Chefs Share Their 16 Secret Weapons for Thanksgiving Dinner

Consider this a pre-Thanksgiving checklist.

Cider-Glazed Turkey with Lager Gravy
Photo: © Con Poulos

No matter how small your company is this year, you can still pour love into whipping up a Thanksgiving feast. Make the holiday meal as successful as possible by using the ingredients, techniques, and tools that these chefs swear by.

1. Duck fat

"It's available at most specialty stores. It's a poultry item like turkey, but has a lot more flavor. Add some to the stuffing or put it under the skin of the turkey before cooking. You can use it to cook roast vegetables and in the gravy. It will add a ton of flavor to anything and has all the thanksgiving characteristics you're looking for." — Anthony Zappola, Chef/Owner, The Rice Shop at Ohio City Galley

2. An electric knife

"I have an incredible collection of knives at home, but I'll admit I love using an electric knife to carve the turkey. They get the job done so quickly and have a high amusement factor." — Nicolas Houlbert, Executive Chef, Bluebird London

Cuisinart CEK-40 Electric Knife, $36 at

3. Labels

"Several days before the big meal, pull out all the platters and plates that you will need for the dinner and label them. The last thing you need to do when you are trying to get dinner on the table is to be thinking about what dish goes on what plate. Total time sink." — Sara Moulton, chef, cookbook author, and host of "Sara's Weeknight Meals"

4. A good meat thermometer

"How do you know if your meat thermometer still works? Dip it into a pan of boiling water and if it registers 212°F, you know you are good to go." — Sara Moulton

ThermoPro Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer, $14 at

5. Porcini powder

"Porcini powder is a great weapon to have in the pantry for a burst of umami enriching flavor. A little added to stuffing or the turkey gravy will boost both to the next level." — Michael Brannock, Executive Chef, PDQ

Porcini Mushroom Powder (2 Ounces), $12 at

6. Condensed milk

"You can add it to anything and I will eat it. What I love about ambrosia, in particular, and why I tend to make it at Thanksgiving is that it's ridiculously simple to make and you make a huge batch of it and it lasts for the week. It's my go-to for a late night post-Thanksgiving snack." — Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Food & Wine Best New Chef

Read more: Make a Huge Batch of Ambrosia for Post-Thanksgiving Snacking

7. Turkey someone else cooked

"Don't hate me, but I think preparing the turkey yourself is the biggest waste of time. Cooking a turkey involves several methods that a lot of home cooks may only practice once or twice a year. It's not only time consuming, but stressful, and the holidays should be quality time with family and friends. There are also pans and equipment that only get pulled out of storage when the time comes in November. Find a local BBQ spot who smokes turkeys or a restaurant offering fried or roasted varieties. They are all experts in smoking, frying and roasting, so let them take that load off your shoulders. You won't have to worry anymore if the turkey's going to be dry or juicy when the carving knife hits it. Let your own sides, desserts and other accompaniments shine around the turkey." — Michael Brannock

8. Champagne

"Veuve Clicquot—ice cold." — Linton Hopkins, Chef/Co-owner of Holeman & Finch, H&F Burger, C. Ellet's, Restaurant Eugene + Hop's Chicken

Veuve Clicquot, $59 at

9. Panaché

"Mix sparkling lemon soda (preferably Fever Tree) mixed with a lager of your choice. It's refreshing, delicious, and light in alcohol so you can enjoy it while cooking and not feel like you over-indulged before you sat down to dinner." — Katie Button, Executive Chef + Co-Owner of Cúrate, Nightbell

10. Al Green

"I love getting up early and cooking at my own pace. My secret weapon is to drive the playlist to keep everybody in the right mood. Al Green is my secret weapon." — Joshua Gentry, Little Donkey

11. A sharp Japanese knife

"Nothing makes prep easier and less stressful when cooking for 30 to 50 people than a knife that's sharp and lightweight. Makes everything way more enjoyable than fighting an old dull heavy blade to crank out prep." — Jacqueline Blanchard, Owner of Coutelier

Shun Premier 2-Piece Carving Knife Boxed Set, Silver, $310 at

12. Butter

"You have to have a good ratio of butter to potatoes in the mashed potatoes and when you think it's a good ratio you should probably add some more." — Dave Anoia, Chef/Owner of DiAnoia's Eatery

13. Chestnuts

"I love using them in stuffing. Roast fresh ones, easy to peel, easy to chop, and adds lots of flavor to the stuffing." — Glenn Rolnick, Executive Chef Carmine's Italian Restaurant

14. A food mill

"A food mill is my secret weapon. Mashed potatoes are one of the most crucial Thanksgiving dishes, and who doesn't love a perfectly silky-smooth potato purée without any chunks? It's an easy, but often overlooked, tool that can really elevate everyone's favorite side dish." — Jim Stein, McCrady's

GEFU Stainless Steel Food Mill, $85 at

15. Dark Beer

"Sweet potatoes, as you cook them, they start to get very sweet, and you're also adding other ingredients to it, which makes it sweet. I've found that adding sometimes something bitter can help offset that. In my case, I don't like beer. I do not like bitter things. But when you reduce it and you put it in this context of the sweet potato custard that bakes in the pie, it works really well and offsets a lot of that sweetness, so it doesn't feel monotonous." — Nik Sharma, cookbook author

Get the recipe: Sweet Potato Honey Beer Pie

16. A Big Green Egg

"At home, I always use a Big Green Egg, which holds temperature really well and infuses amazing smoke flavor." — Rodney Scott, award-winning pitmaster

Get the recipe: How to Smoke a Thanksgiving Turkey on Your BBQ

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