There is nothing worse when cooking for company than worrying about whether your turkey or expensive beef roast is perfectly cooked and tender or overdone and dried out. We rely on an instant-read thermometer to determine when foods are properly cooked or have reached a certain stage in the cooking process. Look for a digital model that has a long stem (to reach the center of large roasts).
Most ovens are inaccurate, at least by a few degrees, which is why it’s important to have an oven thermometer. Even if your oven is slightly off, that can make all the difference between a moist, tender, impressive roast and one that’s dried out, tough, and disappointing. It doesn’t make sense not to have an oven thermometer—they don’t cost a lot, and a good one can literally save your dinner.
In cooking, timing is everything. And when you’re preparing a multicourse
meal, minutes matter even more—which is why a good timer is essential. In the
test kitchen, we like multitask timers that are easy to use and read.
Roasting Pan and V-rack
You need this pan for roasting the big bird at Thanksgiving or the ham at Easter. Pick up a V-shaped rack that will hold turkeys, chicken, and other roasts above the pan surface, thus ensuring even heating and all-around browning.
Rimmed Baking Sheet and Wire Rack
We use heavy-duty rimmed baking sheets (18 by 13 inches) for everything from roasting vegetables and meat to baking pies (it catches drips and conducts heat so the bottom crust browns better). Fitted with the right-size wire cooling rack, this versatile pan can stand in for a roasting pan. We think it pays to have two rimmed baking sheets on hand as they are serious multitaskers.
Liquid fat must be separated from the drippings of a roast before making gravy. Luckily, separating liquid fat is easy to do with a specially designed fat separator. We recommend pitcher-type measuring cups with sharply angled spouts opening out from the base of the cup.
A large board with a channel around the edges is the perfect place to let the holiday roast rest. The channel traps any juices shed by the roast, although if you follow the recommended resting times in our recipes, most of the juices should stay in the meat—which is where you want them.
This knife (also called a carving knife) is specially designed to cut neatly through meat's muscle fibers and connective tissues. No other knife can cut through cooked meat with such precision in a single stroke. Our holiday roasts would be torn to shambles—hardly presentable—without this knife.
We can’t imagine putting on a holiday party without a food processor in our kitchen. It’s essential for making pie dough and can be used to shred potatoes, cheese, and much, much more. Don't cheap out when buying a food processor. The workbowl should have a capacity of at least 11 cups—any smaller and you can't make bread dough or pie dough. Make sure the feed tube is large enough to fit potatoes, hunks of cheese, and other big foods.
We recommend using glass (Pyrex) pie plates so that you can judge the progress of the bottom crust. The glass also browns the crust better than metal or disposable aluminum pie plates, which hardly brown the crust at all. Also, metal pie plates can react with acidic fillings, while glass is nonreactive. Look for a pan with a flat 1/2-inch rim, which makes it easier to create decorative fluting. Shallow, angled sides prevent prebaked crusts from slumping.
Forget about the fancy rolling pins now on the market. An old-fashioned wooden pin does a better job than marble, nonstick, or other high-tech options. We like French-style rolling pins without handles. (We find that pins with ball bearings and handles can exert too much pressure on the dough.) We like a long pin (20 inches or so) with tapered ends that help produce dough that rolls out to an even thickness.
A gorgeous pie can take hours to make—and can be mangled in seconds if you cut it with the wrong tool. Unless you want to smash delicate pies, a server with a slim tip and sharp edges (whether straight or serrated) is critical. An offset handle navigates neatly under each slice and a wide base keeps slices intact during transport.