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Holiday favorites: Equip yourself

From the top: a potato ricer, oven mitts, a fat separator cup and a trusty instant-read thermometer. All can help you have a more efficient Thanksgiving cooking session. (James M. Thresher for The Washington Post)

When we wrote recently about cheap kitchen gadgets that do the job of more expensive appliances, my favorite entry was the one on hands: You’ve got ‘em already, after all, and if you know what to do with them they can accomplish the work of many other things.

Still, they can’t cradle a turkey in the oven, take its temperature, separate fat from gravy or extrude potatoes. For all those things, you need the right tools. Here are some of our favorites for turkey day (and every day, in some cases):

A potato ricer (Norpro, $12, You mashed-potato fans know the drill: Don’t blend your potatoes in a food processor or you’ll end up with a gummy mess. You can mash them with a masher (or even a fork) for something on the chunky side. But when it’s smooth fluffiness you’re after, you've gottta have a ricer, which looks like a giant garlic press. Just-cooked potatoes go in, peeled or not, and when you clamp down, they are squeezed through the holes into your bowl or saucepan below, awaiting all that glorious fat you’re surely aiming their way. Note: If you already have a food mill, that will do the trick, too.

Oven mitts (Oxo Good Grips, $15, Do you have scars on your lower inner arms from grazing the oven rack as you remove your sweet potatoes, turkey, pie or countless other dishes? Yeah, me, too, but I stopped the pain after I began using these mitts, which meet my criteria for heat-resistance, grip-ability and length. Unfortunately, since I scored them four or five years ago, Oxo has started selling only shorter ones. But at a length of 13 inches, they’ll still give you decent coverage.

Fat separator (East Hampton Industries): I’ve had this basic device for years – so long that I don’t see the model out there in Google land anymore. But like most of these, it works on the principle that fat rises to the top of stock, meat drippings, etc., so after you pour all that in this four-cup device and let it rest for a few minutes, you can pour off the defatted stuff from the bottom, leaving the grease behind. Since I bought it, there have been some design improvements by other manufacturers, so if I were in the market for another one (or, cough-cough, a smart friend looking for a gift idea is reading this), I’d go for this $15 Oxo model.

Instant-read thermometer (Thermapen, $74, Stick the thin probe into the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh to tell within a second or two whether the bird has reached the crucial, salmonella-killing 165 degrees. I’ve sung the praises of my Thermapen ever since buying it many years ago, and it’s regularly been on the list of kitchen gifts I’ve given to friends and family. It’s much more expensive than other thermometers, true, but for speed, ease of use, accuracy and durability, I wouldn’t trade it for 100 of the cheaper ones.

A good roasting pan, naturally. I have to confess I don’t own one, mostly because I so often go to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, and she’s well stocked in the kitchen department (with many of the same devices I recommend above). But if I were to buy one, I’d be VERY tempted by the All-Clad flared roaster at Williams-Sonoma (the lower sides mean more air/heat exposure for the bird). But then that $250 price tag would make me gulp. (How many times a year do I roast a turkey? Um, zero to once.) So then I probably would buy the $130 Calphalon stainless-steel baby that Cook’s Illustrated rated highly.

That covers my basics. What are your favorite tried-and-true holiday kitchen tools?

-- Joe Yonan

By Joe Yonan  |  November 11, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Thanksgiving  | Tags: Joe Yonan, Thanksgiving, equipment  
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One of my friends does Thanksgiving for her family at her vacation house, and everybody stays over for the extended weekend. So she has to worry about feeding them for several days, including at least one supper before the main event. She swears by a crock-pot for meals that aren't The Big Meal: it keeps her out of the kitchen after the prep is done, and feeds the horde with minimal cleanup.

Posted by: northgs | November 11, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

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