Sunset‘s food editors share their expert Thanksgiving advice on everything from gummy mashed potatoes to undercooked turkey

Sunset Food Editors' Thanksgiving Advice

Thomas J. Story

Every year, Sunset’s food editors receive a ton of reader questions in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. You want to know the best way to cook stuffing, how to please the vegetarian of your friend group with something that doesn’t feel like a consolation dish, and why a dry brine beats a wet brine every time. This year, we turned Sunset‘s Instagram messages into a one-day Turkey Hotline, a live Thanksgiving-themed Q&A with food editors Ellen Fort and Maya Wong. Here, we gathered the most asked questions from readers like you. 

Get more cooking tips, pantry favorites, and recipe recommendations from Ellen and Maya each week by subscribing to The Sunset Pantry newsletter.

I’m going to a last-minute Friendsgiving and need an easy but impressive side dish. Any favorite recipes?

This list of veggie side dishes is my go-to for inspiration, but I really love the Green Beans with Meyer Lemon Bread Crumbs. Easy to make and lots of zest and citrus juice. —Maya Wong

Do you think it’s better to cook stuffing inside the turkey or outside the turkey?

I recommend cooking stuffing separately from the turkey. Cooking stuffing inside the turkey increases cooking time for the bird and can result in soggy stuffing. Cook stuffing in a shallow pan for maximum surface area (the crispy top is my favorite) and stuff your turkey with lemons, garlic, and aromatic herbs instead. —Ellen Fort

Any dessert suggestions other than pie? Blasphemy, but I sadly have pie-haters in my life.

I love this Sweet Potato Tea Cake with Meringue recipe from Tartine Bakery’s new cookbook. I guess even the pie-haters out there deserve a sweet, autumnal dessert too. —M.W.

How do I avoid clumpy mashed potatoes?

If your mashed potatoes have lumps, the potatoes were probably undercooked. Add more liquid (milk, cream, melted butter) and cook potatoes over low heat until the chunks become soft, then mash again. —E.F.

Okay, what about gummy potatoes? 

To prevent gummy potatoes, cut peeled potatoes into quarters before mashing. If they’re too small, they absorb too much water while cooking and can lose texture. Do NOT use a blender/mixer; over-mixing them can also make them gluey. —E.F.

I’m a terrible cook but I don’t want to show up empty-handed. What do I bring?

A thoughtfully arranged cheese board is a great addition and requires zero cooking. It also provides the cooks with snacks while they prep! Here are some handy tips for creating a beautiful cheese board from someone who makes them for a living. —E.F.

What’s your favorite leftover turkey recipe?

GLAD YOU ASKED! Multiple Sunset editors are already planning on making this Turkey Tetrazzini from the new 2019 edition of The Joy of Cooking. So cheesy. So good. —M.W.

What if I undercook the whole turkey?

If dinnertime looms and that turkey just isn’t done, crank the oven up and cook until the breasts reach 160°F. Slice off the legs and thighs and continue to cook them while you serve up the white meat (but don’t forget about them, they’re the best part!). —E.F.

What’s the best brine for my turkey?

Skip the messy, drippy wet brine and do a dry brine, a.k.a. salt that turkey within an inch of its life 24 to 48 hours before you plan to roast it. Mix salt with dried and fresh herbs as you please, or use this foolproof recipe. —E.F.

How do I get bland mashed potatoes to taste yummy without using a pound of butter?

The unfortunate truth: the more butter, the better. But if you’re trying to maximize flavor, cook your potatoes in a bath of milk steeped with herbs (rosemary, thyme), garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Strain to mash and add in hot milk (and some butter, if you can handle it) as needed for texture. Season to taste with salt. —E.F.