The Thanksgiving Cooking Tools You Always Need, But Forget To Buy

Roasting pans, meat thermometers and other tools that even professional chefs have regretted forgetting to stock up on.

The pandemic has once again made things weird this holiday season. Major life changes have propelled many people to settle into new homes, novice cooks face the holidays without family, and now Thanksgiving is coming.

It can be daunting to plan a holiday meal when you have few housewares, or instructions. And mishaps happen to everyone, even seasoned professionals. Let these stories of kitchen disasters from chefs, recipe developers and food writers guide you to some essential tools for a successful, easy-to-prepare holiday dinner. I’ll share one of my personal disasters first...

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A solid roasting pan that won't collapse
As a fresh-faced, 22-year-old line cook, I felt confident inviting a few friends over for Thanksgiving. I knew how to cook, finally had an apartment of my own, and had a day off ... what could go wrong? Read on, friends.

Twelve sets of hungry eyes watched me from the makeshift living room-dining room as I slid on my bright orange gloves, opened the door, grabbed the sides of the disposable aluminum pan and pulled. I felt the shift in balance as the pan split in two, and time slowed down. The “Nooooo” left my mouth as the turkey plummeted to the floor.

The 23-pound turkey I obsessively marinated, basted and shoved full of lemon and garlic, shattered on impact. Bits of my first solo Thanksgiving foray clung to my apron and decorated the lower cabinets. Thirty minutes of deep-cleaning and deep belly laughter later, I sat down at the folding table set up for the feast, and dug into my first vegetarian Thanksgiving, and the last meal I tried to cook in a disposable roasting pan.

I never attempted a holiday dinner again without my Cuisinart roasting pan. It is a sturdy, reliable vessel for any holiday feast (or weeknight potluck). The aluminum core delivers even heating, and the fully-clad stainless steel construction offers easy release of bits while whisking gravy. Plus it is a cinch to clean.

Get the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro roasting pan for $64.95.
A reliable digital meat thermometer
Don’t leave internal temperature to chance, advises Jessica Randhawa, the cook behind the food blog The Forked Spoon. “Last year my dad and I thought it would be fun to do a cook-off to see who roasts a better turkey. When I asked him what internal temperature he normally cooks his turkey to, he shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, at least 250-300 degrees.’ I laughed and asked him if he ever used a digital meat thermometer. ‘No, I just eyeball it.’ I still have no idea how I made it to adulthood without the house burning down or getting sick from food poisoning.”

No matter what protein you are roasting this holiday season, a digital thermometer will take the stress out of trying to guess whether you are overcooking your bird, or relying on those pop-ups in the turkey, which inevitably fail. “I recommend the ThermoPro with replaceable batteries — it’s both affordable and effective," Randhawa shared.

Get the ThermoPro digital instant read thermometer for $13.99.
An 8-piece deep glass baking dish set
If you are cooking a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner, baking dishes are essential. And bonus if they have lids to store leftovers. Michelle Keldgord, co-founder of the blog BakingHow, learned the importance of having a selection of baking dishes when she tried to recreate a family recipe for her first hosted Thanksgiving dinner. “I tried to make my grandmother’s cranberry Jell-O salad recipe,” she said. “It’s been a crowd favorite since I was little. My grandma offered to show me how it was done, but I decided I could do it on my own.”

“It was a disaster. It wouldn’t hold together. It was a watery mess and impossible to eat. ... It turns out I used the wrong kind of cranberry sauce and baking dish. I learned my lesson: If Grandma has a tried-and-true recipe, you'd better let her show you how it’s done. And always have a good selection of glass baking dishes to see you through your Thanksgiving dinner.”

Not all baking dishes are created equal. This set is made of virtually shatterproof borosilicate glass, can be taken from freezer to oven to table with no worry over thermal shock, and has tight-fitting lids for easy pre-dinner prep and leftover storage.

Get the eight-piece deep glass baking set for $39.99.
A working rolling pin
It doesn’t have to be the holidays to have pie, but are holidays complete without pie? Mary Fagan, food blogger and recipe developer at The Library Kitchen, always makes a family-favorite pie when the holidays roll around. “The first time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner away from home, my brother and I were working in his bare-bones college kitchen. When it came time to roll out the pie crust I’d lovingly mixed and chilled, I realized there were no rolling pins in sight!” Fagan resorted to a Landshark beer can to roll out her dough. Not ideal.

“Now, I always locate my trusty marble rolling pin BEFORE beginning to make our family’s signature lemon meringue pie. Marble rolling pins are beautiful, and they help keep the dough chilled.”

You could use a wine bottle or beer can to roll out your pie dough, but why risk it sticking or not getting to the right size? A rolling pin is an essential tool that is affordable and easy to transport if you take your holiday on the road.

Get a marble rolling pin from Amazon for $19.88.
A pizza stone (even though you’re not making pizza)
Holiday meals don’t always need to include lots of prep, multiple pots and pans or even turkey. Rachel Werner, a food writer and photographer, hosted a Friendsgiving that included a number of foodies, and a stalwart pizza stone as her lone baking vessel.

However, not any pizza stone will do. Her marble pizza stone — the surface she used for heating bread, lumpia and all manner of shared bites — cracked in half after it had been left in the oven for far too long at too high a temperature. Werner later invested in the Emile Henry Pizza Stone, and two years later it is going strong for low-stress gatherings with friends and family.

Traditional holiday food is wonderful, but sometimes a simple potluck-style meal with only one, nonstick pan to wash is a fun alternative. And pizza stones are amazing for making pies with sturdy bottoms. Erin Jeanne McDowell, author of “The Book On Pie,” praises what a baking steel (which is essentially a pizza stone) can do for pies — it makes crusts so sturdy you can stack them. No more soggy bottoms!

Get the Emile Henry pizza stone for $69.95.
An air fryer
Turkey roasted for hours in an oven is the traditional vision of Thanksgiving, but an appliance that streamlines this process makes the holidays less stressful, and frees up cooks to spend more time with family and friends. And isn’t that what the holidays are about?

Samantha Milner, food blogger and recipe developer for Recipe This, learned her lesson after a botched holiday meal. “It was my first Thanksgiving with my chef husband, and he was at work,” she said. “I was 18 years old, and never cooked a roast dinner before, never mind a roasted turkey Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.”

“I thought I was doing an amazing job. Then my hubby pointed out that I cooked the turkey upside down. The breast was all flattened out, but it tasted delicious. This moment inspired me to learn how to cook professionally. And it turns out breast-side-down keeps your turkey moist, at least according to Gordon Ramsay.”

Along the way, Milner discovered the joy of the air fryer. “It produces a better result than oven roasting, and is so much easier. There’s no brining to do — it’s a set and forget method.”

Twenty years later, Milner is still cooking turkeys upside down, but now she uses her air fryer, affording her more time with family and less time cooking and cleaning.

Get the Philips Airfryer for $238.95.

Before You Go

A reliable digital instant read thermometer

Meat Thermometers

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