How to Fix Common Thanksgiving Dinner Mishaps
Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a major undertaking, so it's only natural that some things are going to go wrong along the way. Maybe even big things. But don't flip out or freak out, if things start to go sideways. Most Thanksgiving mishaps are easy to fix. Just keep your cool and turn to these tricks.
The Turkey Is Still Frozen
Discovering that your turkey is still frozen — or partially frozen — Thanksgiving morning may not be the best start to the day, but it's not as big a problem as you may think. Don't waste time trying to thaw your turkey. Just get it in the oven as soon as you can. Because while it's perfectly safe to cook a frozen turkey, it takes about 50 percent longer.
Here's what you need to know to cook a frozen turkey, including approximate cooking times. Since your oven will be tied up longer than you planned, you may want to think about preparing some of your side dishes in crockpots. That tends to be easier anyway.
The Turkey Is Dry
Don't despair if you cut into your turkey and found it dry. An overcooked turkey is easy enough to fix up. Just slice it in the kitchen, and pour a little gravy or broth over it before serving. Better still: add the gravy or broth; then, stick your turkey back in a 200-degree oven for about 10 minutes. This will help the meat to absorb the juices.
Turkeys are tricky to cook to perfection, so start a new tradition of carving your bird in the kitchen. This will allow you to do whatever doctoring you need to do before you serve it to your guests. Passing around a platter of turkey slices is easier anyway.
The Mashed Potatoes Are Lumpy/Runny/Dry
If you made mashed potatoes from scratch and they came out too lumpy, runny or dry, first know that they probably already taste a million times better than the instant kind. Score one for Team Homemade. Now ... on to nailing the texture.
Lumpy mashed potatoes are usually the result of undercooked potatoes or not enough mashing. Those are things to work on next time. For now, heat your mashed potatoes on the stove over low heat, and add a small amount of milk or cream. Continue cooking and stirring until the lumps go away.
Runny mashed potatoes could indicate that you didn't do a good enough job draining the cooking water from your potatoes or that you added too much broth or cream. This is also easy to fix. Just heat the potatoes on the stove, stirring constantly, until enough of the liquid evaporates to achieve your desired texture. Or, transfer your mashed potatoes to a baking dish and pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Dry mashed potatoes are also an easy fix. Just add cream or broth a bit at a time, until they're no longer dry.
The Gravy Is Too Lumpy/Thin/Thick or It's Lacking in Flavor
You took the time to make your own gravy, now you're wondering why you bothered. It didn't turn out right and you don't have much time to fix it. It's almost time to sit down. Now what?
Don't worry. It should only take a few minutes to whip your gravy into shape. Let's look at some simple solutions to common gravy problems.
Lumpy gravy is the result of combining the starch and stock/broth too quickly. When you do that, the flour or cornstarch doesn't dissolve completely, and little lumps of starch get left behind in the finished gravy. Take it slower next time to prevent lumps, but for now, just use a strainer to remove the lumps from your gravy. Or, use an immersion blender (or regular blender) to whirl your gravy to a smooth consistency.
Too Thick or Too Thin
Gravy that is too thick or too thin can be remedied by either adding more broth, or cooking some of it out. A sprinkle of instant mashed potatoes will also thicken up gravy in a hurry, without messing with the texture.
The Flavor Just Isn't There
If your gravy isn't flavorful, start by adding a bit of salt and pepper. If that isn't enough to bring out the flavor of the other ingredients, try adding a bit of wine, Worchestershire or soy sauce. Cooked onions (or mushrooms if you have them), can also add that missing punch of flavor.
The Turkey Is Done Early
Timing Is Everything
Timing everything to be ready at the same time is tricky for even the most seasoned of cooks. If your turkey is done before you thought it would be, don't sweat it. A turkey needs to rest for 30 minutes before you carve it anyway. It's fine if it sits out for an hour while you finish everything else up. It'll still be plenty warm and perfectly safe to eat.
Have more than an hour until dinner? Slice your turkey, and transfer it to the fridge. Then, pop it back in the oven for about 20 minutes before you eat.
It's Time to Eat and the Turkey Isn't Done
Turkey needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be safe to eat. There's just no getting around that. If it's time for dinner, and your turkey still isn't done, it is possible to speed things along, but before you do that, make sure you're getting an accurate reading from your meat thermometer. It's fairly common for thermometers to be off a few degrees (especially if you're using a cheap thermometer). You don't want to cook your turkey longer if the issue is really with your thermometer. To test your thermometer, bring a pot of water to a boil and measure the temp. If you're getting a reading of 212 degrees, your thermometer is accurate. If you're getting something lower, you now know how many degrees your thermometer is off.
If your turkey really isn't done, add a bit of broth or water to the bottom of the pan; cover your bird with foil; and crank up the oven to 450 degrees. Continue roasting, checking the temperature regularly until it's done.
The Stuffing Is Too Dry/Wet
Don't sweat it if your stuffing came out of the oven too dry or too wet. This is a cinch to fix. The cure for too-wet stuffing is a bit more time in the oven. Spread your stuffing out on a cookie sheet, and pop it back in for 5-10 minutes to bake off some of that extra moisture. To fix too-dry stuffing, stir in broth a bit at a time, until you're happy with the results.
I Don't Have Some of the Equipment That I Need
There's nothing like cooking a holiday meal to make you aware of all the kitchen equipment that you're lacking. If a recipe you're working on calls for some gadget or gizmo that you don't own, there's probably something you can use in its place. If it's something that you'd only use once or twice a year, that's probably better than buying it (and having to find a place to store it).
There are some clever stand-ins for tools that you might need Thanksgiving morning, such as a large cake pan or casserole dish instead of a roasting pan or floss or foil in place of kitchen twine.
I Don't Have an Ingredient That I Need
No matter how carefully you plan, you're probably going to find there's an ingredient that you need and don't have. Before you rush out to buy it, see if there's something in your pantry that you can use in its place.
You might be able to use yogurt as a substitute for an egg, or a mix of milk and butter in place of heavy cream.
I Accidentally Added Too Much of Something
Accidentally add more of an ingredient to your recipe than you meant to? Don't be too quick to dump out the ingredients and start over. There's probably a simple way to salvage your recipe.
You might be able to just increase the amounts of the other ingredients in the recipe or add something like water, vinegar, or lemon juice to counteract the dominant ingredient.