Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: Big Group, Small Oven on Thanksgiving

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

My current digs in New York are the best I've ever had here. I've got a reasonable-for-New-York-sized kitchen (complete with a pass-through window!), a place to put a large metal rack with all of my kitchen gear on it, and even a little balcony. I keep a slotted wood table set up on the balcony near the kitchen window so that I can put pots and pans outside to dry and not clutter up my counter space.

Still, it is a New York kitchen in a New York apartment, which means that when the holidays roll around and I've got a dozen mouths to feed, it takes a bit of careful planning to make sure it all goes off without a hitch.

Here are some tips I've picked up over the years.

Tip #1: Consider Every Available Heat Source When Planning Your Menu

Ultra-Crispy New Potatoes With Garlic, Herbs, and Lemon

The first step to a successful Thanksgiving is menu planning. It doesn't make sense to have all of your side dishes require the oven to cook, for instance. Do you have a slow-cooker? Cook your mashed potatoes ahead of time and keep them warm in there to free up your stovetop. Or cook your stuffing in it start to finish for extra moist results.

A countertop toaster oven may not be great for roasting your potatoes, but it'll do a fine job of keeping them warm (or even reheating them) if you roast 'em off in advance, freeing up your oven for more pressing last-minute cooking.

Similarly, don't neglect your stovetop! Anything you can keep warm in a slow-cooker can be kept warm on the stovetop by creating a double boiler—put your mashed potatoes, for instance, in a lidded pot, then fit that into a larger pot and fill up the larger pot with water kept at a sub-simmer over low heat. Your potatoes will stay nice and toasty without burning or scorching on the bottom.

I like to make sure that my menu contains a mix of make-ahead casseroles, some dishes that can be kept warm in a toaster oven, some items that can be finished on the stovetop (like these seared brussels sprouts, for instance), and something that can be kept hot in the slow-cooker.

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Tip 2: Spatchcock Your Turkey

I've said it dozens of times in the past, and I'll say it again: a spatchcock turkey is the easiest and fastest route to juicy meat and crispy skin, and not only that, it's custom-made for those with confined cooking spaces. A full turkey in its natural state takes up the whole oven—if you've got other casseroles to cook or potatoes to roast, you're out of luck. A spatchcock bird, on the other hand, has a much thinner profile, which means you can fit an additional rack in the oven for a second bird, some roast potatoes, or extra casseroles while it bakes.

Need more convincing? Check out the video version here for a closer look at the process!

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Tip 3: Invest in Some High Quality Casserole Dishes

Great casserole dishes are not just about looking good. Their functional purpose is twofold: they should cook slowly so that the crusts of your casserole develop without burning while the interior cooks evenly, and they should retain heat for a long time so that your casserole will stay hot on the table for the duration of the meal.

Le Creuset's stoneware series accomplishes both of these tasks with stylish aplomb, but if you want the leader of the pack in terms of both heat retention and even cooking, then enameled cast iron is what you want.

With dishes like these, you can bake off or reheat your casseroles with some breathing room to spare, knowing that they'll keep your food hot until it hits the table.

Tip 4: Hearty Salads!

Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Fried Almonds

[Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

Not all of your Thanksgiving side dishes have to be served hot, and adding one or two hearty salads to the mix is a great way to make sure that everyone gets their veggies without having to worry about any last-minute cooking. In fact, many salads actually get better as they sit, like this carrot and chickpea salad, this marinated kale and sumac onion salad, or this wild rice, cranberry, and pecan salad, for instance.

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Tip 5: Bread!

Flaky Herb Biscuits

[Photograph: Carrie Vasios]

Great homemade bread can also serve as a cornerstone of your Thanksgiving table. Like parker house rolls or angel biscuits smeared with butter, or these flaky herb biscuits or stuffing bread for something with a bit more flavor. If you're looking for something really fast, then these fast buttery buns have your name on 'em.

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Tip 6: Bourbon

When all else fails, bourbon always does its job.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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