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37 Genius Cooking Hacks That Will Make All Of Your Favorite Holiday Recipes Taste Even Better

You're gonna want to bookmark this.

1. Use soy sauce in your gravy — homemade or store-bought — for extra depth of flavor.

Marie Telling / Via buzzfeed.com

Gravy is an often-overlooked element of most holiday dinners, but let me tell ya — in my opinion, it can objectively enhance even the most "meh" meals. A teaspoon or two of soy sauce is all it takes to give your gravy that subtle-but-perfect umami flavor and make it even more delicious. And, since you likely already have it sitting in your pantry, this hack won't add a single extra item to your (already long) grocery list.

2. Simmer a pot of mulled wine on the stove before your guests arrive for the most delicious DIY potpourri ever.

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Nothing says Host Of The Year like having a warm, festive cocktail ready for guests the second they walk through the door. Add in the fact that it’ll make your whole home smell dreamy, and I’m ready to sign on the dotted line. If you’re pressed for stovetop real estate, a slow cooker (or Instant Pot) will work just as nicely.

Recipe: Classic Mulled Wine

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3. Instead of relying on your turkey's pop-up thermometer, do the math to figure out exactly how long you should be cooking your bird.

GE Profile

Turkeys can be notoriously tricky to cook to perfection, and that's because many variables — like weight, shape, and even oven hotspots — factor into roasting your holiday bird. Some ovens, like GE Profile's, even have a dedicated Whole Turkey Mode, which makes the whole process totally fool-proof. But if you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, use this chart to figure out exactly how long to cook your turkey for crispy skin and perfectly-moist meat.

Most importantly: Make sure to use a proper meat thermometer in lieu of the pop-up "thermometer" that comes in your turkey. More times that not, that thermometer will pop up late (or not at all!) and trust me...no amount of gravy can save a bird that dry.

4. For the best cookies, let your cookie dough rest in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Lindsay Hunt / BuzzFeed

While it might be tempting to bake your cookies ASAP, trust us on this one: The longer you wait — and some experts recommend up to 36 hours — the better they'll come out, both in terms of texture and flavor. The secret to any successful holiday meal is doing as much as you possibly can in advance, anyway, so just bump this one up and do it a little earlier. You and your guests will be so glad that you did, and don't be surprised if anyone asks for your "super-secret" cookie recipe.

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5. Quickly transform a plain, store-bought cheesecake into an eye-catching holiday dessert with just four ingredients.

Step one: Buy a grocery store cheesecake. Step two: Top it with homemade whipped cream. That might sound intimidating but you'll only need a few things: heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Step three: Decorate the top by crushing a few candy canes in a plastic bag, then sprinkle the smashed pieces on top of the cream. With everything else there is to worry about preparing, it's not worth stressing over dessert when a hack this brilliant exists.

Recipe: The Easiest Christmas Cheesecake

6. For next-level flaky pie crust, replace some of the water in the recipe with a bit of vodka.

Marie Telling / Via buzzfeed.com

Sounds weird, but it works, ok? The more water you use when making a pie dough, the easier it'll be to handle and roll out. But! More moisture also means the dough will be tougher once cooked. To solve this dilemma, Cooks Illustrated suggests replacing some of the water with vodka. The alcohol will evaporate during baking and you'll be left with a super flaky crust. (In case you're still skeptical, we've tried it and it works!)

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7. Take the extra ten minutes or so to write out your Holiday Cooking Game-plan.

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I’m not saying you’ll be totally unsuccessful if you don’t do this…I’m just saying that you’re 10x more likely to nail it if you make a game-plan. Consider it your host’s cheat sheet for planning every step along the way, and you’ll be rewarded with minimal hiccups or near-catastrophes.

8. If you want a juicy turkey, be ~patient~ and let it rest for at least 20 minutes after you take it out of the oven.

Macey Foronda / Chris Ritter / Via buzzfeed.com

I know, I know, waiting is the worst, but letting your bird rest seals in the juices — so don't start carving too quickly. And there's no need to cover the cooked turkey with foil — doing so might actually make the skin soggy instead of crispy. So, just let the turkey rest uncovered. It's a big ol' bird, so heat will escape more slowly than you might imagine.

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9. Want to make latkes but can't be bothered with all the grating? Use frozen tater tots or hash browns as a shortcut.

Hannah Loewentheil / Via buzzfeed.com

They might not turn out as crispy as the real deal, but they'll still be undeniably delicious. If the sheer chore of grating potatoes until your hands cramp up would otherwise deter you from attempting homemade latkes, this hack is for you.

Recipe: Tater Tot Latkes

10. Do yourself (and your guests) a massive favor by setting the table the night before.

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When you’re juggling a complicated puzzle of re-heating/cooking/plating/hosting and trying not to look too stressed out, creating a tablescape that you’re proud of shouldn’t be an impending to-do on your list. Get everything set out the night before so you can focus on the important stuff the day-of.

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11. For the best mashed potatoes of your ENTIRE life, follow Tyler Florence's excellent advice to boil the potatoes directly in a pot of heavy cream.

Taylor Miller / Via tasty.co

We've tried several methods over the years to make the best mashed potatoes, and Tyler Florence's wildcard tip — boiling the potatoes in heavy cream — is still the best we've found. If you suffer from Boring Mashed Potato Syndrome, this is the only cure.

12. Run canned pumpkin purée through your food processor for an even smoother and silkier pumpkin pie filling.

Marie Telling / Via buzzfeed.com

Sure, this is an extra step — but if you want to take your pumpkin pie game to the next level and get the smoothest filling possible, try this hack out. And with all the cooking you're doing, your food processor is probably out on the counter, anyway, and it only takes seconds!

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13. For a perfect bird that won't take all day, ask your butcher to spatchcock your turkey.

James Ransom / Via food52.com

Spatchcocking or butterflying the turkey, AKA removing its backbone and flattening it, will lead to a more uniform and much quicker roast. The technique to DIY it can be a bit tricky, so if you're not feeling up for the challenge, you can always ask your butcher to prep the bird for you. (Just remember to tip for the extra service and/or be extra kind — the holidays are an especially challenging time for those who work at grocery stores)

Recipe: Spatchcocked Roast Turkey

14. Follow Thomas Keller's example and use two types of chocolate for extra indulgent chocolate chip cookies.

Taylor Miller / Via buzzfeed.com

To up the chocolate flavor to the max, use two types of chocolate – 55% and 72% – and chop chocolate bars instead of using chocolate chips. You'll be rewarded with an extra punch of chocolaty flavor, and the shards of chocolate throughout the cookie make for the best chocolate chip cookies ever.

Get the recipe: Chef Thomas Keller’s Recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

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15. For easily re-heatable dishes or straight-forward desserts, the potluck format is super helpful (and occasionally hilarious).

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Maybe your aunt will bring a soupy pumpkin pie, or maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised! You never know if you never try, and the most important part is that you’ll have one less thing to do. So please — don’t be afraid to phone a friend.

16. Use squeeze bottles to make cookie decorating with icing easier.

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This is one of the best ways to control the mess — especially with kids — and still have fun. You could totally mimic this technique by piping through a plastic bag (with a corner snipped off), but if you have squeeze bottles, the extra control is very much worth it.

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17. Create a simple (but well-stocked) drink station that you won’t have to attend to while you prep an entire meal.

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You can go as ornate (or minimal) as you want here — setting out a few fun, pre-mixed cocktails will definitely get the party started on the right note, but even just chilling some beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages over ice in a user-friendly, grab-and-go format will allow you to focus on the larger tasks instead of constantly needing to replenish beverages.

18. Wrap your turkey in a buttery cheesecloth, like Julia Child used to, so you don't have to keep basting it throughout cooking.

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This Martha Stewart recipe uses Julia Child's cheesecloth method and explains exactly how to do it. Spoiler alert: it's not at all difficult. Some hacks truly withstand the test of time — this one is living proof.

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19. Take your champagne game to the next level with three super easy tips.

thesweetestoccasion.com

1) Add a piece of candied ginger to your glass to make the champagne fizz longer and give it a hint of ginger flavor.

2) Drop a few pomegranate seeds into each glass to make it extra pretty and festive.

3) Pour a bit of liqueur into each glass (crème de cassis or St. Germain are both excellent choices) to turn it into a fancy, low-effort cocktail.

20. Enlisting the help of a baking stone means your oven-baked dishes will cook in a much more predictable fashion.

Thomas Winz / Getty Images

Baking stones retain heat super well and help to regulate your oven temperature in a crucial way. While you could totally get by without one on the average day, during the holidays (when you’ll be opening and closing the oven door pretty much constantly), a baking stone will create a much more reliable cooking environment for all of your dishes.

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21. Cut down on time spent peeling potatoes by boiling them, skin-on, then quickly scrubbing off the skins.

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Unless you can find a willing potato peeling assistant — a difficult role to acquire a willing helper — you’ll probably spend far too long meticulously peeling a bag of potatoes for one recipe or another. After boiling potatoes and dunking them in ice water, the peels will quickly scrub right off. During the holidays, any time-saving hack is one worth implementing.


22. If even the thought of making a lattice pie crust exhausts you, try twisting the dough you use to top your pies with a minimal-effort (but truly impressive) spiral pattern.

Marie Telling / Via buzzfeed.com

Learn more about how to make this pattern here. It's easier than you think!

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23. To keep mashed potatoes warm without requiring any precious stovetop real estate, keep them nice and toasty in your slow cooker.

spendwithpennies.com

Pour those mashed taters into your trusty slow cooker and…actually, just forget about them. They’ll be nice and warm when it’s time to eat, and you’ll have more space on your stove to work with.

24. A bit of a fancy tip from Ina Garten: Add a splash of Cognac (or brandy) to your gravy for extra flavor.

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She also recommends caramelizing the onions thoroughly for even more deliciousness, without adding any extra ingredients.

Recipe: Ina Garten's Homemade Gravy

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25. Put that slow cooker to use and make hot chocolate for the whole family.

This works in an Instant Pot, too! It's pretty much as easy as dumping a whole bunch of deliciousness into a slow cooker, letting it do it's thing, and giving your whole family the opportunity to enjoy a warm mug of homemade hot chocolate whenever they want it.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

26. For a super brown and crispy turkey, spread butter under the skin of the bird before roasting it.

Tasty / Via youtube.com

Use your fingers to release the skin from the breast and spread some herb butter underneath. This will keep the meat moist and the skin crispy, because yes — it is possible to have both at once.

Recipe: Thanksgiving Turkey

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27. Grating frozen butter into your pie crust will yield super flaky results in half the time it would take to manually “cut” it in.

There’s nothing like homemade pie crust, but whew, with a mega list of other to-dos, it’s not always the quickest task to sneak in. Grating frozen butter into your pie crust makes the process super speedy, and that tender, flaky crust you’ll serve up as a result is bound to impress every one of your guests.

Recipe: Pie Crust By Hand

28. Adding a spoonful of mustard to your mac 'n' cheese will balance out its flavors and make it even tastier.

Hannah Loewentheil / Via buzzfeed.com

This one is a super low-effort trick that yields an insanely tasty result. And no holiday table is complete without a side of mac...right?!

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29. For added depth of flavor, brown the butter you use in your chocolate chip cookies.

This will add a rich, nutty flavor. To brown the butter, melt it in a sauce pan, and swirl it until it bubbles. After a few minutes of bubbling, the butter will quiet down, and the white milk solids will sink at the bottom of the pot. This means your butter is ready. Take it off the heat right away so it doesn't burn – timing is key!

Get the recipe: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

30. If you live in a cold climate (and temperatures permit), think of the good ol’ outdoors as a second fridge.

Philippe Gerber / Getty Images

While I'd normally sigh at the onset of freezing temps, this hack makes the wintry chill mostly worth it. Avoid that dreaded midway-through-cooking refrigerator overhaul by storing items like beverages and pre-made side dishes outside or in a cold garage — if your geography allows this. Just make sure you monitor the temperature when dealing with items that require proper refrigeration for food safety reasons.

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31. Bake your desserts a day before the big meal.

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Maybe an obvious tip, but worth repeating! This will free up precious oven space and will make your day much less stressful.

32. Learn how to tent your turkey with foil when the skin is browning faster than the meat is cooking, and you'll avoid any burnt bird catastrophes.

Boris Sv / Getty Images

Ah, the magic of aluminum foil. Let’s face it: ovens can be complicated, especially if you’re preparing a meal in one that you’re not used to. At the first sign of burning, make a DIY shield to prevent any easily-burned parts from lighting up.

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33. If you make your own cranberry sauce, Jamie Oliver recommends adding apples, sugar, and cinnamon to the cranberries for extra yumminess.

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It'll add extra tartness, sweetness, and spice.

Recipe: Apple and Cranberry Sauce

34. Either toast your bread in the oven or let it sit out overnight before you use it to make stuffing.

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed

If you don't, the bread may fall apart and your stuffing will turn out mushy. So, tear your bread into pieces (don't cut it with a knife, tearing it is easier and will make for better texture) and leave it out to dry for at least six hours. Or, if you're lacking time, pop it in the oven at 325°F for 20–30 minutes.

Recipe: The Perfect Classic Stuffing

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35. Make your own peppermint candy cane dust to add a festive touch to your holiday desserts.

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All you need is a food processor or blender of any size. Once it's crushed, you can use peppermint powder in your hot chocolate, add it to vanilla icing, or use it to top ice cream.

36. To prevent your cookies from going stale, place a slice of white bread in your cookie jar.

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A tried and true tip, straight from grandma.

37. For any dishes you’ll make the day-of, designate cooking vessels well enough in advance so you won't end up needing to take a last-minute trip to the store on the busiest day of the year.

Tim Allen / Getty Images/iStockphoto, Alekseykolotvin28 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

You’ve never lived until you realize (day-of!) you completely made up the fact that you own a pan big enough to roast a turkey. Before you derail your entire game-plan, double-check to make sure you actually have the equipment on hand to successfully make the meal you’re planning.

What's your best holiday cooking hack? Share in the comments!

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