Dry turkey? Lumpy gravy? Burnt pie? When Thanksgiving cooking disasters strike, these smart fixes will help you salvage your feast.
Let’s Talk Turkey
Try this recipe: Chef John’s Roast Turkey and Gravy
Problem: The turkey is still frozen on Thanksgiving morning.
What went wrong: You may have underestimated how long it would take to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator—about 24 hours for every 5 pounds. Or maybe you waited until the last minute to do your shopping. It happens.
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 30 minutes for each pound. Never thaw a turkey at room temperature.
- Learn more ways to safely thaw a frozen turkey, including in the microwave.
- VIDEO: How to Thaw a Turkey
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 breast-side down. 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 and ladle plenty of gravy on the slices.
Problem: The turkey meat is dry.
What went wrong: The turkey breast meat often dries out before the drumsticks are cooked.
What to do: Carve turkey slices and moisten with turkey or chicken stock. Cover and heat in the oven OR cover your turkey slices with extra gravy. Don’t toss out the dry meat; use it for turkey soup or turkey salad.
- VIDEO: How to Fix Dry Turkey Meat
More Turkey Tips
Try this recipe: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
Problem: The 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 a temperature.
What to do: Pour the gravy through a fine-mesh strainer into a new pan—the strainer will catch the lumps—and reheat the lump-free gravy.
- VIDEO: How to Fix Lumpy Gravy
Problem: The gravy turns out thin.
What went wrong: There’s not enough flour or other thickening ingredient in the gravy.
What to do: Put 1 or 2 teaspoons of cornstarch in a small bowl and stir in enough cold water to make a thin slurry. Whisk into the gravy and bring to a boil OR mix a small amount of flour and water into a smooth paste and whisk into the simmering gravy until it’s thick.
- VIDEO: How to Fix Thin Gravy
Problem: The gravy burns.
What went wrong: You got busy and lost track of the gravy. Don’t beat yourself up: Most mistakes happen right before dinner is served when the cook is distracted trying to pull everything together.
What to do: Transfer the gravy to another pan without touching or scraping the blackened bottom. Most of the burnt flavor should stay with the first pan. Smart tip: Keep packaged gravy on hand as a back-up.
More About Gravy
- Learn how to make turkey gravy
- Get tips to make great gravy every time
- Learn how to make a gravy-thickening roux
- Find top-rated Thanksgiving gravy recipes.
- VIDEO: Make-Ahead Gravy
Try this recipe: Southern Italian Thanksgiving Stuffing
Problem: The stuffing or dressing is dry.
What went wrong: There’s not enough liquid in the mix to moisten the ingredients.
What to do: Place the stuffing or dressing in an oven-safe bowl, pour in a little warm broth or melted butter, and toss, adding just a bit of liquid at a time just until the ingredients are moistened. Watch out: Too much liquid will make the stuffing or dressing soggy. (Don’t worry, we’ve got a fix for that, too.) Cover the bowl with foil and heat in the oven until steaming.
VIDEO: How to Fix Dry Stuffing
Problem: The stuffing is soggy.
What went wrong: There’s too much liquid for the amount of bread or other dry ingredients.
What to do: Add more bread crumbs or toasted bread OR spread the stuffing out on a baking sheet and heat in the oven to dry it out.
More about Stuffing
- Get tips to make the best stuffing and dressing
- Get top-rated stuffing and dressing recipes
- VIDEO: How to Stuff a Turkey
Try this recipe: Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes
Problem: The mashed potatoes turn out sticky and gluey.
What went wrong: The potatoes were either overcooked or got overworked, possibly because you whipped it with an electric hand mixer for a bit too long.
What to do: Spoon the potatoes into a casserole dish, top with butter and cheddar cheese, bake and serve as a mashed potato casserole.You can also try forming the potatoes into patties, chilling for about an hour and then frying until golden brown.
Problem: The mashed potatoes are lumpy.
What went wrong: The potatoes were not mashed enough to break up all the lumps.
What to do: Put the potatoes back in the saucepan, add hot milk and butter, and continue mashing gently until they’re smoother. For the fluffiest mashed potatoes, switch from a hand-held masher to a potato ricer or food mill.
More about Mashed Potatoes
- Get tips for making the best mashed potatos
- Find top-rated recipes for Thanksgiving mashed potatoes
- VIDEO: How to Make Mashed Potatoes
- Learn how to freeze and thaw mashed potatoes for a smart make-ahead move.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Try this recipe: Candied Sweet Pottoes
Problem: The sweet potato casserole marshmallow topping is scorched.
What went wrong: Marshmallows burn easily, even when they don’t come into direct contact with fire. Maybe your casserole was too close to the broiler element, or perhaps you simply forgot it was in the oven and walked away. Flame on!
What to do: Turn off the oven, blow out the fire, and open the windows. When the charred marshmallows cool, use a spatula to remove them. Replace with new marshmallows or a brown sugar topping, and give it another go under the broiler. To make sure it doesn’t flame up again: Lower the oven rack, crack open the oven door so you don’t forget it’s in there, and watch it like a hawk.
More about Sweet Potatoes
- Learn the difference between sweet potatoes and yams and why you’ve probably never actually eaten a yam.
- Find out the right way to make and freeze a sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving, and get other smart make-ahead ideas.
- Get top-rated sweet potato casserole recipes.
Try this recipe: Sweet Dinner Rolls
Problem: The dinner rolls are burnt.
What went wrong: Perhaps your oven temperature is higher than you thought (invest in an inexpensive oven thermometer) or maybe you simply forgot the rolls were in the oven.
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. Or if they’re just a little bit scorched, you could try gently scraping off the worst bits with a microplane grater or a serrated steak knife.
More About Dinner Rolls
- Learn tips and techniques to make dinner rolls.
- Get top-rated dinner roll recipes.
- VIDEO: Garlic Parmesan Dinner Rolls
Problem: The 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: The 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: The pie crust is burnt.
What to do: Remove the burnt pie crust and cover the surface with whipped cream. For extra camouflage, shave chocolate over the top.
- VIDEO: How to Fix Burnt Pie Crust
Problem: The pumpkin pie or cheesecake cracks.
What went wrong: Either too much air got incorporated into the batter or the cheesecake was baked at too high a temperature, causing the top to set before all of the steam had escaped from the filling.
What to do: If the crack isn’t too extreme, use a warm metal spatula to gently press down on the cracked area and spread to blend together OR simply cover the entire surface with whipped cream, cranberry sauce, or other sauce.
- VIDEO: How to Fix a Cracked Pie
More About Pies and Cheesecakes
- Get more answers to common questions from our pie trouble-shooting guide.
- For tips on making better pie dough, watch How to Make Pie Crust.
- Learn tips and techniques to bake custard and pumpkin pies.
- Want to up your pie game? Learn all the insider tips for making perfect pies.
- Watch How to Make Cheesecake to see how it’s done.
- Get top-rated pie recipes, cheesecake recipes, and other favorite Thanksgiving desserts.