Thanksgiving Disaster-Savers

When cooking disasters strike, these tips will help you salvage your Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey Tips

Chef John's Roast Turkey

Photo by Cynthia Ross

Problem: Turkey still frozen on Thanksgiving morning?

  • What to do: You can speed up the thawing process by placing the wrapped, frozen turkey in your kitchen sink and covering it with cold running water. Use your bathtub if your sink isn’t large enough. Drain and refill the water every half hour. The turkey will thaw at the rate of about a half hour for each pound.
  • What went wrong: You may have underestimated how long it would take to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator–about 5 hours for each pound. Or you may have waited until the last minute to do your shopping. (That should probably stay between you and the bird.)

Problem: The turkey begins to burn while it’s roasting.

  • What went wrong: It could be that your oven needs to be calibrated and that you’ve been roasting it at a much higher temperature than you thought. (Note to self: purchase an oven thermometer.) Or you may be relying on one of those “pop-ups” to tell you when the turkey is done, which aren’t as reliable as a meat thermometer inserted into the turkey.
  • What to do: Flip the bird over immediately and continue to cook. When you carve the turkey, begin by removing any blackened skin and about half an inch of the meat below any burnt area. You can then layer slices of the meat on individual dinner plates (outside the view of your guests), ladle gravy spiced with a little cayenne pepper on top and call it your special “Cajun Smoked Turkey.”

Problem: The turkey meat is dry.

  • What went wrong: The turkey breast meat often dries out before the drumsticks are cooked. Trussing may also have been the culprit: trussing is really only required to help keep stuffing in the bird. Trussing an unstuffed bird will lead to less air circulation in the cavity, the dark meat will take longer to cook and the breast meat has a better chance of drying out.
  • What to do: Cover your turkey slices with extra gravy. Leftover dry meat is perfect for BBQ, stews or turkey salads.

Good Gravy

Make_Ahead Turkey Gravy

Photo by lutzflcat

Problem: Your gravy turns out lumpy.

  • What went wrong: The flour may not have been fully dissolved in liquid before you added it to the pan drippings or the gravy may have cooked at too high of a temperature.
  • What to do: Pour the gravy through a mesh strainer into a new pan and heat gently, stirring constantly; serve immediately.

Problem: Your gravy burns.

  • What went wrong: The simple answer… It burned! Most mistakes happen right before dinner is served when the cook is distracted trying to pull everything together.
  • What to do: Quickly transfer the gravy to another pan without touching or scraping the blackened bottom. Most of the burnt flavor should stay with the pan. Worst-case scenario? Keep packaged gravy on hand as a back-up.


Potatoes to Brag About

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes

Photo by cookin’mama

Problem: Your mashed potatoes turn out sticky and glue-like.

  • What went wrong: The potatoes were either overcooked or got overworked, possibly because you used an electric hand mixer.
  • What to do: Adding more milk or butter may not thin out sticky potatoes. Try forming into patties, chilling for about an hour and then frying until golden brown. You can also spoon the potatoes into a casserole dish, top with butter and cheddar cheese, bake and serve as a mashed potatoes casserole.


Roll Call
Problem: You burned your dinner rolls.

Rosemary Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

Photo by Stirring up Trouble

  • What to do: Slice off the burned tops and add a dab of butter on each roll. If the bottoms burned, simply remove the burnt part, flip them over, top with butter and serve.


Build a Better Pie

Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake

Photo by Dianne

Problem: Your pie crust turns out soggy.

  • What went wrong: The crust wasn’t pre-baked and the filling turned the crust mushy. For fruit pies, try pre-cooking half the filling to activate the thickeners and cook off some of the liquid. Remove from heat and stir in remaining fruit for a chunky texture.
  • What to do: Scoop servings of the pie into individual dessert bowls and top with whipped cream.

Problem: Your pie dough falls apart.

  • What went wrong: There’s not enough water in your dough.
  • What to do: Incorporate enough water to get the dough wet, sprinkle with some flour and let stand for about 15 minutes. The dough should then roll out fine.

Problem: Your cheesecake cracks.

  • What went wrong: Either too much air got incorporated into the batter or the cheesecake was baked at too high of a temperature, causing the top to set before all of the steam had escaped.
  • What to do: Simply cover the cheesecake with cranberry sauce or other fruit or chocolate sauce.

Problem: You burned your pumpkin pie.

  • What to do: Short of traveling back in time, there’s not much you can do to save a burnt pie. If you’re prone to burning pies, our recommendation is to keep a couple frozen pies on hand just in case.