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Four cooking tips (from a chef!) to help you survive Thanksgiving

We’re just a few days away from the busiest holiday in America. Don't worry, we've got you covered.

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time and you’re filled with anxiety and questions, here are some tips from Bridget Charters, chef at Hot Stove Society, a Tom Douglas cooking school in downtown Seattle. 

1. What’s the key to a less stressful Thanksgiving dinner?

Planning and preparation, Charters says.

There’s a lot you can do in advance — the shopping, the prepping, and even some of the cooking. Start shopping now, because this week is the busiest time of the year for supermarkets.

 “This is it. This is their Armageddon. This is when they get hammered,” said Charters. “So if you buy in advance, what are you buying? You’re buying squash, sweet potatoes—all those things will hold beautifully. As long as it’s [in the 40 degree range], those things will hold beautifully outside or in the garage.”

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Obviously, there will be items you’ll want to pick up the day before. But that list will be much shorter and more manageable.

2. Let’s talk turkey. I’ve heard brining is a good thing for a turkey. But it weirds me out to think of leaving a bird in a bucket of salty water for a day. How is that safe?

A wet brine involves submerging the turkey in a cold bath. Charters recommends using a small cooler for this job. Then make your brine mix.

“For every gallon of water it’s a cup of salt, a cup or half cup of sugar, or maple syrup or molasses,” said Charters. “Those are antibacterial. So you’re making a brine with those items and you’re melting those items with water. And you’re filling your cooler with nice cold water, ice and that brine mixture.”

If wet brine is not your thing, you can do a dry brine. It’s similar to a wet brine, but without the water. You rub the salt, sugar, and whatever-spice-you-like on the turkey. You’ll want to leave the rub on overnight.

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There are pros and cons for each method. Wet brine fans like how it’s forgiving and buys you some time. The downside is the drippings can be salty. Dry brine fans say air drying makes the skin crisp.

3. Let’s move on to sides. I once spent two and a half hours making a green bean casserole from a recipe from a Very Famous Lifestyle guru and it was so bland, so flavorless, I was angry for days. Do you have a fail-safe veggie side dish that works every single time, and takes less than 45 minutes?

Charters says: Simply blanch beans in salted water until they’re nearly cooked. Fish them out of the water and spread them on a platter, don’t pile them, but give them room to cool. Serve them at room temperature, or if you have time before dinner, saute them in olive oil and garlic and fresh herbs and return to platter. Serve at room temperature.

You could also roast squash in the oven when the turkey comes out. Roast it in a 400 degree oven while the turkey rests. Like the beans, you can serve squash at room temperature.

4. How about desserts? I’ve had so many crust failures, I’m scared to try again, but I also don’t want to be the one showing up with pie from the store.

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The good news is you can pick up a pre-made crust and make the filling. Charters says an easy one is pumpkin. Just pick up a can of pumpkin filling and follow the recipe on the back of the can.

“You can spruce it up if you like,” said Charters. "With some pecans or something and maybe do one other pie, fill it with apples and make it open face and then guess what, you can say you made it!”