Make a plan. “Start 36 hours ahead and do as much prep work as you can, particularly for the sides—they should be oven-ready,” says Benjamin Schad, executive chef at Wynn’s Catering. His philosophy can be summed up in two words: Plan ahead. He also suggests farming out time-consuming desserts to family members. “Most people want the traditional items such as pecan pie and pumpkin pie. Have someone prepare those for you.”
Remember to brine. “Use savory herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and tarragon to infuse flavor, and immerse the turkey for 24 hours to have a juicier bird,” says Amber Phillips of Sage Events & Catering (sageevents.net). She is also sensitive to the needs of family members who struggle at Thanksgiving because they are on alternative diets. “We do a vegan cheesecake from cashews, sweetened with agave and maple syrup, that also works for those following paleo.”
For dessert, think small. Chef Jay Wolfson of Prestige Catering suggests preparing individual servings of classic desserts, like apple, pecan, or pumpkin pie, so guests may sample several without feeling stuffed. When it comes to the turkey, he uses an alternative to brining. “I prefer to place butter and fresh herbs, such as sage and thyme, between the meat and skin, then rub the turkey with a mix of fresh sage, pepper, Kosher salt, and garlic,” he says.
Make sure the bird is cooked evenly. “The biggest problem with turkey is that the breast meat cooks faster than the dark meat,” says David Hill, a private chef in Naples. “Rest an ice pack on the breast for an hour prior to roasting to ensure an evenly cooked and succulent bird.”