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Top Chef Alums Share Their Best & Easiest Tips for the Ultimate Thanksgiving Meal
Jamie Lynch, Tanya Holland, Kevin Gillespie, Mei Lin, and Carla Hall give their expert advice on everything you need for an incredible holiday dinner.
Although Thanksgiving this year will look different for many people around the country who are staying home, coming together virtually, or attending limited gatherings, Bravo's Top Chef alums are here to ensure that no matter what your celebration looks like, it still involves an incredible spread.
Preparing a special meal can often feel daunting, but with Jamie Lynch, Kevin Gillespie, Tanya Holland, Mei Lin, and Carla Hall's top tips, novices in the kitchen and cooking experts alike can make an easy, delicious Thanksgiving meal of any size.
Concentrate on Quality Over Quantity...
Instead of stressing over having every classic Thanksgiving dish on the table, Jamie and Kevin emphasize the importance of making sure a select few foods are done right. "Focus on the technique," said Jamie, who competed on Seasons 14 and 17. "Don’t worry about all of the extra fluff, you don’t need all of the extra dishes or garnishes. Make sure that your meat is cooked properly, your vegetables are cooked properly, and you have a nice sauce. Keep it simple. To me, that’s the most beautiful way to do a holiday meal."
"Have a blend of new foods and some you already know how to make," Season 6 finalist Kevin wrote via email. "Don’t be too adventurous, it’s already a stressful day!"
...Especially When it Comes to Your Turkey
"Make sure that you brine and roast your turkey properly," Jamie said, later adding via email, "I like to brine turkey overnight right in a cooler. Plop the turkey in an appropriately-sized cooler and fill with brine and a couple scoops of ice. You can just close the lid and it will be chilled and fully brined in the morning!"
To ensure a perfectly-cooked turkey, "always use a calibrated instant read probe thermometer when checking the doneness," Jamie suggested. "Pull the turkey at about 150 degrees and let [it] rest for a good 30-45 minutes before digging into it!"
Get Outside Help with Unfamiliar Recipes
For any foods you want to put on the table that may not be your area of expertise, Tanya suggested looking outside of your own home for some assistance. "Outsource some of the sides and condiments," the Season 15 contestant wrote via email. "There's probably at least one local or specialty market in your neighborhood or maybe you have a friend who is known for their mashed potatoes or their green beans and they wouldn't mind making extra."
A virtual gathering is also a fun and effective way to learn new recipes without leaving home, Carla explained. "Even if you’re not together with your family, I’ve been cooking with my mom and other friends [on Zoom] which has been really, really fun," said the Season 5 & 8 contestant, who is currently championing the Gateway to Giving Campaign (inspired by the new United Gateway Card from Chase and United Airlines) aimed to educate consumers on how to best support those experiencing food insecurity across the country while committing to a donation of $700k to Feeding America.
"Share recipes, exchange tips and tricks," she added. "Simple dinner made that way will bring everybody together."
Put a Twist on the Classics
Of course, these chefs find a way to put their own spin on traditional Thanksgiving dishes. While Tanya likes to make "a stuffing with a grain like quinoa or rice," Carla suggests cooking "a turkey breast or parts of a turkey instead of the whole turkey," adding, "I always break my turkey down."
While Mei noted, "there's lots of ways to cook a turkey," she is also a fan of using specific part of the bird for an incredible, unique meal: stuffed turkey wings. As she explained, "This is a great recipe for any holiday feast." (Check out the video above for a step-by-step guide on how to make it!)
For Kevin, a simple tweak can go a long way in making a memorable holiday meal. "You can put a spin on classics by playing around with the spices," he wrote. "If the classic dish just uses salt and pepper, try adding chilies or fresh herbs or an exotic seasoning."
"My tip for spicing up classic dishes is to go ethnic," Jamie suggested. "America is a melting pot of cultures, so what better way of showing thanks for that than borrowing from those cultures in our holiday cooking! This year I’m gonna experiment with fish sauce, Hondashi, and XO Sauce in my Thanksgiving cooking."
Consider All of Your Cookware and Appliances
Because Carla plans to be with a "smaller group of people" this year, she is considering cooking several of her dishes in her air fryer. "My air fryer fits a turkey breast perfectly, so that may be something that I’m doing. It’s faster," she explained. "I can roast bones in there, I can roast pieces of meat, I can roast my green beans in there. I think the air fryer's going to do triple, quadruple duty this year."
Although a grill isn't always top-of-mind for holiday cooking, Kevin advises those who have one at home not to forget about it on Thanksgiving. Not only will it yield delicious results, but will also "get that turkey... out of the kitchen and free up some space inside!"
For those looking to reduce the stress (and clean up!) of whipping up every item separately, Tanya suggested "cooking in cast iron and casseroles, one pot dishes," while Carla predicted, "I think that there are a lot of people who [will be] doing sheet pan dinners this year."
Get Creative with Dessert
For Mei, cooking an apple-based dessert is a sweet reminder of her upbringing in Dearborn, Michigan. "Being here in California, I really miss being in that crisp fall weather in the Midwest where I'm from," she told BravoTV.com while sharing her step-by-step guide to making apple rhubarb hand pies. (Watch the video below for the full recipe, which Mei notes is "pretty simple to make.")
When it comes to options for sweet treats, Carla wants to make it clear that this is not the year to feel restricted. "Everybody will always say 'Sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie?' I decided that this year, why say 'or' when you could say 'and?'" she said. "Take your pumpkin pie and put a sweet potato mousse on it. Take your sweet potato pie and put a pumpkin mousse on it so you have both. There’s no 'or.' There’s 'and.'”
While everyone has different family structures and traditions, spending time with the people we love can make the holidays special. The holidays will look different this year, but we at NBCUniversal believe that Family is Universal. Which is why we’re partnering with Walmart, Verizon, and Progressive in support of Feeding America® and No Kid Hungry, to support families across the country when it matters most.
Celebrate Thanksgiving this year with NBC and Verizon’s Virtual Spotlight. Tweet us family photos using #VerizonLive and #MacysParade for a chance to be in the livestream! Watch Thursday 11/26 at 9AM ET on Verizon’s Twitter and YouTube.
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