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Ask the Test Cooks

Ask the Test Cooks: What’s the Most Important Kitchen Tool for Thanksgiving Cooking?

Is your kitchen ready for the holiday?
By Published Nov. 7, 2018

Much like some great-tasting but underappreciated side dishes on the Thanksgiving menu (looking at you, boiled carrots), some kitchen tools and equipment are vital to preparing the meal but never quite get their due. In this installment of Ask the Test Cooks, we posed the following question to members of America’s Test Kitchen’s TV show and books team: What piece of cooking equipment is absolutely vital for Thanksgiving cooking, but not always appreciated for the role it plays? Their answers are below.

Once you have the right equipment, put it to work with our holiday recipes. Cook your best-ever Thanksgiving meal with recipes for everything from the main dish and savory sides to homemade dinner rolls and pies (plus more reviews on our favorite kitchen tools and ingredients) in our comprehensive Thanksgiving Guide.


Bridget Lancaster, America’s Test Kitchen TV Co-Host

Besides a wine glass or pants with an elastic waistband? Then I’d say the slow cooker, which keeps quarts of gravy hot and ready for the ladle.

The Best Slow Cooker

KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker With Solid Glass Lid

Beyond keeping gravy and mashed potatoes hot, our longtime favorite features a well-designed, straightforward control panel and a roomy, heavy stoneware crock that cooks food gently and evenly.
Buy on Amazon

Julia Collin Davison, America’s Test Kitchen TV Co-Host

Do kitchen towels count? Sounds silly, but I hate cooking in a dirty kitchen. I constantly wipe down the counters, sink, and stove as I cook, and I always have a stack of the test kitchen’s winning kitchen towels at the ready. Sometimes, I put a laundry basket in the corner of the kitchen so I can toss the dirty towels right into it as I cook.

The Best Dish Towels

Williams-Sonoma Striped Towels, Set of 4

Goldilocks would like this towel: It’s not too thick or too thin, too big or too small. Its fabric tightened, toughened, and grew more absorbent the more we used and washed it.
Buy on Williams-Sonoma

Dan Souza, America’s Test Kitchen Onscreen Test Cook

I gotta have a bounty of rimmed baking sheets. I know, not the sexiest answer. But they are just so darn useful. They are there for me when I need to roast my turkey, dry bread for stuffing, caramelize winter squash, and transfer pies to the oven. My dad (a consummate woodworker) has been quoted saying, “he who dies with the most clamps wins.” I’m confident that in my golden years I’ll be judging my legacy with baking sheets.

Best Baking Sheet

Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet

Everything prepared in this sturdy, warp-resistant sheet cooked appropriately and evenly. Best of all, our new favorite is a few bucks cheaper than our old winner.
Buy on Amazon

Jack Bishop, Tasting Corner Expert

An instant-read thermometer. An overcooked turkey is a disaster. And a good thermometer (I have a purple Thermapen) ensures that I don’t make this mistake, even if the cocktail “hour” stretches into hour two or hour three.

The Best Instant-Read Thermometer

Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4

Our old winner is still the best instant-read thermometer on the market. It's dead accurate, fast, and so streamlined and simple that it's a breeze to use.
Buy on ThermoWorks

Elle Simone, America’s Test Kitchen Onscreen Test Cook

I feel like having proper tools is essential to any dinner gather, especially Thanksgiving! The Smart Carving Kit, equipped with knives and a cutting board, will be helpful for all the meat offerings for your holiday meal. Also, the Cuisinart 14-cup Food Processor is a pure timesaver for all your chopping and shredding needs.

America's Test Kitchen Shop

Find all the equipment kits, books, and swag you need this holiday season.
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Adam Kowit, Executive Editor, Books

It has to be kitchen shears because I like to butterfly my turkey. It speeds up the whole roasting process.

The Best Kitchen Shears

Kershaw Taskmaster Shears/Shun Multi-Purpose Shears

Superior blades gave our former favorite the edge yet again. With a razor-sharp 25-degree angle, the shears’ cutter blade sliced through every kind of food with equal ease.
Buy on Amazon

Sacha Madadian, Senior Editor

A fine-mesh strainer. You can use it for the custard for pumpkin pie, you can use it if you don’t have a fat separator and you need to get solids out of your gravy, and you can use it to make stock from the leftover turkey carcass. You can even use it to smooth out mashed potatoes that came out lumpier than you wanted (although that would be a real workout).

The Best Strainer

Rösle Fine Mesh Strainer, Round Handle, 7.9 inches, 20 cm

This strainer’s sturdy construction makes it worth its high price: It looked as good as new even after serious abuse.
Buy on Amazon

Debra Hudak, Senior Managing Editor, Books

It’s my pastry brush. Besides using a pastry brush to brush butter over the bird, I also use one to brush oil onto sheet pans for roasting my vegetables and for brushing a wash onto the tops of pies or other baked goods.

The Best Pastry Brush

Winco Flat Pastry and Basting Brush, 1½ Inch

This brush had the thickest head of bristles in the testing, allowing it to pick up and deposit the greatest volume of egg wash, oil, butter, or glaze in a single pass.
Buy on Amazon

Kelly Gauthier, Assistant Editor

My vital Thanksgiving kitchen tool has to be my vegetable peeler. It's such a small tool, but it's a huge timesaver for making a big meal. I use it for everything from prepping potatoes and carrots to peeling apples for pie! I usually use a Y-shaped peeler because I like that nothing gets caught in it, but I'm sure a serrated one would be just as good!

The Best Vegetable Peeler

Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler

Don’t be fooled by its featherweight design and cheap price tag. This Y-shaped peeler easily tackled every task, thanks to a razor-sharp blade and a ridged guide.
Buy on Amazon

Brenna Donovan, Editorial Assistant

My most-used kitchen tool on Thanksgiving is by far my pastry brush. I use it for basting the turkey, brushing butter on dinner rolls before popping them in the oven, and evenly oiling roasting pans for vegetables. (I also have to give credit where credit is due to my corkscrew who works overtime on this particular Thursday in November.)

A runner-up is my food processor, which I use for pretty much everything, but especially a raw cranberry orange relish I make. I don't like traditional cooked cranberry sauce, and this version provides a zippy balance to the heavier components of the meal.

The Best Food Processor

Cuisinart Custom 14 Food Processor

With a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design, our old favorite aced every test.
Buy on Amazon

Valerie Cimino, Associate Editor

My serrated Wüsthof paring knife is so easy to use that it's an everyday necessity in my kitchen; I use it more than any other knife in the block. Thanksgiving is a day when I wish I had two, or even three, of them. This little workhorse will be right by my side through the meal prep: slicing vegetables for crudites; chopping mushrooms, nuts, and bread for stuffing; trimming green beans for the requisite casserole; cutting apples and pears for the pie, and much more.

The Best Serrated Paring Knife

Wüsthof Classic 3.5-Inch Fully Serrated Paring Knife

It cuts through food—including tomatoes, orange peel, and citrus segments—“like absolute butter,” said testers.
Buy on Amazon

Stephanie Pixley, Senior Editor

After working my way through pounds of vegetable prep for the big meal, I'm always thankful for my knife sharpener! It may not be flashy or wow my guests, but it makes an impact on every dish on the table (minus the canned cranberry sauce) and always makes cooking easier.

The Best Electric Knife Sharpener

Chef'sChoice Trizor XV Knife Sharpener

With diamond abrasives and a spring-loaded chamber that precisely and gently guided the blade, this sharpener “purred” with perfection, consistently producing edges that were sharper than on brand-new knives from edge to tip.
Buy on Amazon
The Best Manual Knife Sharpener

Chef'sChoice Pronto Manual Diamond Hone Asian Knife Sharpener

Our favorite manual sharpener quickly and easily restores a razor-sharp edge to blades that have no serious damage.
Buy on Amazon

Nicole Konstantinakos, Associate Editor

I loooove my fat separator! On Thanksgiving day, when time is tight, it makes quick work of removing excess fat from the turkey pan juices so I can whip up a delicious gravy in the time it takes my turkey to rest before carving.

The Best Fat Separator

Cuisipro Fat Separator

With a large, tall-sided, highly perforated strainer and a well-controlled release valve, this bottom-draining model defatted the most stock in every test.
Buy on Amazon

Camila Chaparro, Test Cook

I can guarantee that the number one question on the fourth Thursday in November is: "Is the turkey ready?" And that's not a question you want to get wrong, especially if you're the cook. Using a fast, digital, instant-read thermometer is the most accurate and stress-free way to know when you can pull the bird out of the oven without having to jiggle a leg, see if the meat juices run clear, or wait for that little plastic button thermometer embedded in the breast meat to pop up (which it will, but generally when your turkey has already become cardboard).

The Best Inexpensive Instant-Read Thermometer

Thermoworks ThermoPop

This economical instant-read thermometer was dead accurate and extremely fast.
Buy on ThermoWorks

What tool do you rely on most when cooking for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments! And if you have any questions for our test cooks and editors, ask below. We may just choose your question for our next post.