Thirteen science-backed ways to improve your Thanksgiving

Science up an amazing meal, entertain guests, and stay safe and sane.

woman with axe and turkey

Thanksgiving hacks

No, these are not literal hacks. PUT THE AXE DOWN.everett225 / Depositphotos

Thanksgiving can be a stressful time of year. So let's turn to science. These hacks will help you stay sane as you cook the perfect meal, entertain your guests, and avoid any trips to the hospital.

Food

The festive meal is arguably the most important part of Thanksgiving. Here's how to cook that turkey—and a few classic side dishes—to perfection.

scientist injecting turkey

Toy with food chemistry

You don't need a syringe to harness the power of kitchen science.

Cooking is all about chemistry. So in this guide, we put together some scientific tricks for making your bird tender yet crispy, your mashed potatoes ultra-fluffy, and your pie crust perfect. The article includes cooking tips and advice for turkey, potatoes, and sweet potato pie, as well as a recipe for a cranberry sorbet so tangy and refreshing, you'll banish the gloopy canned sauce from your table forever.

turkey fryer

Deep fry a turkey without killing yourself

Bubbling oil can cook a turkey to perfection. It can also cause burns, grease fires, property damage, and death.Eric Kilby / Flickr

Every year, courageous cooks set out to deep-fry their Thanksgiving turkeys, despite the risk of explosions, fires, and emergency-room visits. If you join their ranks this year, make sure to follow our safety instructions. Or consider our preferred cooking method: spatchcocking (see below).

spatchcock turkey

Spatchcock the turkey

Hey there, handsome.Brett Spangler on Flickr

Spatchcocking a turkey is a fancy way of making it lie flat. By transforming an approximate sphere of meat into a flatter rectangle, you get a bird that will cook better and faster (in slightly more than an hour). Here's how to enter the wonderful world of spatchcockery.

stuffing in turkey

Bake stuffing without overcooking the meat

Yes, you can safely cook your stuffing within the turkey—it just takes some scientific trickery.ericksonkee/Flickr CC by ND 2.0

Let's talk stuffing. Tradition says you should bake it within the cavity of your turkey. But to kill all that birdy bacteria, you need to bring its temperature up to 165°F or more, which is hard to do without overcooking the fowl. Use this science-tested method (hint: it involves a microwave) to stuff your turkey and make it edible too.

thanksgiving dinner

Don't forget the sides

How to prepare all the fixings.Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

Now that you're overflowing with ideas for cooking that turkey, it's time to turn your attention to other dishes in the meal. Our Thanksgiving dinner guide includes tips for cooking everything on the festive table. Like a previous link on the list, this entry has scientific advice for improving your turkey, stuffing, and potatoes of both the starchy and sweet varieties. To that, it adds updates on frying up veggies, cooking onions without crying, and even arranging dessert in a psychologically pleasing pattern.

eating turkey on Thanksgiving

Eat as much as humanly possible

You've made all that fine food—make sure you get to enjoy as much of it as possible!Wikipedia

Sure, the naysayers might say it's not "healthy" to "overeat." But Thanksgiving comes but once a year—so tell them to stuff it. For this special meal, we explain how to cram as much food as possible down your gullet. Om nom nom nom.

Drinks

This year, don't settle for soda with Thanksgiving dinner. We'll help you wash that turkey down with food-themed beer and homemade egg nog instead.

beer

Brew or buy Thanksgiving-themed beers

Make a refreshing quaff extra festive by picking a Thanksgiving-themed brew.Pexels

What if you could drink your meal instead of eating it? No, we won't make you dine on Soylent—we're talking about food-themed beer. PopSci hunted down beer recipes and commercial brews that pay tribute to turkey, stuffing, creamed onions, green-bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and more. Just don't try drinking all of our picks at once, unless you spend to plan the bulk of the meal lying under the table.

egg nog

Whip up perfectly safe egg nog

There's nothing quite as rich and intoxicating as made-from-scratch egg nog.Brooke Borel

In the land of holiday drinks, mulled wine and spiked cocoa are all very well, but egg nog reigns supreme. If you're nervous about whipping up a beverage that includes raw eggs, never fear—intrepid blogger Brooke Borel explains why you can enjoy properly-made nog without fretting over Salmonella exposure. And she includes a deliciously decadent recipe that will fill your guests' glasses with frothy, boozy bliss. Cheers!

Entertainment

Now that you've put the meal on the table, you have to sit down with your relatives and make small talk. Gulp. Here are a few non-political topics you can discuss, along with some turkey-related activities.

Google Cardboard

Distract your guests with tech...

See, I'm already entertained.Flickr user Lars Plougmann

Last year, we rounded up a list of gear to show off to your dinner guests. Although a few of the items have grown outdated (psh, Google Home is old hat by now), others—like a 3D-printing pen—can still delight and entertain those who aren't familiar with the technology yet.

Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Submillimeter Telescope

...Or with science topics

The Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Submillimeter Telescope, better known as BLAST, is one of many serious scientific devices sporting silly names. Talk about that, among other science topics.Donald Wiebe

You don't have to invest in the latest technology in order to impress your guests. You can also occupy them with science-themed discussions. Debate how aliens might communicate, wow people with your knowledge of the common cold, or choose another science topic from this guide.

bowling with a frozen turkey

Play with the frozen turkey

For example, go turkey bowling. No special shoes necessary.MPR News

I know, I know, I've just been going on and on about turkey-cooking tips. But—hear me out—what if you decide not to cook turkey this year? Well, you'll need to do something with the gobbler taking up room in your freezer. Here are a few alternative uses for that frozen bird, from cranberry-can bowling to self-defense.

Safety

While the previous tips will help you plan out the perfect turkey day, there are still a few things you should avoid. Such as a trip to the hospital. Follow our advice to stay safe.

raw turkey

Avoid food poisoning

Mmm...bacteria-laden raw turkey.Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

As we already discussed, improperly prepared turkey and stuffing and egg nog (oh my) can expose hungry guests to food-borne pathogens. But we didn't mention that salad, green-bean casserole, and even take-out all come with their own risks. Luckily, you can follow our advice to avoid giving your guests food poisoning.

deep-fried turkey fireball

Prevent other holiday dangers

Don't let a deep-fried turkey, or any other mishap, send you to the hospital this year.YouTube

Alas, food poisoning is not the only danger you need to evade this holiday season. Every Thanksgiving, heart problems, car crashes, deep-fried turkey mishaps land too many Americans in emergency rooms. To avoid a hospital trip, check out our list of life-endangering incidents and learn how to avoid them.