12 time-saving tips for cooking Thanksgiving dinner, say chefs

Thanksgiving is stressful enough with all the preparation and planning that goes into enjoying a festive meal with loved ones. From figuring out when to buy the big bird to the perfect menu for the Thanksgiving holiday, organizing T-Day requires a lot of time to make sure everything tastes as good as you intended, your guests have a memorable evening and everything goes well without any problems.

While you can plan for every possible hiccup that may come up and interfere with your Thanksgiving dinner preparations, sometimes the unexpected is unavoidable. When moments like this arise, it can be difficult to get back on track. Before you know it, hungry guests will be knocking on your door as you frantically continue an impossible race against time, nervously checking your timer as you measure the temperature of each dish.

To make your life a little easier, we spoke to professional chefs for their expert time-saving tips for cooking Thanksgiving dinner. While their advice may help you spend fewer hours in the kitchen and more time giving thanks, if you find yourself still running out of time, you can also check out these 20 Last-Minute Thanksgiving Recipes that everyone will love.


Plan a week or more for Thanksgiving.

shopping list with ingredients for thanksgiving

shopping list with ingredients for thanksgiving

Chef Omar Loney from Kokomo, a Brooklyn-based Caribbean restaurant, recommends planning your menu and grocery list in advance, preferably at least a week before Thanksgiving. This way you can be sure that you have everything you need and you don’t have to search for ingredients at the last minute, while also paying premium prices for them.

“You can buy your non-perishables a few weeks in advance, but make sure you have a set list of everything you need for the days leading up to the big day,” advises Loney.


Buy products that are already cut.

pre-cut products

pre-cut products

“A lot of time is spent slicing vegetables, so buying your produce already cut, diced, or shredded can definitely save time,” says Eric Barrettowner of SOCU Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar.

So if you’re making a green bean casserole, try picking up frozen green beans that have already been washed and chopped. Buying pre-cut sweet potatoes for pie or casseroles can also save you time and energy, since no one wants to struggle with a potato on Thanksgiving morning.


Thaw and prepare your turkey in advance.

defrost raw turkey

defrost raw turkey

If you’re planning to cook a full traditional turkey for Thanksgiving, make sure to allocate enough time in advance to thaw and cook it.

“Some turkeys can take up to six days to thaw, so be sure to do your research and pay attention to the instructions to make sure you get your turkey ready on time,” says Loney. “I recommend not doing it the day of, because plenty of other things will happen.”


Also make other dishes in advance.

man pressing pastry crust over can

man pressing pastry crust over can

Newsflash: Not everything has to be cooked on Thanksgiving Day.

“It’ll make your life a lot easier if you make the desserts — brownies, cakes, pies — the night before, because they don’t spoil when you sit out at night,” suggests Loney.

Also make frozen meals your best friend.

“I’m not talking about TV dinners, but dishes you can make ahead of time and keep in the freezer for a few days,” continues Loney. This includes but is not limited to cranberry sauce, gravy, pie crust, and so on. “Then all you have to do is defrost them the day before to be ready for Thanksgiving.”


Use a skillet with several sections.

Woman stirs vegetables in a frying pan

Woman stirs vegetables in a frying pan

Why wait for your Brussels sprouts to cook on the stove when you can multitask to make multiple side dishes? You save important minutes by investing in a frying pan with different sections.

“Using a multi-section skillet allows you to cook several dishes at once instead of having to wait for one dish to finish cooking before moving on to the next,” says Barrett.

Plus, using a multi-section skillet instead of multiple pans will save you some cleanup time after Thanksgiving dinner, so you can spend less time scrubbing the sink.



woman feeding man food

woman feeding man food

When it comes to preparing a meal as big as Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you delegate.

“This day requires all hands on deck. So my recommendation is to tell friends or relatives who are attending to bring a side dish or dessert so that it’s not just up to you to cook whatever comes to the table, Loney says.

However, if you’re planning to host Thanksgiving potluck style, make sure to let your guests know a few weeks before dinner. This courtesy allows them enough time for shopping and also to prepare their dishes.


Put a lid on it.

woman putting lid on pot

woman putting lid on pot

Whether it’s stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes, or any other delectable stovetop side dish, don’t forget to put the lid on the pot or pan.

“Your food will cook faster if you have a lid on it to keep the heat in,” says Ebony Austinowner of Atlanta-based Nouveau Bar&Grill.


Cut ingredients into smaller pieces.

man cutting potatoes

man cutting potatoes

Try to reduce the surface area of ​​your food, Austin recommends. Cutting vegetables or meat into smaller pieces will help everything cook faster.

“This is very important if you’re baking a dish,” says Austin. “For example, it’s faster to fry several pieces of chicken that have been sliced ​​than it is to fry a whole chicken.”

Another pro tip: “When cooking mashed potatoes, cut the potato into small pieces [cube-shaped] pieces before you cook them so the potatoes cook faster,” says Barrett.


Use all-purpose herbs.



Instead of rummaging through the spice rack or disorganized bottles in your cupboard or pantry, opt for an all-purpose seasoning.

“Using an all-purpose seasoning prevents you from having to sift through your seasonings to find the right one,” says Barrett.


Bake your turkey.

turkey frying

turkey frying

If you have a fryer big enough for your bird, put it to good use on T-Day.

“Using the deep fryer significantly reduces cooking time,” says Barrett. Baking a turkey can take up to 45 minutes [depending on its size]instead of traditionally cooking a turkey in the oven for three to four hours.”


Raise the temperature of meat.

roasted turkey with meat thermometer

roasted turkey with meat thermometer

“Cooking at a higher temperature will definitely cook your meat faster,” Austin explains. “But please be sure to use a food thermometer to make sure your meat is fully cooked and cooked to your liking.”

FYI, according to the USDA, a turkey should reach an internal temperature of 165°F, while beef, pork, and lamb should be cooked to at least 145°F for food safety.


Soak dried legumes.

soak chickpeas in water

soak chickpeas in water

If you plan on serving a dish that calls for raw legumes, such as black beans, pinto beans, or chickpeas, make sure to soak them for at least four hours before preparing your dish. Or better yet, make the time to soak them overnight.

“Soak [legumes] softens them and shortens cooking time,” says Austin.

However, to save even more time, you can always buy these items canned.

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