Who doesn’t enjoy a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast? As much as we all love digging into a packed plate of turkey and trimmings, not everyone’s enamored with the idea of spending 12 hours in the kitchen. But just because you’re looking for a few Thanksgiving shortcuts doesn’t mean flavor and perfection have to go out the window. And at Esurance, we understand the importance of saving time (and money). So here are 5 simple tricks to seriously streamline your Thanksgiving prep.

1. Mashed potatoes

When it comes to conquering the ultimate carb, there’s one secret weapon: the slow cooker. You can boil, mash, and cook the potatoes all in one spot — no colanders required. Sure, it’ll take a little more time (about 5 hours total), but it requires way less maintenance and minimizes the risk of burning.

Just cut your potatoes into small pieces and then place them in the slow cooker with some mashed garlic and about a cup of milk. Leave the skins on to save time and add a “rustic” touch. Once they’re fork-tender, it’s time to get down to business. Heat up all the necessary fodder for creaminess — milk, sour cream, and butter — in a saucepan and then incorporate slowly with a potato masher.

And the best part? The slow cooker keeps your mashed potatoes warm all day with little need for supervision.

2. Stuffing

It’s time to think inside the box. A box of pre-made cornbread mix, that is. With a little bit of store-bought chicken stock and walnuts, pecans, or dried cranberries, no one will know your Thanksgiving stuffing was ever store bought. You can throw in just about anything and make it work. Sautéed onions, celery, and garlic are pretty classic, but who says you can’t add sausage, fennel, or diced apple? When it comes to hacked stuffing, creativity is your friend.

Just simmer your dried fruit and other additions in a bit of chicken stock, add to the cornbread mix, and bake in a greased pan until it’s all nice and golden brown.

3. Turkey

You can call it a hack, but the truth is this one’s been around awhile: it’s called “spatchcocking.” That’s fancy culinary talk for removing the backbone, flipping the turkey over, pressing down, and cracking the breastbone. This allows the turkey to lie flat, and cook faster with tender, juicy results. You can use a pair of kitchen shears or a good sharp knife to cut either side of the backbone and pull it out.

As for roasting your turkey, you’re probably thinking you need one of those fancy roasting pans and elevating racks like the chefs on TV. Nope! A disposable foil roaster will work just fine. As for the rack, simply bunch up some tinfoil and arrange it in a swirl pattern. You could also elevate the bird with a bed of cut onions, potatoes, and celery. This allows for a more even cook and the aromatic vegetables will impart some extra flavor.

4. Gravy

Good gravy. Sounds like you’ll need to drain the roasting pan, find a whisk and … what the heck is a roux? Don’t worry. All you really need is some strained liquid from the pan. Pour it into a measuring cup and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes. The fat will solidify on the top, making for easy removal. Then, to thicken the gravy, add a little bit of cornstarch mixed in with some cold water.

And if that sounds like too much work, here’s the ultimate gravy hack: get yourself some store-bought chicken or turkey stock and pour it in a saucepan. Stir in a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with a tablespoon of cold water. Cook it down for about 10 minutes and you’re good to go. You can even add a pinch of parsley as garnish and no one will be the wiser.

5. Dessert 

You know that easy pumpkin pie recipe from the back of the can? Of course you do, because just about everyone on the planet does — and there’s a good chance it’ll bore your guests to tears.

Enter the cobbler. So simple, it might just be the original “food hack.” It’s warm, it’s gooey, it comes out of the oven, and it conveniently takes pie crust out of the equation.

Instead, you’ll make a crumble out of flour, oatmeal, butter, spices, and sugar, all of which you probably already have around the house. Measurements are flexible, so there’s plenty of room to get creative. And it’s pretty hard to mess up.

As for filling, almost any fruit or berry combo will work (and you can even go with frozen fruit). Just mix in sugar and the spices of your choice. Other popular additions include citrus rind and cloves.

Enjoy time with your loved ones

See? Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a fiasco. With a little ingenuity and some good planning, you’ll be able to wow guests … and spend more time outside the kitchen.

Have a happy (and delicious) Thanksgiving!

Related links

3 Common Thanksgiving Fails and How to Avoid Them

How Much Do You Know About Thanksgiving? (Quiz)

DIY hacks


about Chris

Chris has written everything from fiction manuscripts to pretend newsletters about pirates. He's even edited numerous volumes of work written entirely by kids. As a freelance writer at Esurance, he strives to bring out the whimsy and heart of insurance. Outside of Esurance, Chris is an audiophile, visual artist, and explorer of late-night taquerias.