25 Amazing Thanksgiving hacks that will save your meal

Nov 14, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. ET
Image: Michael Phillips/E+/Getty Images

A lot can go wrong when you're hosting Thanksgiving, but we're here to help.

Whether you're running out of space, time or sanity, the 25 Thanksgiving hacks below will ensure your holiday goes off without a hitch.

The problem: You have a small oven.

1. Use your dishwasher to bake potatoes.

potatoes in the dishwasher

Photo credit: wikiHow

Sure, you can clean your potatoes in the dishwasher, but why stop there? Try cooking them in there, and save yourself a lot of oven space.

2. Use it to steam veggies for a healthy side dish too.

steamed veggies in the dishwasher

Photo credit: Eco Cucina

Save time, space and calories by cooking your veggies in the dishwasher too.

3. Don't be afraid to use the microwave.

microwave no bake carrot cake

You can make cranberry sauce, creamy casseroles and even dessert in the microwave.

4. The Crock-Pot is your friend.

slow cooker thanksgiving green bean casserole

You'd be surprised at how many side dishes can be made in the slow cooker. Save precious oven space with this creamy Crock-Pot stuffing, or try a slow cooker green bean casserole.

5. And yes, you can use your rice cooker too.

rice cooker rice pudding

Photo credit: Thirty Handmade Days

Use it to make a decadent side like mac 'n' cheese. Or change things up, and make a sweet and creamy rice pudding for dessert.

6. Make a no-bake dessert.

no bake pumpkin creme brulee

Icebox cakes are perfect for this, but a no-bake pumpkin brûlée and no-bake gingersnap pumpkin cheesecake trifle certainly don't sound bad either!

The problem: You aren't usually known for your cooking.

7. Get your potatoes nice and fluffy.

fluffy mashed potatoes

Adding baking powder to your potatoes can make them fluffier thanks to a chemical reaction. Try this recipe to start, and add just a pinch of baking powder while mashing. Another key to fuffy potatoes? Use russet or Yukon Gold varietals, and make sure you don't overmix them, or they'll get dense and gluey.

8. Save your flavorless mashed potatoes.

gourmet mashed potatoes

Flavorful add-ins like bacon, caramelized onions, mushrooms or truffle oil can take your mash to the next level.

9. Make stuffin' muffins.

cornbread stuffing muffins

Photo credit: A Spicy Perspective

Does your stuffing always come out too soggy or super dry? Baking it in a muffin tin shortens the cooking time and ensures stuffing that's crispy outside and moist within. Try this cornbread, apple and pancetta version.

10. Plan ahead.

make ahead chorizo stuffing

If you're not used to cooking a big meal, then figuring out how to get everything done in one day can be really overwhelming. Try taking your time with these make-ahead dishes in the weeks before Thanksgiving, and freeze them before the big day (stuffing works well for this). All you'll have to do is reheat them.

The problem: The only pie you've ever made was frozen and came out of a box.

11. Make a lattice-top pie using a cooling rack.

You can still have a fancy-looking pie without the frustration of trying to eyeball perfect strips of pie dough.

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12. Put away the rolling pin.

no roll pie crust

Photo credit: Joy the Baker

Try this no-roll version of a classic pie crust. Or try pies that use a press-in crumb crust made of crushed cookies, graham crackers or nuts.

13. Freeze it, and then grate it.

grate frozen butter into flour to make pie crust

Photo credit: Listotic

If you're sick of trying to guess what "pea-sized" lumps of butter cut into flour look like, then try this hack. Freeze your butter, and then grate it into the flour. You'll never have to fight with two forks or a pastry cutter again.

14. Use rice as a pie crust weight.

use rice as a pie crust weight

Photo credit: 101 Sweet Pastry

If you don't bake often, then you probably don't have a set of pie weights hanging around. Instead, lay a sheet of parchment over your pie dough, and weigh it down with rice or beans.

15. Make your own crust shield out of foil.

aluminum foil pie crust shield

Photo credit: Instructables

Save your pie from burnt edges by crafting a crust shield out of aluminum foil.

The problem: You're running out of time.

16. Put away the peeler.

marshmallow brown sugar butter hasselback sweet potatoes

Sweet or regular roasted potatoes, wedges of acorn, delicata and kabocha squash — these veggies really don't need to be peeled before you cook them. Best of all, leaving the skin on gives them an additional nutrition boost too. Test it out with these marshmallow-stuffed hasselback sweet potatoes with brown sugar butter.

17. Keep chopped potatoes and apples in cold water until ready to use.

keep apples from browning in a bowl of water

Photo credit: The Kitchn

If you have extra time in the morning to chop up apples for a pie or potatoes for roasting, you can keep them fresh in a bowl of cold water in the fridge until you're ready to use them.

18. Serve buffet style.

thanksgiving buffet table

Photo credit: HGTV

Have everyone serve themselves. Not having to figure out how to fit everything on the table will save you loads of stress, and if everyone's serving themselves, there's a chance you may actually get to sit down with a plate of food at some point.

19. Host a potluck.

roasted turkey drumsticks

It's nontraditional, sure. But if you've been tasked with hosting and aren't sure you can swing it, then a potluck is a fun way to make sure the whole group can still get together for some tasty food.

The problem: Your gravy is always a disaster.

20. Add flavor boosters to fix bland gravy.

thanksgiving turkey gravy

Try adding a tablespoon of soy sauce to your gravy. The salty, umami flavor will help bring out the savory flavors in your gravy. Or you can try a recipe that adds depth with wine.

21. Get rid of lumps before they start.

cornstarch gravy

Photo credit: Simply Recipes

Using flour to make a roux is traditional, but if you aren't diligent with your whisk, then lumps can form. Try making cornstarch gravy instead — just make sure you mix the starch with cold water until lump-free before you add it to your drippings.

22. The strainer and blender are your friends.

mashed potatoes and gluten free gravy

If you've done everything you can and the gravy is still lumpy, there's hope for you yet. Pour it through a strainer or give it a whiz in the blender before serving. Your guests will never know the difference.

The problem: You have no idea how to decorate.

23. Get the kids to help.

thanksgiving crafts for kids

Thanksgiving crafts are a fun way to keep kids busy while you cook, and everyone will "awww" when they see the masterpieces adorning your table.

24. Get help from nature.

simple thanksgiving table

Photo credit: This Silly Girl's Life

While you're at the grocery store or farmers market, stock up on gourds, apples and other fall produce. Then, cluster them on your table for a unique, elegant Thanksgiving look.

25. Keep it simple.

thanksgiving centerpiece

Photo credit: Mandi Being Crafty

A few candles, a tablecloth and one or two accent pieces are all a Thanksgiving table really needs. After all your hard work, the food should be the star.

More on Thanksgiving

21 Gourmet mashed potatoes that are sure to impress
21 Enticing Thanksgiving desserts (that aren't pie!)
How to peel and cut butternut squash (VIDEO)

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