We peek inside their homes to check out the tools, ingredients and more that help them go from prep to feast with ease. Get their go-to’s for pulling off every part of the party—the turkey, trimmings, even the ambiance. (Find more holiday essentials, nominated by our community members!)
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Rachel’s Essentials for Appetizers & Cocktails
At her home, Rachel stocks a bar cart with a variety of spirits and mixers—including alcohol-free options—so guests can whip up their go-to drinks while she’s busy in the kitchen or showing pals around her cute abode. Rachel also fills her coffee table with plenty of snacks and spreads. A good charcuterie board will keep friends happy until dinner is served.
- Collapsible bar cart: Display what’s on offer with a tiered cart. “This bar cart is a breeze to pull out before the party and is so simple to stow away once it’s over,” says Rachel.
- Charcuterie selection: You can absolutely make your own charcuterie board for the holidays, but if you’re running tight on time, Rachel suggests turning to a ready-made board like this one from Harry & David.
- Cocktail machine: Consider the Bartesian the Keurig of cocktail makers. Pop in a pod and the liquor of your choice, and the machine does all the work. This makes stirring up drinks for your pals easier than ever.
- Martini glasses: Don’t serve classy cocktails in plain plastic cups. These colored martini glasses are a joy to hold and can even help your pals identify their drink when they step away from the spread. (Rachel calls dibs on the blush glass!)
- Cocktail bitters: Aromatic bitters add depth to drinks and are an essential ingredient in many classic cocktails like Manhattans, old-fashioneds and lime rickeys. This selection from Bittercube goes beyond basic with flavors like orange and cherry bark vanilla.
- Fun cocktail napkins: Save the cloth napkins for dinner and opt for pretty paper napkins for cocktail hour.
- Marble lazy Susan: Make sure all the snacks are handy no matter where guests are perched with a lazy Susan.
- Zero-alcohol gin: Shake things up on your cocktail cart with some non-alcoholic options. This N/A gin is great for making elevated drinks without the buzz.
- Smoker box: Serious about your craft cocktails? Take this smoker box for a spin. It adds a whisper of smoky flavor that’ll complement many fall and winter cocktails like this apple cider bourbon smash and butterscotch martini.
James’ Essentials for Turkey & Gravy
As deputy culinary editor, James Schend knows how to host a showstopping holiday dinner. The star of this production is always a mouthwatering turkey served with plenty of homemade gravy.
Through decades of cooking and entertaining experience, James has collected the tricks and tools that will help him get the turkey just right. His advice: Make sure that your bird is seasoned well, stuffed with plenty of aromatics (not stuffing) and cooks for the right amount of time. Once you master the perfect roast turkey, you can move on to one of James’ favorite techniques: spatchcocking!
While the bird is always the main attraction, James pays special attention to the gravy. A smooth, rich gravy made from pan drippings is what every table needs for topping turkey, potatoes and more.
- Electric knife: When it comes time to carve up major holiday mains like turkey or ham, an electric knife is your best friend. This gadget makes quick work of slicing through these proteins.
- Instant-read thermometer: Getting an accurate temperature on your turkey is key to ensuring it’s perfectly juicy inside. James recommends the Thermapen ONE which gives you accurate temps in an instant. Don’t put this gadget away after the holidays! Use it to gauge food-safe temperatures for all your proteins.
- Roasting pan: Sure, you can grill or even deep-fry a turkey, but roasting is the classic method. Make sure you have a durable pan that’s large enough to tackle the job. This is one of our Test Kitchen’s favorite roasting pans.
- Carving board: Don’t settle for a teeny cutting board when carving turkey. An oversized carving board, like this one from J. K. Adams, gives you plenty of space, and the grooves help channel away any juices to keep your surface dry.
- Saucepan: Check your cupboards before Turkey Day to ensure you have a saucepan large enough to make this foolproof gravy. James loves this one from Heritage Steel.
- Pot holders: Use them as trivets or to grab hot pans off the stove. You can never have enough pot holders and hot pads around the kitchen.
- Oven mitts: Ditto for oven mitts! Make sure you’re careful as you pull your heavy roasting pan out of the oven.
- Spice grinder: Spices and herbs are key to your most flavorful bird yet. This Kuhn Rikon spice grinder can be used to mill sea salt, peppercorns and other coarse seasonings like mustard seed or juniper berries.
- Pastry brush: If you’re brushing your bird with butter (like you would this butter-herb turkey), James recommends a silicone pastry brush from the Taste of Home collection. It’s easy to toss in the dishwasher for a deep clean—necessary after touching raw poultry.
- Sauce and gravy whisk: Make sure your homemade gravy is super smooth with this specialty whisk from OXO. It’ll take care of any and all lumps.
- Fat separator: To prevent your gravy from being too greasy (a common gravy mistake), James recommends this nifty tool. It separates extra fat from pan drippings so you get all the flavor and none of the grease.
Sarah’s Essentials for Side Dishes
When you arrive at Sarah Farmer‘s house for the holidays, you’ll find her in the kitchen, shaking up the traditional side dish game.
“Diversify and beautify,” says the executive culinary director. Yes, you’ll see a classic sweet potato casserole on her table. But every holiday, Sarah makes what she calls a “wild-card dish,” a recipe that’s new to the crowd and always as stunning as it is delicious. This year, Sarah recommends this kale salad and marmalade-candied carrots.
No matter your style, Sarah suggests serving up an array of colors and textures for an appetizing suite of sides.
- Air fryer: Oven space is often at a premium during the holidays. Sarah suggests prepping some air-fryer sides. She says this model from Beautiful wins with both form and function.
- Stand mixer: ‘Tis the season to invest in one of these beauties, or at least add it to your holiday wishlist. Sarah loves this KitchenAid with the dark evergreen color.
- Fresh Prep attachment: “Let your stand mixer tackle prep work,” says Sarah. This KitchenAid attachment can slice and shred produce and cheese in seconds.
- Extra-virgin olive oil: Brightland’s cold-pressed olive oil is specially made for roasting and sauteeing—the basics for any cozy holiday side dish.
- Herb saver: Fresh herbs do a lot to liven up holiday sides. Keep yours fresh with specially designed Prepara herb savers.
- Dutch oven: Nope, these pots aren’t just for slow-roasted mains! Sarah recommends one of our Test Kitchen-preferred Dutch ovens to make plenty of cozy sides. The generous size is ideal for making big batches of your family’s favorite red cabbage, black-eyed peas and more.
- Large baking dish: Make sure you have enough of the dishes your family craves. This Villeroy & Boch baking dish is large enough to hold big batches of twice-baked potato casserole and macaroni and cheese.
- Electric peppermill: Skip the arm workout and use this press-and-go FinaMill peppermill to season your sides. It gives you the perfect grind with the touch of a button.
- Serving platter: Now’s the time to break out your favorite serving dishes! Sarah likes the subtle geometric pattern of this platter from Dear Keaton. Bonus: It can be used well beyond the holidays.
- Glass bakeware: Rubbermaid’s lightweight baking dish comes with a tight-fitting cover, perfect for when you’re transporting dishes to share.
- Y-peeler: Sarah has tried a lot of peelers over the years both at home and in the Taste of Home Test Kitchen. This basic Kuhn Rikon Y-peeler always comes out on top for peeling carrots, potatoes and apples. Use it to prep this unexpected side: Granny’s Apple Scalloped Potatoes—the perfect wild-card dish.
Lisa’s Essentials for Sweet Bakes
On dessert duty for the big day? “Time to tie on an apron and settle into your happy place,” says editor Lisa Kaminski.
Each Thanksgiving she joins up with her mom, aunts and sisters to whip up plenty of pies. (Lemon meringue is an unexpected but perpetual Kaminski holiday staple.)
After Turkey Day, colorful mixing bowls and sheet pans make it easier to prep batch after batch of classic cookies, like her family’s go-to kolachkes, peanut butter kisses and pecan fingers. Each year, Lisa likes to try a few new recipes, like these coffee-maple spritz cookies, a tasty twist on an old favorite.
- Cookie press: Take Lisa’s advice and trade in your old-fashioned spritz maker for a brand new cookie press. This OXO model creates perfect cookies with the squeeze of a trigger.
- Apron: “I never get into the kitchen without a good apron,” Lisa explains. “It’s a habit my mom instilled in me.” This Hedley & Bennett apron is designed by chefs and deserves all the rave reviews.
- Nesting bowls: You can never have enough mixing bowls! These Great Jones nesting bowls can be used for everything from mixing up the batter to stirring up frosting for that yule log cake. When that’s all done, use them as serving dishes; they’re that pretty.
- Cordless hand mixer: During the baking season, you’ll want that stand mixer and a hand mixer. This cordless version from KitchenAid makes it easy to whip cream and make meringue without being tethered to the nearest outlet.
- Mexican vanilla extract: There are different types of vanilla extract, but Lisa says the Mexican variety is what makes her think of home: “My mom always bakes big batches of cookies with Mexican vanilla.” Nielsen-Massey is her best-loved vanilla brand.
- Embossed rolling pin: A patterned rolling pin imprints a design right onto your cookie dough—no extra decoration needed. This fuss-free extra is exactly what you want when you’re churning out batch after batch of cutout cookies.
- Maple syrup: For those coffee maple spritz cookies, Lisa turns to one of our Test Kitchen’s favorite syrups from Runamok.
- Nonstick cookie sheets: Around the holidays, there’s no such thing as too many cookie sheets! Lisa loves the bold colors and nonstick surface of these Great Jones sheet pans.
- Sugar duster: Fill this handy tool with confectioners’ sugar to finish off holiday cookies or use it to sprinkle flour over the counter before kneading babka dough.
- Quirky dish towel: Baking can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be dull! A few fun touches in the kitchen are always welcome.
Shannon’s Essentials for Savory Bakes
Fresh bread and rolls are musts for any feast, according to senior food stylist Shannon Norris. And for special occasions like Thanksgiving, she suggests going homemade instead of store-bought.
A few days beforehand, Shannon bakes up loaves of bread for scratch-made dressing. With a good bread knife, she cubes up a loaf in no time. That’s because dressing is best made with stale bread!
Closer to the big day, Shannon kneads and proofs dough for homemade rolls finished with tasty toppers like Parmesan, caraway seeds or a sprinkling of coarse salt. One sniff of these fresh rolls baking and guests will be emptying the bread basket as soon as it hits the table.
- Sifter and scale attachment: Precision is key in baking. This KitchenAid attachment sifts and measures dry ingredients with the push of a button.
- Bread knife: This is the tool for the job whether you’re cubing bread for stuffing or slicing rolls for turkey sandwiches. And if you like this Schmidt Brothers knife, check out our Test Kitchen’s favorite chef’s knives.
- Bread warmer: Keep your rolls and that homemade sourdough toasty at the table with a terra-cotta bread warmer.
- Bakeware: Make sure you have all the bakeware you need for the holiday season. A few extra loaf pans and baking sheets from this Taste of Home set will be well used this time of year.
- Bench scraper: Bakers, this basic tool has so many uses. Shannon uses it to divide dough into roll-sized portions, to clean up the counter and even to scoop ingredients into the bowl.
- Canisters: In Shannon’s kitchen, you’ll find all her baking ingredients stored in Progressive ProKeeper’s airtight containers. These keep your flour fresh and brown sugar soft.
- Herbs and seasonings: An easy way to add flavor to your dinner rolls or basic homemade bread is to add a generous sprinkling of your favorite herbs right on top. Try Italian herbs with a bit of Parmesan, sage and rosemary for fall flavors, or just break out everyone’s go-to: everything bagel seasoning. Shannon loves local Spice House products.
- Flexible spatula: GIR spatulas are a favorite in the Test Kitchen and in Shannon’s home kitchen. They’re super flexible and can scoop up every smidgen of batter in your bowls.
- Utensil crock: Don’t stuff all your go-to spatulas and spoons in a drawer. Shannon suggests keeping all your most-used tools in a nearby utensil crock.
- Cutting board: Use this wooden block from Boos for slicing or to display your latest bake.
- Serving bowl: Keep your serving bowls full of rolls and generous slices of rustic loaves (this Dutch oven bread is a Test Kitchen fave).
Stephanie’s Essentials for Tablescapes & Decor
Holidays at Stephanie Marchese’s house are always effortlessly elegant. Her secret: Setting a table that’s light and bright with just the right amount of seasonal touches.
By keeping the ambiance at the table more neutral, all of Stephanie’s favorite dishes, including her best-ever lasagna, get the attention they deserve. But it’s not all basics at her home! Our executive director of visual production likes to add layers of texture with linens, bold pops of color with bright glassware, and plenty of fresh flowers. This keeps the table interesting and feeling special.
- Wreath: Whether it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving, Stephanie enjoys adding a touch of greenery with a wreath, like this one from Birch Lane which will span both holidays. No need to go over the top with bows and sparkle; the shape and the foliage lend plenty of seasonal cheer.
- Fresh flowers: There’s nothing more festive than an arrangement of fresh, seasonal flowers on your holiday table. Order yours from a local florist or have them shipped by an online company like Bloomsy Box.
- Table runner: Set the stage for a stunning celebration with a table runner. This simple design is perfect for layering along with festive touches.
- Cloth napkins: Cloth napkins are an easy way to take your holiday table to the next level—you can even opt for a nice napkin fold. Plus, they’re not hard to care for! Stain treat them if needed and toss them in the wash. Easy!
- Leather napkin rings: Stephanie loves the look of these leather napkin rings. Their beautiful warm color looks great with any seasonal decor.
- Woven placemats: These woven mats add dimension and texture to your table without overwhelming your place settings. The rustic texture of these mats is perfect for a Thanksgiving place setting.
- Dinner plates: Stephanie suggests going simple with your dinner plates to let your delicious main and sides shine. She chose this set from Chez Nous.
- Salad plates: At the feast, an extra plate to accommodate all those sides and sauces is always welcome. Dare to mix and match designs: Layer striped salad plates (like this Noritake pick) over your larger dinner dishes.
- Glassware: With more subtle dinnerware, Stephanie suggests going bold elsewhere on the table. These bottle-green glasses from Pottery Barn are the perfect statement piece.
- Coffee maker: This gadget will be working overtime during the holidays! Steph cues the coffee when she wakes to help her power through prep work. It keeps going until after guests have enjoyed dessert.
- Coffee mugs: Save your eclectic assortment of mugs for another time. Bring out a matching set for your dinner guests.
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Image Credits: TMB Studio, Via Merchants