How to Avoid Thanksgiving Nightmares

From undercooked turkey to overcooked side dishes, a lighthearted look at how to survive the challenges of the holiday meal. Plus three simple wine tips.
V Stock/Alamy

We’ve all lived through—or at least imagined—our share of Thanksgiving disasters. Generally, mine involve the meals at my in-laws’ house. The turkey is dry and flavorless, with a texture reminiscent of a scene in Christmas Vacation, where Chevy Chase punctures the bird and it collapses into dust and skeletal remnants.

I remember just as vividly the scene in our own house when we tried to serve them Thanksgiving dinner. Our newly remodeled kitchen and commercial range gleamed in the afternoon light. The turkey had been safely tucked into its roasting pan and placed in the oven for about an hour when we realized the igniter was broken and the bird was still cold.

Luckily, the infrared broiler worked, so we used it to cook the turkey. We had to cover the bird with several sheets of aluminum foil to keep the top portions from burning, and the cooking time went hours longer than planned. When we finally ate, my father-in-law asked, “Are you sure this is done? It’s awfully juicy.”

Which leads to my first rule of turkeydom: Always judge doneness by a meat thermometer. Without one, I’ve seen beautiful-looking birds that were still icy on the inside, and my mother-in-law’s platter of carved cinders. It helps if you don’t stuff the bird.

Second rule: Use the good china. You can put it back on display tomorrow. Jo Anne: Skip the paper bowls and Corelle ware just this once. Dress up the table a little. Let everyone know it’s an occasion.

Words on Wine

Unlike undercooked turkey, poor wine choices never ruined anyone’s Thanksgiving. Keep choices simple: Offer a white and a red.
Whites with crisp acids and a bit of sweetness will work with most standard Turkey Day fare. Try off-dry Rieslings or Chenin Blancs.
Keep reds medium weight or less and fruit-forward to best match turkey and cranberry sauce. Gamay and Barbera work well, as do some styles of Pinot Noir and Grenache.

Third rule: Less is more. Yes, Thanksgiving is part harvest celebration. Yes, leftovers are part of the tradition. But that doesn’t mean you have to make everyone’s favorite side dishes. Two or three or four, done well, are more impressive than eight prepared straight from a package and overcooked in the microwave. Didn’t make Sis her favorite turnips this year? Rotate the sides, and skip Billy’s red cabbage the next time around.

Upgraded Thanksgiving Sides

Most importantly, know your audience. The first year I went to Thanksgiving at my in-laws, I brought a bottle of wine. It took 10 minutes of scrounging to find a corkscrew and longer to locate some stemmed glasses. I was the only one who used one. The second year, I brought wine, a corkscrew and enough glassware to share. And I was the only one to use them. The third year, I just drank beer like everyone else.

Published on November 23, 2016
Topics: Culture
About the Author
Joe Czerwinski

Czerwinski has been a wine journalist, editor and taster for over a decade and is a regular wine panelist, speaker and educator for events and organizations worldwide.




SUBSCRIBE TO
NEWSLETTERS
The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories