Tricks of the Thanksgiving Trade

One week from now, we’ll be sitting down to a meal that is, for many of us, our favorite of the year. Here are some tricks I’ve learned as a chef, dad (and grocer!) to make the days leading up to Thanksgiving less stressful.

Shopping: Plan Ahead!

It would be great if we could shop for Thanksgiving ahead of time, but we also want to be sure the food is fresh. For the best of both worlds, think about what types of items you can buy ahead vs. what should really wait until the day before. I’m a big fan of doing all the shopping for the big day with a minimum of two trips, ideally three:

  • First trip, a week or two out: buy all the staples, including butter, stock, gravy mix, stuffing mix, fried onions, nuts, spices, kosher salt, canned pumpkin, condensed milk, sugar, flour, cornmeal. Also get your hands on any tools or cooking utensils you might need: trussing kit, cheesecloth, meat thermometer, baster, parchment paper, and a baking pan for the turkey. I suggest buying the wine and any spirits you need during the first trip as well.
  • Second trip, ideally the Saturday or Sunday before Thanksgiving: buy dairy items such as cream, eggs, any cheeses you want to serve for appetizers, and produce staples including potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, celery, garlic, apples, chestnuts, hard squash, root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, cranberries, oranges, and herbs. If you’re serving a ham, you can get it now as well.
  • Final trip, either Tuesday or Wednesday: pick up the most perishable items, including your turkey, fresh bread, salad greens, prepared food, any seafood you might serve (Dungeness crabs are an important part of many Bay Area Thanksgivings), pies, sausage for stuffing and any other last minute items you forgot on the last two rounds.
  • Don’t forget to grab something for lunch Thanksgiving day–most people do!

If you’re shopping at Bi-Rite next week,  you may be surprised to hear that being the first in right when we open at 9 am might not the quickest time to do your shopping, as there’s generally a line forming outside before we open. The best time is at 10 am, about an hour after we open, but any time before 4 pm is usually a good bet. Regardless of when you’re coming, we’ll have plenty of staff around to help find what you’re looking for or help with recipes. We can always help carry your bags to your car, and this year we’ll be offering free parking for our guests in the Mission High parking lot (west side of Dolores St. between 17th and 18th)  during peak hours on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday before Turkey day–stay tuned for more details!

More Plan Ahead Tips

The more advanced planning and organization, the easier the entire day will be.

  • Make your pie dough a week or two in advance and freeze until you are ready to use.
  • Pre-bake your pie crust to ensure a crisp bottom crust.
  • Do a dry salt rub on your turkey two days before Thanksgiving. Use kosher salt and black pepper– simple so as not to mask the flavor of your turkey.
  • Write out your menu and do an ingredient and cookware list for each item.  Be sure to balance out items that need to go in the oven, as the turkey will likely monopolize space for a few hours.
  • If there’s a new recipe you want to try out, I suggest trying it the week before to make sure it tastes good and you are able to execute successfully.

If You Buy Prepared Foods…

I suggest doctoring them up a bit:

  • Add sauteed mushrooms and turkey drippings to pre-made gravy.
  • Reduce orange juice with fresh ginger to add to pre-made cranberry sauce.
  • Add sauteed celery and onions to stuffing mix; mushrooms are a great addition as well.

Food & Wine shared these tips and a few more in this article.

Stretch Your Thanksgiving Dollar

To save money while putting together a killer feast, I recommend:

  • Buying in bulk and buying on sale.
  • Making items from scratch (as opposed to buying prepared foods).
  • Buying what’s in season. I’ve always been perplexed by our obsession with green beans for Thanksgiving. They are never as good as summer beans and are usually twice as expensive. I love using root vegetables– rutabagas, turnips and carrots- for purees or for roasted veggies as a side.
  • Don’t go crazy making too much food! As a society, we generally waste about 15% of the food we purchase. My guess would be that we waste way more around Thanksgiving, possibly twice that. People eat too much and often get sick of leftovers and toss the extra food. Reducing the amount of food you make by 20% will reduce your bill by that much. I feel wasting food defeats the whole point of the meal– our nations founders celebrated in order to give thanks for a successful harvest that helped them survive another winter–there’s no way they wasted any food back then.  We need to value food the same way, much more than we currently do, and wasting it is not going to help us appreciate what we have been given.

There is generally no need to buy extravagant items. The whole point of this meal is to bring family and friends together, to share and to give thanks!

Want to know what Thanksgiving planning looks like on our end?

Our butchers place the turkey orders in July or August, as our ranchers grow them specifically for us. We start preparing our staff for Thanksgiving in October with an all staff meeting to talk about the holidays, and smaller meetings where we go over ordering logistics, our menus, our turkey offerings and pick up procedures. We work with each department to ensure they are prepared, have ordered enough food and are staffed well enough to serve all our guests. We constantly remind our staff that we play a huge role in ensuring that our guests have a successful holiday meal. It can be a very stressful time for many people with friends and family visiting, along with the sheer volume of food they have to cook; our job is to help make it easier.

The most important thing about Turkey day? To not take it too seriously. You’re gonna laugh, but I generally grab leftovers from our prepared foods section, things like gravy and cranberry sauce, so I have less items to make (they’re as good as what I would make anyway)!  I also inevitably make a trip down to the store Thanksgiving morning to pick up things I forgot–I’m usually so tired Wednesday night that I forget something!

2 Responses to “Tricks of the Thanksgiving Trade”

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