Helpful steps to cook the perfect Thanksgiving meal


Photo taken from Google via Creative Commons

These easy steps are sure to help you cook a great Thanksgiving meal.

Christina Vaughan, Staff Writer

It’s time for Thanksgiving.

You may be the head chef in your family, or maybe even the sous chef. But, at some point in your life, you’ve probably had to stand by and watch as a frazzled relative is running around the messy kitchen, watching the oven like a hawk, and praying the turkey comes out on time. While they frantically decorates pies and stirs the pots of a million different sides, sweat pours from they head. Feeling bad, you might have asked them, “Is there anything I can do to help?” The answer is ultimately, “no”, but you know that when it’s time to cook your Thanksgiving meal, that won’t be you.

10 year-old me in the process of making a pie for Thanksgiving. (Photo provided by Christian Vaughan)


Fortunately for you, I can help with that. I have been assistant chef at many Thanksgiving dinners, and the head pie-bakerat most; however, last year I got the opportunity to cook a Thanksgiving meal for my family, all on my own. It was a success! So here’s my guide to cooking the perfect Thanksgiving meal:

  1. Know what you want to cook

If you haven’t at least thought about what you want to cook next week, you’re behind. When deciding what to cook for your Thanksgiving meal you must take your consumers into account. Think about how many people will be attending, if there’s any dietary restrictions, or any foods your family definitely won’t eat.

  1. Gather your recipes 

So now that you know what you want to cook, you need a recipe. Make sure you get your recipes from a reliable source. I’d say either use a cookbook, family recipe, or the Food Network website. You don’t necessarily have to have already cooked that specific recipe before, as long as you have read the instructions and it doesn’t seem too complicated for your skill-level. 

Turkey is the center of your meal, and if there’s anything you CAN’T mess up, it’s the turkey. Everyone has their own method of cooking: oven-baked is the most traditional, but smoking and frying have grown in popularity over the years. If it’s your first time, I’d recommend talking to someone you know who has cooked a (good) turkey in the past.

No matter what way you actually cook the turkey, if you want it to be juicy, you must brine it. The best recipe (for traditional turkey), in my opinion, is Alton Brown’s recipe: 

With this recipe, a 14-16 pound turkey only takes two and a half hours to cook, and it gets crispy skin with flavorful, juicy, meat.

  1. Make yourself a cooking-schedule

Lay out all your recipes and look at how long each will take to cook. Then, figure out when you will actually serve the meal. Write out a schedule according to when you want each individual recipe to be done and how long it will take you to make.

Some recipes will have to be made in two or three incremental steps. Other things can be done early and just set aside to be kept warm. But, make sure to give yourself a little leeway for things like pies and turkey in case they don’t cook as fast as the recipe says. Also, take into consideration if things can be done a day early, like pies, cranberry sauce, or sides.

  1. Annotate your recipes and put them in order

I like to staple my recipes in the order in which they will be made. I also like to read over each recipe several times and make sure the instructions are crystal-clear. If they aren’t, I re-read and write myself a note in that spot. Additionally, if there’s a complicated step I like to lookup tips other people have for that recipe and write them in my notes (watching videos can be very, beneficial as well).

  1. Grocery shopping!

If you can, do your grocery shopping three to four days before Thanksgiving so everything stays fresh, so you’re not caught in the Thanksgiving rush, and so if you forget anything there’s still time to run out and buy it. Write yourself a grand list of what ingredients you have and don’t have, remember some ingredients will be used more than once. Triple-check your list to make sure you have everything according to your recipes.

 Also, if you can, buy extra of the things you know will run out quickly, so you don’t have to worry.

Me hard at work, looking VERY tired and crusty. (Photo provided by Tracye Vaughan)


  1. Game-time

The day has come, it’s finally Thanksgiving.

You wake up early, drink your coffee, and prepare for a long day of cooking and awkward small-talk with family members you don’t like. You made a schedule so you’re not stressed about cooking everything in time, and you gave yourself breaks so you don’t get too tired. All that’s next is to enjoy the experience of cooking a delicious Thanksgiving meal and not get too far ahead of yourself.

A few basic cooking tips:

Pie crust- If you want a flaky crust then USE COLD BUTTER! Chill your butter beforehand and either put it through a cheese grater, or cut it up into chunks then smash it with your fingers before adding it to your dry ingredients. To get visible flakes in your crust, you must leave small chunks of butter in the crust, you don’t need to fully incorporate all the butter.

Cornstarch- When adding cornstarch to anything, you need to make a slurry. A slurry is just equal parts cornstarch and water. By adding in cornstarch as a slurry rather than just the powder itself, you avoid any cornstarch clumps.

Stuffing- If you’re not making stuffing inside the actual Turkey then make sure you taste it several times. Stuffing dries out super fast.

Gravy- Make gravy from the Turkey drippings, it is waste-reducing, and tastes absolutely amazing.

Cranberry sauce- Please for the love of all that is good in this world, make your own cranberry sauce. It is so significantly better than the canned stuff, it’s not hard, and it doesn’t it take very long.

Here’s the best recipe for cranberry sauce:

So, there you have it–that’s all you really need. Remember, not every dish is going to be perfect, and at least one side-dish is bound to fail, and that’s totally okay. If you stress yourself out, it will reflect in your cooking.

If you’re cooking the meal independently, just that in itself is a great feat that most high schoolers have never accomplished. Just be confident in what you’re doing and everything will go to plan, take it one step at a time, and don’t get ahead of yourself. You got this!

Happy Thanksgiving Royals!