<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=969544623157493&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Chef Todd’s Thanksgiving Survival T.I.P.S.

thanksgiving tips

Family Thanksgiving dinners provide a time for the family to enjoy agreeable company and delicious food. Everyone has a good time...

…except the person hosting dinner, who has usually not had enough sleep and is sure to run out of a critical ingredient at the last minute.

Take advice from a man who has hosted Thanksgiving dinners for hundreds of people, Chef Todd Schrage of The Esquiline. The former Southwestern Illinois College Culinary Arts instructor offers these tips to ensure your Thanksgiving is terrific!

Thanksgiving Survival T.I.P.S. (To Insure Personal Sanity)

  • Get a Plan
  • Don’t be a Hero
  • Convenience is Not a Dirty Word
  • Holiday Head Starts
  • Food Safety before Football
  • The “Wow” Factor
  • Turkey Carving 101

Prepare a Plan

  • Physically write down the complete menu that you wish to serve
  • Think about your guest’s individual needs…nutrition, diets, likes and dislikes, etc. Consider some recipe modification to make recipes healthier…for example, artificial sweetener instead of sugar and water instead of oil in coleslaw
  • Gather recipes. Put them on cards or photocopy from recipe books, print off the Internet
  • Determine quantities
  • Clean out the refrigerator to make room
  • Create a shopping list
  • Set your timeline so all items are finished at the same time
  • Create a file and save all of your information from year to year and make notes each year regarding leftovers, like/dislikes, timeline, quantities

Don’t Be a Hero

  • Allow your family and friends to bring a dish. Be prepared for the question, “What can I bring?” Give them choices.
  • Consider having a restaurant or supermarket prepare the entrée or a side dish or two.
  • Ask family and friends to bring Tupperware along to take home leftovers.
  • Arrange food and beverages buffet style (make a sink board for extra room).

Convenience Is Not a Dirty Word

  • Use stuffing bread mix and add your own ingredients. “Stale bread is stale bread.”
  • Prepare in advance: chopped lettuce, shredded cabbage, sliced fruit, frozen chopped onion and green pepper.
  • Use frozen bread and biscuit dough or brown-and-serve items to save time.
  • Add gravy mixes to pan drippings to make homemade-tasting gravy.
  • Purchase the turkey already cooked and sliced.
  • Purchase pies or desserts from the bakery or grocery store, or use prepared pie shells.
  • Purchase upscale disposable eating utensils.
  • Use disposable cookware.

Holiday Head Starts

  • Dual-use recipe procedures let you prepare ingredients that can be used in more than one dish.
  • Avoid duplication of tasks, such as cooking two pies at different times.
  • Use the one-pot method to save on dishwashing
  • Set the table and get all of your service ware, linens, and utensil together in advance.
  • Cook the turkey ahead. Then, slice and hold in in the pan with skin on top. Afterward, make stock from bones for gravy to keep turkey moist when reheating or for future use in soups and stews.
  • Chop vegetables, open cans, make gravies and casseroles at the beginning so you’re not running back and forth.
  • Make a daily schedule of preparations required.
  • Cook pasta, rice, fresh vegetables, etc. ahead of time and flash finish.
  • Remember to wash all fresh produce well and avoid cross contamination.
  • Make homemade pies, cakes, desserts and breads a week ahead and freeze.

Food Safety before Football

  • Wash the raw turkey inside and out, and sterilize anything that comes in contact with it.
  • Thaw turkey: in refrigerator, 24 hours/5 pounds; in cool water, 30 min/pound and change water every ½ hour
  • Cook to internal temp of 180 degrees in thigh.

Time and Temperature:

Weight        Hours

6-8 lbs.      2 ¼-3 ¼

8-12 lbs.     3 ¼-4

12-16 lbs.    4-4 ½

16-20 lbs.    4 ½-5

20-24 lbs.    5-5 ½

24-28 lbs.    7-8 ½

  • Forgo basting in favor of barding or larding to avoid a dry turkey.
  • Clean area and store all leftovers before sitting down to watch the game. Do not leave at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Let hot food cool in shallow containers, especially thick dense items such as dressing, gravy, and casseroles.
  • Leave Tupperware lids cracked open to allow steam to escape, or wrap loosely.
  • Stir items several times to help cool.
  • Refrigerate all pies and desserts made with cream or other dairy products.
  • Remove stuffing from turkey and cool separately.
  • Remove turkey meat from bones, because bones hold heat.
  • Use leftovers within 3 days.

The “Wow” Factor

  • Start with the table centerpiece, such as a montage display with pumpkins, fake leaves, fruits, etc.
  • Use real linen and china, glass, and silverware.
  • Post the menu.
  • A simple garnish goes a long way. (Plan it in your recipe and shopping list.)
  • Display the turkey whole with garnish (fresh cranberries, orange wheels, parsley, kale, etc.). Brush with a mixture of honey and Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce.

Turkey Carving 101

  • Remove the pop-up thermometer and the metal clamp that holds the legs together. Allow turkey to rest for 20-30 minutes.
  • Pull the leg and thigh away from the body and cut at joint between thigh and backbone.
  • Place leg/thigh on cutting board and remove leg, cutting at joint.
  • To slice drumstick, hold firmly on cutting board with fork and slice parallel to bone.
  • Cut thigh meat the same as drumstick.
  • Make a “V” cut across neck area, cutting along wishbone.
  • Make a base cut across breast: place knife parallel and as close to wing as possible. Make a deep cut in breast, cutting to the bone.
  • Slice breast in thin, even slices.


Hand-Carved Roast Turkey

Hearty Turkey Gravy

Cranberry Sage Stuffing

Sweet Potato Gratin

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Roast Turkey with Hearty Pan Gravy

8-12 servings

1 12-14 pound turkey, thawed

1 large onion

3 carrots peeled and sliced

3 ribs celery, diced

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon thyme

½ cup butter melted

3 cups turkey or chicken broth

1 cup dry white wine

3 Tablespoons flour

Cooked Giblets/neck meat

Salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Rinse turkey in cold water and pat dry with disposable towels
  • Tuck wings and legs, unless tied
  • Place carrots, celery and onion in roasting pan, place bird on top
  • Combine garlic, thyme and melted butter, use to baste bird
  • Roast turkey, necks and giblets  for 18-20 minutes per pound, basting every hour
  • Cook to an internal temperature of 180 degrees
  • Remove bird and deglaze pan with white wine
  • Reduce pan drippings by ½
  • Spoon off 1/3 cup of fat
  • Combine fat and flour in small sauce pan, add stock and defatted drippings, cook for 6-8 minutes
  • Dice giblets and neck meat, add to gravy
  • Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper

Cranberry Sage Stuffing

8-12 servings

6 ribs celery, diced

1 large onion, diced

½ cup margarine

2 cups chicken broth or bouillon

16 slices dried bread, cubed

½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries

¼ cup toasted almonds

1 Tablespoon chopped parsley

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

½ teaspoon rubbed sage

Salt and pepper to taste

  • Melt margarine in a large skillet, add celery and onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes
  • Add stock or broth and bring to a boil
  • Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes in a greased casserole dish, or inside turkey

Sweet Potato Gratin

8 servings

3 pounds sweet potatoes, baked and peeled

½ cup butter or margarine, divided

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup orange juice

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup flour

¼ cup uncooked oats

1/3 cup chopped pecans

  • Combine sweet potatoes, ¼ cup butter or margarine and 2 tablespoons brown sugar, beat with mixer
  • Add eggs, orange juice, 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon, salt and nutmeg, blend well
  • Pour into 1 ½ quart casserole dish
  • In a small bowl, combine flour, oats, ¼ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Cut-in ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • Add pecans and sprinkle over casserole
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

8 servings

6 cups French bread, cubed and toasted

2 cups half and half

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup brown sugar

1 (15oz) can pumpkin

½ cup raisins

½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

3 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream topping

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Combine all ingredients, except whipping cream
  • Pour into a greased casserole dish and bake for 50-60 minutes
  • Serve warm with whipped cream


  • 1 small turkey
  • 1 pound butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 pint half and half
  • 1 pint whipped cream
  • 2 onion
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 head garlic
  • Fresh parsley
  • Fresh sage
  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • Thyme
  • 40 ounces chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 loaf stale bread
  • 1 loaf French bread
  • ¼ cup almonds
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans
  • Poultry seasoning
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Pumpkin pie spice
  • Flour
  • Vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup uncooked oats
  • Brown sugar
  • 6 oz orange juice
  • 1- 15 oz. can pumpkin
  • ½ cup raisins
  • Equipment
  • 3- 1 ½ qt casserole dishes
  • Small sauce pan

New Call-to-action