These 6 Tips from Alexander Smalls’ Southern Thanksgiving Will Make Your Feast Complete

published Nov 10, 2021
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Credit: Bijou Karman

This week, we kicked off our second annual Thanksgiving Food Fest and if you’ve been tuning in, you’ve likely already jotted down a number of recipes to have for this year’s big day. As a refresher, our pre-Thanksgiving celebration includes five chefs and cooks who will each share their take on a distinctive Thanksgiving menu, and as a result, leave you with new dishes to prepare for your guests this year.

While incredibly talented chefs like Dorie Greenspan and Shanika Graham-White supplied us with their takes on French and plant-based cuisines for the most grateful day of the year, chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Alexander Smalls took us down South with his Thanksgiving menu on Tuesday night’s installment. Showcasing some of his most crave-worthy recipes including a Cornbread Chestnut Dressing with Roasted Turkey, Lemon Candied Yams, Green Beans with Toasted Charleston Benne Seeds, Field Greens, Poached Pear, and Black-Eyed Pea Salad, and a Bourbon Pecan Pie, his menu is culinary confirmation that the South is always going to have somethin’ to say.

Whether you’re used to cooking with Southern staples like pecans and black-eyed peas, or if this is your first time at giving it a go, these six tips will help you create a meal worth talking about for years to come.

1. Preparation is key.

if you’re a person who likes to wait until the day before to rush to do all of your shopping, one of Alexander’s biggest tips is to avoid doing that. “I would say take your time. Manage your time. Make lists. Prepare. Be methodical,” he told Kitchn’s Assistant Food Editor Nicole Rufus in the video.

2. Cracked pepper will always reign supreme.

Though many people may assume that all pepper and salt are created equal, Alexander revealed that there is a difference. In fact, the choosing of cracked pepper over a freshly ground option can impact your dish in ways you couldn’t have predicted. “I love cracked pepper,” he said. “You know, when it’s fine, it’s just, it’s “background noise.” But when it’s cracked, it’s present.”

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

3. Turkey doesn’t have to be dry.

Turkey may get a bad rap in some households, but with this tip from Alexander, that won’t be a problem this year. And you only need one simple ingredient to keep that from happening. “This is one of the ways to deal with dry turkey: we stuff under the skin with butter,” he said. “So as the turkey cooks, it bastes. And then I’m going to take the remaining butter and sort of grease up my turkey.”

4. Cook your vegetables over high heat.

When creating Southern-inspired dishes, it’s very common to prepare your vegetables by boiling them prior to serving them. That, however, doesn’t have the be the only way to make the delicious and fulfilling Southern side dish, according to Alexander. “You know, traveling the world, I fell in love with wok vegetables — vegetables that are cooked over a high heat with minimal liquid,” he said while making his Green Beans with Toasted Charleston Benne Seeds recipe. “So, I adopted this dish and added the characteristics of the South.”

5. Balance your menu.

Southern-based menus don’t have to be overwhelmed with the same traditional types of items every year. Although your guests may be used to having collard greens inclusive of bacon, or both fried chicken and ham, Alexander noted that it’s very important to create a menu that makes everyone feel included. “It’s important to have a balanced menu and something for everyone,” he said. “I mean, I have vegetarians — I have vegans who come to eat — so, I have something for everyone.”

6. Don’t be afraid to make your food look inviting.

Regardless of the meal you are creating, food is meant to be enjoyed from start to finish. But before everyone can dig in on your top notch culinary creation, Alexander expressed that it should first look the part. “I love when people love my food. I love it when people get excited,” he said. “I love it when I call people in and the table is decked with food that seduces you and makes you feel welcome. It invites you to eat it.”

Watch Alexander Smalls’ full episode below and tune in tonight at 8 p.m. ET for our next guest star, TJ Lee.