nodule that sure, tells you by the letter of the FDA’s law that the meat is “safe,” but absolutely destroys any possibility of good meat in the process.

This turkey button works by having a tip made of soft metal, similar to solder. At 165 degrees it melts, allowing the plastic to come loose, where it pops up due to a steel spring. internal spring made out of a metal that melts at 165 degrees, at which point it pops up. Or it should. Routinely they either don’t pop at all, leaving cooks waiting forever before finally taking it out and feeling brave enough that it’s cooked — or it pops early, and people eat pink turkey with the cook assuring everyone it’s fine because the timer popped.

How you can save it

Trying the take over the centerpiece of the meal is incredibly difficult. Turkey cookers most often are extremely proud of their work, even when it’s terrible. If you can somehow convince your host to let you cook the bird, then learn all about dry brining and spatchcocking. They will alter now just how you eat turkey, but every single bird you can prepare at home.

If you’re not allowed to butcher and prepare the bird yourself, consider offering to be the timer. Get a good instant-read thermometer and tell your host you’d like to time the bird, if they’re okay with it. Take a reading in the thickest part of the thigh, and the center of the breast — and tell people it’s done when the reading hits 145. Carry over cooking will get it where it needs to be.

Let’s assume you can’t do either. The bird is dry, dead and can’t be saved. You really only have one option left, and it will probably insult your host. You need to “confit” your serving or turkey in gravy. Confit is the French technique of slowly cooking meat in oil, so we’re not really confiting here, but the general idea applies. You want to submerge your turkey in gravy and heat is gently, causing the dry bird to absorb the liquid. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’ll help.

Mashed potatoes

Common problem: No flavor

It’s remarkable how bad most people make mashed potatoes, which is incredible considering it’s basically a four ingredient dish. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten mashed potatoes that taste like someone thought the only thing you do is literally mash potatoes, and call it a day.

How you can save it

The potatoes are normally an afterthought for more cooks, which turns them into an annoyance. This means it’s fertile ground for you to swoop in, claim ownership, and make them your own. When I say “make them you’re own” I’m not talking about loading them with cheese and bacon like a 5-year-old. It’s really extremely simply.

Always start your potatoes in cold water, and bring them to the boil in the pot. Don’t drop them in boiling water like pasta.
Lots of butter. Like, almost a sickening amount of butter. This is how high-end restaurants make their mash, so should you.
Barely a dash of milk, and only if they’re too thick.
Season with salt, pepper, a dash of garlic and onion powder. That’s it.

If the potatoes are already dead and you couldn’t intervene then grab a side plate, add some more butter and mix them yourself.

Green vegetables

Problem: Someone wanted to try a thing they saw on Top Chef

When it comes to Thanksgiving I’m gonna need you to get those pomegranate seeds all the hell away from my green beans. Look, I don’t care if the winner of season 10 of Top Chef did it, they’re a chef, and you are not. No, I’m sorry everyone is just being polite and saying they like this. There’s just crunchy pomegranate seeds all over my shit now, and this plate sucks,


How you can save it

Don’t try to replicate fancy vegetable recipes you saw on TV for Thanksgiving. This is all about the classics and playing to them. You put some green vegetables on your plate for color, obligation, and the myth you’re having something healthy. Heck, it’s why we decided to take green beans, smother them with canned soup and top with fried onions as a side.

The best thing to do here is just cook them yourself, or avoid all together.

Macaroni and cheese

Problem: Boring

The issue here is really a lot like that of mashed potatoes: People make them without enough seasoning. I’m assuming some home made mac and cheese here, not making a box of Kraft or heating up a Stouffers.

I think people say “well, I don’t see any seasoning, so it doesn’t need seasoning,” which leads to bland noodles and cheese sauce with nothing else. In reality the sauce is dying for some pepper, paprika, a little nutmeg and onion powder. Things to give is depth of flavor beyond “cheese and noodles.”

How you can save it

The good news is, even boring mac and cheese is still good. Load it up with black pepper and a little more salt and it won’t be transcendent, but it’ll still be okay.


Problem: Fear

No food has gone down in quality as precipitously as stuffing. What used to be glorious, sopping bread deliciousness stopped being good when people got scared of turkey drippings.

Now nobody stuffs a bird anymore, instead making dressing outside of the turkey, and it’s so sad as a result. It’s like people just gave up on stuffing being good, when it was so easy — instead cramming it full of nuts and dried fruit and weird stuff.

How you can save it

The only way is to get turkey drippings. That’s it. A fully cooked bird should give more tan enough to make gravy AND add to your stuffing, but I’m afraid there’s really no saving a tray of bad dressing.

Pumpkin pie

Problem: Pumpkin pie sucks

How you can save it

Eat sweet potato pie instead.

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