Thanksgiving Hacks: What To Use When You're Missing A Key Cooking Tool

If you’re missing a roasting rack, a pie plate or other equipment, these nifty chef tips can help.

We’re not here to judge. Of course it would be great to have a well-stocked kitchen for Thanksgiving, but here you are, with a dinner deadline rapidly approaching, and you realize you’re short one piece of equipment.

First of all, the best expert advice is to relax. “Cooking on Thanksgiving can be an incredibly high-pressure situation, and it can feel very overwhelming,” said Curtis Stone, the chef and owner of Maude and Gwen Butcher Shop and Restaurant in Los Angeles. “The first piece of advice I’d offer is that there’s a solution for every problem that may arise in the kitchen, so no need to panic — you’ve got this.”

“When I’m cooking a big dinner with a lot of different moving pieces, I like to read through all the recipes and pull out all the equipment I’ll need and lay it out,” Stone advised. “It’s important to see what you’ve got to work with before you actually get cooking. Oftentimes, recipes will call for specialty equipment, like a stand mixer or a mandoline, but you can likely make do with what you’ve already got handy. A whisk will work instead of a mixer, and a set of sharp knives is all you really need.”

Still, equipment that’s AWOL or malfunctioning is a situation that can arise in any kitchen, especially on Thanksgiving. Here are some workarounds intended to bring some zen to the day.

I don’t have a scale to weigh my pie crust ingredients.

You’ve heard it’s the only way to bake, which certainly is true in professional kitchens. But even without a scale, everything will turn out just fine, according to Ken Haedrich, dean of The Pie Academy.

“Maybe because I’m old school — and by that I mean ‘old’— I take a dim view of any must-have cooking gear story I come across,” he said. “The one that drives me craziest is this national hysteria about owning a kitchen scale. Of course bakeries couldn’t function without them, but if you’re making a pie crust at home, use a measuring cup, for heaven’s sake. I’ve written 18 cookbooks, and about the only thing I use my kitchen scale for is weighing packages when I send out Christmas cookies to my family.”

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I can’t find a pie plate.

Is there a muffin tin lurking somewhere? Bingo! Ken has an idea. “In our online classes, Pie Academy members really love making individual pies in standard-size or jumbo muffin pan cups,” he said. “Just line the cups with a circle of dough, pile in the fruit filling, top with a crumb topping and bake.”

And while you’re searching the cupboards, take note if you still need a cooling rack for your pie. You can always pull that second rack out of the oven before you turn it on, says recipe developer and cooking instructor Shelagh Mullen. “If you don’t have an extra rack, the grates of a stovetop will also work,” she said.

I just realized I have nowhere to store the turkey while it’s brining.

That multi-day soak in salted, flavored water was all the rage a few years back, but it requires a container big enough to submerge a raw turkey — and a safe, cold place to keep that big, sloshy container. Sandy Davis, a chef for New York-based Roxo Events, said to spare yourself the ordeal. “Brining is way, way overrated,” he said. “It’s a lot of trouble for not much payoff in the end.” Instead, Davis does an overnight rub, using an herbed olive oil he makes with garlic and cracked pepper. He coats the bird, covers it, and pops it in the fridge, easy peasy.

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Is a roasting rack mandatory?

You can certainly cook a turkey without one, according to Diane Phillips, author of James Beard-nominated cookbookPerfect Party Food.” “But the problem with putting the turkey on the bottom of the pan is that it will steam,” she said. In an emergency, she suggested “you can try to make a facsimile of a rack by using crumpled aluminum foil in the bottom of the pan. Or you can mount the turkey on chunks of raw vegetables, which will cook along with the bird.”

Where’s the fat separator? It’s time to make the gravy.

Just follow this old-school hack from chef and cookbook author Robin Asbell. “Place your pot of stock on the burner on low, with only one side of the pot resting on the heat, and the other on the stovetop,” she said. “The ‘cold side’ is where the fat will pool, and you can skim it off with a ladle. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and leaving a little fat behind just makes it taste good.”

Do I really need an electric knife?

Absolutely not, said Chef Rossi, owner and executive chef of New York catering company The Raging Skillet. She recalled her first Thanksgiving with her girlfriend, who came from a big Italian family and had a crowd gathered for the meal. “When the big moment came for the gorgeous roast turkey to be carved, there was suddenly a scurrying around as everyone was shouting, ‘Where’s the electric knife?’ I told them there was no need, found a chef’s knife that I sharpened as best I could, and used it and a carving fork to carve up the bird. My future in-laws were thrilled, and I got invited over for holiday suppers a lot after that.”

Chef Jonathan Scinto agreed with Rossi. “I’m a firm believer that electric knives tear turkey meat,” he said. He uses a 10-inch Sujihiki knife, making sure to sharpen and hone it before the big day.

There’s no meat-carving board in this cursed kitchen.

“If you don’t have a big wooden cutting board with a moat to catch the drippings, use whatever board you’ve got, plus an old towel,” suggested Robin Selden, executive chef and managing partner of Marcia Selden Catering. “Cover the area with the towel, spray some water on it and put the board on that damp towel. Now your board won’t slide, and the towel will soak up all the excess juices that would otherwise make a big mess.”

Can I still make whipped cream without an electric mixer?

But of course, Selden said. “Just place heavy cream, vanilla and sugar in a plastic quart container, put the lid on and shake it for about three to five minutes.”

Here’s one tool you really do need ― a meat thermometer.

If you want your turkey to come out perfectly, order one now! It’s not too late.

A reliable digital instant read thermometer
This affordable ThermoPro TP03 with rechargeable batteries will fit in your pocket and take an accurate temperature in just a few seconds.
A traditional instant-read thermometer
A more old-school version of the digital one, this Rubbermaid model won't work as quickly but will get the job done.
A probe-style digital thermometer
This ThermoPro TP-16 probe digital thermometer will monitor your meat the entire time it's in the oven, meaning you can spend less time opening the oven door and losing heat.

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