Thanksgiving is in many ways the perfect opportunity for a TV special. After all, it gives a show an excuse to force all of its characters to come together in one room under a high stress situation of creating a massive meal while trying not to fight.
As such, most of the major American TV shows over the years have attempted a Thanksgiving episode – and along the way, they’ve made some great food that we can only yearn for at home. They have also experienced absolute disasters from which we can draw important lessons.
Here are the top Thanksgiving food tips we learned from classic Thanksgiving episodes, from Friends, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Succession and more.
DO: Make a plan
Cooking at Thanksgiving is always about having the right timing, making sure everything starts at the right time so everything is ready at the same time.
The best way to do this is to make a plan, so you know down to the minute what needs to be put in the oven when. It might not make you so relaxed that you can dance through the meal prep like they did. Full house episode “The Thanksgiving Miracle”, but that will certainly make everything smoother.
DON’T: Burn the turkey
The cardinal sin of Thanksgiving is to burn the turkey, and yet it is very easy to do. The Full house gang found out, just like Kirsten Cohen in CO episode “The return home”.
The problem here is that the turkey needs to have an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be fully cooked, but if you have a larger bird the skin may burn before it gets there. Fortunately, the solution is simple: if the bird isn’t ready when you expect it to be, cover it with foil and quickly blow it to a higher temperature.
DON’T: Put meat in a trifle
Most of us eat the same dishes every Thanksgiving, and frankly, it can be a bit repetitive. So try something new, but when you do, make sure that two pages of your English cookbook aren’t stuck together.
This is, of course, what happens to Rachel in Friends episode “The One Where Ross Got High”, leading him to combine a trifle (an English dessert with layers of sponge cake, Jell-O, custard and custard) and a shepherd’s pie (a starter of beef, peas and onions , garnished with mashed potato). The lesson here is: if you’re going to try something new, maybe taste it before the big day.
DO: Keep the can of cranberry sauce away from angry parents
Canned cranberry sauce is one of the most discussed staple foods on the Thanksgiving table. Some would not have died serving this gelatinous red mass that retains the shape of its pewter (as seen in a famous moment in The simpsons). For others, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without him.
We’ll let you decide on your own side of the fresh vs. canned debate, but one thing you need to know: a can of cranberry sauce can be used as a weapon.
This is something that Kendall Roy discovered in Succession“I went to the market”, when a frustrated Logan Roy hit his grandson with one during the feast. If you have volatile parents, definitely serve it on the table out of the box.
DON’T: Drink and fry
Many more advanced chefs have tried to liven up the traditional Thanksgiving feast by frying the turkey. Sure, it’s an artery clog, but many would say it tastes much better. Plus, it’s much faster to cook a bird this way, which takes a cooking time of two hours to around 40 minutes.
However, hot oil is dangerous, so you need to keep a watchful eye on your turkey when frying it. And what you absolutely shouldn’t do is allow everyone to get drunk and start trying to fry butter, napkins, and a shoe. It’s a lesson Sookie learned too late in the Gilmore Girls‘”A fried Korean Thanksgiving.”
DO: If the food is bad, throw it out
If a dish is a disaster (and even the best chefs sometimes have a disaster), don’t be afraid to just throw out what you’ve done and start over.
Or, optionally, you can take inspiration from the Cheers episode “Thanksgiving Orphans” and literally launch your latest culinary disaster: your in-laws will surely remember Thanksgiving turning into a massive food battle for some time to come.
DON’T: Use baking powder instead of salt
In the rush to get everything ready, it’s easy to get excited and make a big mistake. Planning helps here, as does pulling out everything you need for a recipe before you start. This prevents you from panicking and, for example, replacing the baking powder with salt, which ruins everything.
This is something Amy Santiago learned at her peril by Brooklyn nine-nine ‘s “Thanksgiving.” And even if she had Boyle there to bail her out with some inventive takeout, you might not be so lucky.
DO: Focus on the family, not the food
Thanksgiving should be about the people we spend it with, not the food we eat. And so if the thought of preparing an elaborate feast scares you, go easy. Your family would rather have you with you and stress free than have you locked in the kitchen having a panic attack.
Maybe take a lesson from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, in which Snoopy and the gang seem just as satisfied with their meal of toast, popcorn, pretzel sticks and jelly beans as they would have been with the turkey and all the trimmings.
DON’T: Be afraid to improvise (even if that means wrapping hot dogs in Kraft singles)
When things go wrong, sometimes it’s enough to DIY what you have in the store cupboard into something slightly edible. You never know, the dish you create could become a family tradition that you could not do without on future Thanksgiving.
So it continued It’s us‘”Pilgrim Rick.” Stuck in a bad motel with only gas station supplies to eat, Jack Pearson prepares a meal for his family consisting of baked hot dogs, wrapped in cheese singles and rolled in crushed saltines. Raw on paper, the Pearsons cannot now celebrate the holiday without paying homage to this improvised recipe.
DO: Order Chinese Food If Everything Goes Wrong
Worst case scenario – your turkey is on fire, your loved ones start a food fight, you’re out of Kraft hot dogs and slices – there’s always take out.
Countless TV specials over the year have seen their actors try and fail to make a Thanksgiving meal and end up eating Chinese food, with the trope in existence for at least The Bob Newhart Show in 1975.