Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well

This how-to guide and pep talk (160 pages) was published in October of 2012 by Random House. The book takes you to the Thanksgiving table. Melissa read Thanksgiving and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

Thanksgiving

How to Cook It Well

Sam Sifton, Sarah Rutherford (illustrator)

Thanksgiving may be the quintessential American holiday. It’s a celebration of gratitude and gluttony, a time for a warm family embrace and sibling rivalry, a day meant to be relaxing and homey. Except for the people cranking out a bird and stuffing in the kitchen. #blessed, indeed.

Author Sam Sifton is the Food Editor at The New York Times. He spent years troubleshooting readers’ Thanksgiving-related questions about burnt turkeys and still-frozen turkeys, bland gravy, and picky eaters. In this charmingly written and wildly practical handbook, he shares his hard-won wisdom and potentially divisive opinions about what makes an ideal Thanksgiving. (‘A salad is a perfect accompaniment to many meals, a hit of astringency that can improve some dinner hugely. Not this one. You can have your salad tomorrow.)

The introduction alone is worth the price of the book for its deep understanding of what Thanksgiving means to us — and just how difficult it can be to get this all-important dinner on the table on a day of ‘hot ovens, increasingly drunk uncles and crowded dinner tables.’ Thanksgiving dinner, he says, ‘takes strength.’

The book is divided into chapters that reflect a Thanksgiving menu, and it tackles each step of the process head-on with anecdotes, recipes, and pragmatic guidance for buying the best ingredients and setting the right holiday tone. The how-to for carving the bird is pure gold — as are the passages on setting the table (hello, handy illustration!), serving the food (platter warming is essential), and etiquette (‘If you were serving salad, you would place a salad fork to its left. But you are not serving salad, because there is no place for salad at the Thanksgiving table.’) There are even tips for the best clean-up strategy, how to send guests home with leftovers, and Sifton’s recipe for the perfect turkey sandwich.

Whether you’re preparing for an enormous family feast, roasting a turkey breast for a dinner for two, or skipping the brouhaha all together this year, Thanksgiving will make you laugh. It also acknowledges that on one hand, it’s just food, and on the other, no meal deserves as much fanfare as Thanksgiving.

Finally, as everyone takes a seat and prepares to eat, there is the delicate moment where you or someone at the table should ask for everyone’s attention and offer thanks to one and all for being present, and for helping out. This is extraordinarily important. Such literal thanks-giving may smack of religiosity to some, but it need not be spiritual in the least. It is the point of the entire exercise. — Sam Sifton

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This slender, charming books lays out all you need to know for your perfect Thanksgiving with maxiumum joy and minimum stress — and this non-traditional recipe is just the thing to liven up your table on turkey day.

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