The Thanksgiving Kitchen Tools You Can Totally Skip (& The Ones To Invest In)

Whether we're hosting Thanksgiving or merely contributing a dish to a Friendsgiving potluck, we're currently in the midst of pinning, researching, and googling recipes that may only get cooked once a year. Stuffing is great, but we're not cooking it in July. And as necessary as mashed potatoes and gravy are to the whole meal, most of the year we're fine ordering them when we dine out rather than DIY-ing at home.

That means that, around this time every November, the many recipes we're perusing call for gadgets and appliances that we currently don't have. But do we really need to pony up the cash (and storage space) for things like turkey basters, roasting racks, and potato ricers? (And what is a riced potato, anyway?)

Ahead, ten of the once-a-year items we only feel pressure to buy during the holidays – and whether you need it, can skip it, or should buy something else instead.

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Turkey Baster

A baster allows you to rescue juices lost in the roasting process and put them back on the bird, yielding a more flavorful final product. But there aren't many other uses for a turkey baster if you aren't frequently roasting large cuts of meat. If your recipe calls for basting, a large a spoon and careful maneuvering should be a fine enough substitute.

Verdict: Skip it
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Roasting Pan

Designed with high sides and sturdy handles, roasting pans are supposed to allow juices to collect and be more stable than a regular baking pan. Whether its the best method, however, is up for debate: some cooks prefer roasting poultry on baking sheets because it allows for better airflow. If you're roasting a small enough turkey (or just going the chicken route), a casserole dish should be fine too.

Verdict: Not using a roasting pan is not only fine, it may be preferable. Just make sure your baking sheet is sturdy enough to support the weight of the turkey.
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Roasting Rack

Another product that really only gets used if you're frequently roasting large cuts of meat, a roasting rack elevates your dish to allow better browning and heat circulation. Rather than investing in something you'll use a few times, consider using a cooling rack instead. Most are inexpensive and designed to fit standard baking sheet sizes and are oven-safe. After Thanksgiving, you can use it to roast or cook a number of things that wouldn't work on a traditional roasting pan, like vegetables or latkes. And, of course, you can cool things on it.

If you're using a roasting pan, you can use slightly less stable measures, like using large cuts of onions and carrots to rest the turkey on, or an upside-down muffin tin. Doing this on a cookie sheet, however, could make the turkey more likely to take a tumble.

Verdict: Skip it or invest in a cooling rack – it will serve the same purpose and get used more after the holiday.
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Instant-Read Thermometer

Many turkeys come with a disposable, pop-up timer that is supposed to indicate when the turkey is done. However, tests have shown again and again that relying on the pop-up thermometer results in overcooking your turkey (which translates into a drier bird).

That really leaves you with only one option: an instant-read thermometer. Before you balk, however, if you're frequently cooking poultry (even smaller cuts) its a good thing to have in your arsenal. As we've written about before, the only reliable indicator of whether or not chicken has reached a safe internal temperature is using a thermometer.

Verdict: Buy it, and keep using it throughout the year.
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Potato Ricer

Basically like something that got super-sized out of our childhood Play-Do kits, potato ricers allow you to make smooth mashed potatoes at home. However, food mills, which are slightly less one-use, create similar results. The rest of the year, a food mill can also be used to purée soups and sauces, though you may find yourself unlikely to want to hand-crank an entire pot of carrot soup, which is why many home chefs love immersion blenders. The only problem? You can't really mash potatoes with an immersion blender. Food processors can also mash potatoes, though the fast-moving, sharp blades result in a gluey texture.

While it might be a bit more hands-on, you can simply mash the potatoes with a large fork or even bottom of a mug. Hand-held mixers, which start at under $10, can also be used, but be careful not to over-mix (you'll get the same gluey texture as with a food processor). If you're worried about large chunks of under-cooked potato being left behind, consider making a baked potato casserole instead. Not only are they make-ahead friendly, the finale bake will tenderize any hard bits of spud left over.

Verdict: Skip and use a handy fork – or even your favorite mug – unless you're making mashed potatoes on the reg.
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Poultry Sheers

If you are planning on spatchcocking (or butterflying) your bird on Thanksgiving, you'll likely see the recipe calls for poultry or chicken sheers. This allows you to cut the backbone out of the bird (and through the rib bones) with presumably more ease than with regular office scissors or a chef's knife. But if you're only butterflying a turkey once a year, a sharpened chef's knife (used carefully!) is fine. You can also clean your regular scissors and give them a whirl. Just make sure to clean them well, both before and after you use them with raw poultry.

Verdict: Use this as an excuse to finally get your knives sharpened and you'll be fine.
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Fat Separator

Turkey is pointless without gravy, and homemade gravy recipes usually call for using a fat separator. Typically designed with a strainer on top to catch the herbs and veggies that might get left behind, the juices settle in the cup and the fat eventually rises to the top. The spout, which looks like a watering can's, allows the juices to pour out while the fat stays on top.

If you need to invest in a liquid measurer, a fat separator could actually be useful – and allow you to pour out the measured liquids carefully if the recipe calls for it (making pancakes, for example, or gradually adding liquid to a dry mix). But if you're not in need, simply pouring the juices into a regular measuring cup and skimming the fat off with a spoon should suffice.

Verdict: Unless you also need to buy a liquid measurer, skim with a spoon instead.
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Pie Weights

Is there a more pie-friendly holiday than Thanksgiving (Pi Day notwithstanding)? And is there ever a better time to dust off a favorite family recipe (or recipe you bookmarked last year) to make your own Instagram-worthy masterpiece? If you aren't a regular baker, however, you may be confused by instructions to blind-bake a pie crust or use pie weights. Not all recipes call for this step, but pies that set in the fridge or ones with gooey fillings may be pre-baked to allow the crust to cook. Pie weights keep the crust from shrinking or bubbling up as it bakes. However, if you're just getting started baking, lining the crust with tin foil and filling with rice or dried beans works just as well. The beans aren't edible afterwards, but the rice can actually be repurposed as rice pilaf.

Verdict: No need to be weighted down (har har) with clay balls you'll hardly use. Use rice instead.
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Carving Set

A carving knife is longer and thinner than a chef's knife and should always have a pointed end. The thinner blade theoretically keeps less meat from sticking to it, and the length allows you to do slice up larger pieces of meat. However, many experts prefer a chef's knife for the increased dexterity it gives you (the blade is shorter and, typically, sturdier). Another reason to add sharpening your chef's knife to your to-do list.

And when it comes to a carving knife, if you're not cutting it at the table in front of all your guests, your own clean hands are fine. Who needs the pressure of carving a turkey for a crowd anyway?

Verdict: Seriously, add "sharpen knives" to your to-do list and call it a day.
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Flour Sifter

To ensure fluffier cakes and pies, many recipes will call for sifting flour. While you will probably be fine skipping this step altogether, simple sifting through a fine-mesh strainer will suffice. After that, you can use it basically like you would a colander for smaller amounts of pasta. Since mesh strainers fine enough to sift flour are also metal, you can even use them to steam vegetables and strain sauces and purées.

Verdict: If you really want the airiest baked good around, opt for a fine mesh strainer instead.
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