8 Surprising Tools These Chefs Rely on for Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

published Nov 15, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you’re an enthusiastic cook (and because you’re hanging around here, we assume you are!), you probably already have a tried-and-true list of utensils you’ll use to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. After all, where would you be without your favorite sheet pans and saucepans?

But because chefs always seem to know about the best tools, we were curious to learn what they consider to be a Turkey Day prep essential. We asked a variety of chefs and food professionals what items they absolutely need for one of the biggest food holidays of the season. The responses included things like super-specific knives, old-school tools, and more than a few surprises. Do you already use any of these cheffy must-haves?

1. Brine Injection Needle

Turkey gets a bad rap for being dry and flavorless. That’s because the white meat is typically overcooked by the time the darker meat is ready. While you could solve this problem by carving the turkey beforehand and cooking each piece separately, James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Charlie Palmer has a better idea. He uses a brine injection needle to plump the meat with flavorful, moist brine — you could also use stock. Palmer, whose NYC steak restaurant will be open on Thanksgiving Day (file this information away in case of disaster) even uses it on other meats like ham and sirloin steak. “You will be amazed at how such a simple trick can beautifully tenderize and flavor the meat, making it more succulent.”

2. Cheesecloth

Cheesecloth is my essential hack for the perfect turkey,” says Kyle Jacovino, the chef and owner of Pizzeria Vittoria in Savannah, Georgia, noting that he picked up the tip from chef Patrick O’Connell. Here’s his method: Soak the cheesecloth in emulsified butter and water, then wrap it around the seasoned bird and pop it in the oven for roasting. Remove the cheesecloth during the last 20 percent of your cook time so the bird can brown. Wondering why this works? Here’s what Jacovino says: “This method eliminates your need for constant basting and results in a golden-brown, perfectly crisp skin every time.” Sounds good to us!

3. Food Mill

These days, high-tech appliances like food processors and high-speed blenders get all the glory. But Karen Akunowicz, the chef and owner of Boston’s Fox & the Knife and forthcoming Bar Volpe, is a fan of the humble, no-electricity-required food mill. She likes the one from OXO, using it to make fluffy mashed potatoes. “Use the food mill to process potatoes after cooking them, and then fold in olive oil and Greek yogurt. Do this the night before and then sprinkle with Parm and bake in the oven for creamy potatoes with a crunchy, cheesy top for a whole different flavor experience.” A food mill also happens to make great applesauce.

4. Mortar and Pestle

Want to level up literally any of your Thanksgiving recipes? According to Andrew Zimmern, the host and creator of the Bizarre Foods franchise and of the new Magnolia Network series Family Dinner, a mortar and pestle is the best way to ramp up the flavor. Hand-grinding your spices fresh and just before cooking will really “treble” their flavor, according to Zimmern. This is his (affordable and pretty!) pick.

5. Kitchen Gloves

Washing your pots and pans after the big feast isn’t the only task that requires gloves. Zimmern is a big fan of True Blues brand household gloves. Their thick and durable vinyl exterior saves his hands when handling a hot turkey, and the soft cotton interior makes them surprisingly comfortable. “Sometimes it’s the little things!” says Zimmern. 

6. Immersion Blender

You may already regularly reach for an immersion blender to make creamy soup, but it can do a lot more for you on Turkey Day. Adam Richman, a contributor to the network’s The Food That Built America and host of History Channel’s Modern Marvels, always has this handy tool close by. He considers it to be an essential part of his mashed potato routine, using it to aerate and whip the spuds. Richman also uses it to finish homemade gravy, noting that it “does triple duty as a blender, spoon, and whisk.” Still not convinced? He says an immersion blender will turn out perfect deviled egg appetizers — he uses it to blend the cooked yolks, mayo, and seasoning so that it’s light and airy. (Richman pipes it into the hard-cooked whites and tops ‘em with chives and caviar.)

7. Dutch Oven

You may already plan on using your Dutch oven to make day-after turkey stock, but this tool is actually a must for the do-ahead crew. As Akunowicz notes, Dutch ovens are perfect for preparing a dish (say, your famous mashed potatoes) and then storing in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, all you need to do is reheat it. She also points out that Le Creuset’s enameled cast iron Dutch ovens are so pretty, they can go straight from the oven to the table — no need to dirty a separate serving dish. Says Akunowicz, “Worth every penny. I’m obsessed with the new artichaut color! It’s perfect for dressing up any meal.”

8. Bird’s Beak Paring Knife

‘Tis the season for roasted chestnuts. Whether you’re serving them roasted as appetizers or turning them into a creamy soup or hearty side dish, the hardest part of preparing chestnuts is peeling them. For that task, Zimmern uses a bird’s beak-style paring knife, stating that he can’t cut and peel chestnuts without one. This one, from Shun, is ultra sharp and looks pretty sleek, too.