11 Top Chefs Share Thanksgiving Advice for First-Timers

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time this year? Never fear—these star chefs have offered their wisest advice to make sure you look like a pro.

 
“My advice for cooking a first-time Thanksgiving dinner would be to keep things as simple as possible and don’t expect everything to come out perfect. Make things as fun as possible and don’t worry if you burn the pumpkin pie; your family and friends will still love you.”
 
—Troy Unruh
Executive chef, Zylo, West Hoboken, NJ
 
 
"I have three tips: Don’t invite too many people unless you’ve tried making the recipes beforehand. Find a good pastry shop and order the pies in advance. And try to cook things ahead of time, like a pumpkin soup or cranberry relish or braised root vegetables—they can all be made ahead of time, refrigerated and then just heated up."
 
—Chef Wolfgang Puck
Spago, Cut, Five Sixty, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill
 
 
“Be prepared. Have all your work done in advance so you can relax and enjoy time with your guests and family the next day while everything is cooking. Or, call up a chef and ask him to cook for you; then, when you get all the compliments, smile and say nothing.”
 
—Chef David Myers
Sona, Comme Ca, Pizzeria Ortica
 
 
“We have many tips for a successful Thanksgiving, but our top recommendation is [to] rest your turkey. We [spend] weeks trying to decide how to cook the turkey each year—brine, roast, fry? How long should we cook it, and what's the best turkey to buy? But if you don't rest your turkey long enough [once it comes out of the oven], you’re throwing all your expert technique out the window. You should rest your turkey for approximately 40 percent of your total cooking time. So, be sure to rest it in a warm place and allow plenty of time for the whole process.”
 
—Karen and Quinn Hatfield
Chefs, Hatfield’s, Los Angeles
 
 
“My advice for a person cooking a Thanksgiving dinner would be to buy the best ingredients and keep it simple. Cooking for a large amount of people can be very challenging when you don't have experience in the kitchen.”
 
—Andrea Cavaliere
Executive chef, Cecconi’s, West Hollywood, CA
 
 
“Most people don’t know what size turkey to get, so it’s helpful to have a rule of thumb. Estimate a pound of turkey will feed one person, so 12 pounds of turkey will serve at least 12 people with some leftovers.”
 
—Alfred Portale
Executive chef, Gotham Bar and Grill, New York City
 
 
“Skip the pecan pie this year and instead stuff your turkey with a mixture of pecans, bread and sausage. Pecans are fantastic when they roast inside the turkey.”
 
—Chef Jose Andres
Culinary director, The Bazaar at SLS Hotel, Beverly Hills
 
 
“If it’s your first time preparing a Thanksgiving meal, ease your way into it. Focus on the sides and preorder an all-natural prepared turkey that can be reseasoned with your own garlic, herbs and butter to make it your own.”
 
—Ed Cotton
Chef de cuisine, BLT Market, New York City
 
 
“Don’t overcook that turkey! People think it takes a lot longer than it [does]. If you’re going to cook your turkey breast to the point where it’s nice and juicy, the legs will be undercooked. So, what I do is take it out at that point [and] let it rest for a good half hour before you carve it. Then, get the roasting pan, clean it out, keep it hot, take the legs off, put the legs back in the roasting pan and back in the oven. Cook the legs separately.”
 
"When carving the breast—I don’t know why people think carving the breast on the bird is a good thing—take the breast right off. Cut right down the breastbone—take the whole breast off—and put it in on the cutting board and slice it. Every time I tell people that, they can’t believe it."
 
—Tom Colicchio
Chef and owner, Craft restaurants
 
 
"Butter your turkey! Don’t forget to baste. Leave enough time for the turkey to really cook and crisp—don’t rush it."
 
—Eric Hara
Executive chef, The Oak Room, New York City
 
 
“Marinate the turkey with garlic and white wine overnight with the breast down, then place the turkey in an oven bag. This will help the turkey stay moist and not dry. For added flavor, use chorizo for the filling.”
 
—Julieta Ballesteros
Executive chef, Crema Restaurante, New York City
 

Planning a small, intimate gathering of just two or four? Check out our Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas for Four or just Two!

What celeb chef would you want to cook your Thanksgiving dinner? Chime in below!

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