The minute November hits, we’re all on the on-ramp to the holidays. Planning becomes the name of the game, to get all of the things done that need doing.

Thanksgiving Tools / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman /

Top of the list this month is Thanksgiving dinner. This is the kick off to all the holiday meals that will surely follow, and also a good chance to make sure your kitchen is ready and raring to go.

Perhaps you are hosting for the first time, or having a bigger crowd than usual. Or maybe you’re just not willing to make do with the miscellaneous pans and utensils you’ve accumulated over the years, and you’re ready to lay in a real foundation of tools for making the meal prep go super smoothly.

11 Must-Have Tools to Make Thanksgiving Cooking Easier

Here’s what you should consider purchasing so you can feel ready to roll.

1. Roasting pan and rack

A solid roasting pan, either 11 x 14 or 13 x 16 (which will fit up to a 20-pound turkey), fitted with a nonstick rack is what you’ll need for the turkey. The rack ensures even browning, and also lets you roast other vegetables in the pan below the meat if desired. It also works for hams and roasts later in the season.

Get one with high sides to prevent splattering, generous handles for easy lifting, and make sure it’s very solid and can also be transferred to the top of the stove so you can finish making the gravy in the pan. Spend some money here – a good roasting pan will last a lifetime.

2. Fat Separator

In order to get the great pan liquid for gravy after you’ve roasted the chicken, you’ll want to remove most of the fat.   There are two kinds of fat separators: pitchers and bottom drainers. Both work fine. (Sometimes they might be labeled gravy separators.) Choose one with a 4-cup capacity, a wide strainer, and a big spout to pour off the liquid cleanly and easily. Definitely make sure it’s dishwasher-safe.

3. Turkey Baster

A dry turkey is to be avoided at all costs, and this is where a simple baster comes into play. These come in plastic or stainless steel, and are usually fairly inexpensive. But don’t buy a super cheap one, as the bulb may not have a good seal, and therefore not suck up the cooking liquid so readily. Wash it well after use to keep the bulb pliable and the whole baster sterile (some even come with a cleaning brush).

4. Meat Thermometer

When the turkey breast meat registers 165F it’s ready to come out of the oven—and you certainly don’t want to be guessing at the temperature.  Some thermometers stay in the turkey the whole time, and some even have a remote reader that saves you opening the oven to check the temp. But there are also lots of great instant thermometers available, and a quick check gives you instant results, as promised. There are dial versions, digital displays—make sure to buy one that has a screen you find easy to read.

Dry Brine Turkey

5. Carving Board with Trench

If you have ever carved a turkey (or a chicken or a roast) on a cutting board without a trench then you have probably spent time mopping up precious juices from the counter and floor. You want to collect those juices in the canal that is carved in the board, and then put them to use in your gravy (or just drizzle them over the sliced meat). I lean towards a good-looking, sturdy wooden board, which is also great for serving if you’re not going the platter route. And of course, you’ll be using your board for all of the slicing and dicing as you get ready for the meal.

6. Sharp Knives

If you’ve been wanting to up your knife game, this is the moment to take the plunge. Good knives don’t have to cost a fortune, though some can certainly get up there in cost. If you’re going to buy one good knife? Make it an 8 or 10-inch chef’s knife. Bigger knives do more work, so go for the 10-inch if possible. Shop somewhere where you can hold the knives to compare heft and feel, and have a good conversation with a salesperson about what you like.

J.A. Henckels International CLASSIC 8" Chef's Knife /
J.A. Henckels International CLASSIC 8″ Chef’s Knife /

7. Mixing Bowls

Plenty of choices here, from plastic to glass to metal. Just make sure you have a nice assortment in a range of sizes, as it’s almost impossible to have too many during the holidays. Some have a rubber rim around the bottom edge, which keeps them nicely in place as you stir and whisk away.

OXO Good Grips 3-Piece Stainless-Steel Mixing Bowl Set, White /
OXO Good Grips 3-Piece Stainless-Steel Mixing Bowl Set, White /

8. Baking Dishes and Casserole Pots

Roasted vegetables, stuffing, casseroles….laying in a number of baking dishes is imperative to making sure all of those sides have a place to cook. Casseroles are deeper and should have lids, and might hold anywhere from 2 to 4 quarts of food, or more.

Fresh Green Bean Casserole

The most popular baking dishes are usually something in the 13×9 inch or 2 to 3 quart range, and you should mix and match the shapes and depths. If you happen to be bringing one of the sides, look for some of the great baking dishes available that come with their own snap-on lids. Great for portability, and also for storing leftovers.

9. Rimmed Baking Sheets

These are the workhorses of the kitchen, indispensable for holidays and for all days. The most commonly available and useful size is known as a half sheet, measuring 18 x 13 inches. You will use these for roasting vegetables, making cookies, broiling chicken, baking fish, you name it.

Vollrath (5220) 9-1/2" x 13" Quarter Size Sheet Pan - Wear-Ever Collection /
Vollrath (5220) 9-1/2″ x 13″ Quarter Size Sheet Pan – Wear-Ever Collection /

The rimmed edge prevents drips over the side, which prevents the fire alarm from going off (very important). Make sure to buy heavy ones – lighter ones can warp during cooking, especially at high heat, or under the broiler.

10. Pie Plates

Where there is Thanksgiving, there will also be pie. And with luck, it will be homemade (or at least semi-homemade – a pre-made crust can be unrolled or transferred into your pie plate… shhhh…..). 9-inches is the most useful size. Metal certainly work, but glass or ceramic tend to look prettier on the table.

Sweet Potato Pie

11. Storage Containers

Some of us have a pretty serious fixation when it some to storage containers. In a perfect world, you’ll have some “good” ones, which are for you alone to use and keep, and some that are up for grabs, purchased with the idea that they will be packed with leftovers for your guests to take home. “Good” ones might be made of durable plastic or glass, should be stackable, dishwasher safe of course, and will have sturdy lids to keep things very fresh. The take-away containers just have to seal up tightly, and then they are no longer yours to worry about.

Storage Containers

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