Thanksgivukkah is in 9 days, and we bet you’ve got a tons of cooking questions. We’ll be here at 1:00 p.m EST to answer as many as we can. If we don’t have a chance to get to your question, our Cook’s Illustrated 2013 Thanksgiving Guide is pretty helpful, too:

Who are we?

I am Dan Souza /u/Dan_Souza (@testcook on Twitter)—I develop recipes, conduct food-science experiments, and worked on our Science of Good Cooking cookbook. I also like to drop heavy things on burgers in the name of science—on purpose:

I am Lisa McManus /u/LisaMcManus —the “Gadget Guru" and Senior Editor of equipment testing and ingredient tasting. Imagine making 100 kale smoothies to test the quality of a blender, rigging up 15 grills to thermocouples to track heat retention over time, or toasting up to 50 loaves of bread to find a toaster that actually decently toasts bread. Here I am, setting things aflame in the search for the best home fire extinguisher:


Ask us anything.

P.S. To celebrate the launch of our newly designed websites—we're giving away the top 3 highest voted questions today a free one-year multi-site membership to, and


Thanks for all the great cooking questions/comments, Lisa and Dan need to get back to the kitchen now—Happy Thanksgivukkah from America's Test Kitchen!

Comments: 273 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

IXIFr0stIXI28 karma

On America's Test Kitchen which thing did you cook/bake that seemed like the absolute biggest improvement over all the other recipes out there and how many trials/tests did it take you to get it "perfect"?

Dan_Souza17 karma

For me it was probably the Cinnamon Swirl Bread I worked on a year ago. Every recipe out there falls into one of two camps--a tiny thin line of cinnamon that disappears, or a thick layer that destroys the structure of the bread. I made at least 80 loaves of bread before I found a better dough, shaping technique, and cinnamon filling.

BritneyMcAndrew19 karma

What are some Thanksgiving dishes I can make on the stove, since the oven will be occupied for the majority of prep time?

Dan_Souza18 karma

I would recommend cooking your dressing underneath the turkey in the oven. What's left can easily be done stovetop: cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, squash, buttered peas, etc. Be sure to bake your pies first thing in the morning to free up the oven for your bird.

blackwithink16 karma

Hi all! I'm in a bit of a pickle. I just moved and don't have my kitchen wares. What can I make using only two pans, and a pizza pan for thanksgiving? I'm only cooking for two, so I don't need a ton of food, but I don't want to disappoint!

LisaMcManus19 karma

If you have a skillet that can go in the oven, the Weeknight Roast Chicken is really really good. It can stand in as your "turkey." Weeknight Roast Chicken On the pizza pan, you can cook roasted sweet potatoes (we do them on a baking sheet). Roasted Sweet Potatoes Make a green salad. Earlier in the day you can bake Rustic Italian Loaf on that pizza pan for your bread. This is so good. Rustic Italian Bread Not sure what your final pan is, but if it's a pie plate, you can make pumpkin pie. Our Pumpkin Praline Pie is pretty awesome. Pumpkin-Praline Pie Have fun!!

loseit_birds16 karma

So, on ATK TV, why is Guy Crosby always in a separate room? Does he have Ebola? Or does he have Hannibal Lecterish proclivities?


Dan_Souza14 karma

I hate to disappoint but Guy Crosby is actually of the nicest, least Hannibal Lecterish-y guys I know. We only hold him in that room for the duration of filming and he's then allowed to roam free.

Th3yca11mej015 karma

What are some easy but satisfying meals you would recommend for college students living on a budget?

LisaMcManus12 karma

Think about traditional "peasant" dishes. They are always good and cheap. Beans, rice, pastas, vegetables, soups--those are all really inexpensive, taste amazing, and are actually good for you. Then just invest in your condiments, like great Parmesan, balsamic vinegar, really good olive oil (We like California Olive Ranch), etc. to elevate the basics. Here's a good filling soup that doesn't cost much to make: Pasta and Bean Soup

googlelover4215 karma

What is a useless cooking gadget that no one should ever buy?

LisaMcManus24 karma

You don't need any of those dumb things that chop up food (like the Slap-Chop). Get a knife you love and use that, and you don't need about half the gadgets out there that seem to specialize in helping you avoid the knife you already own.

apw99914 karma

What modern technique or equipment (sous vide, pressure cooking, etc) do you think has the most payoff for the home cook?

Dan_Souza13 karma

Pressure cookers can be a fantastic addition to your kitchen. I love them for beans, hearty greens, and tough cuts of meat. Our Best Buy is the Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker. I've used it a lot and it's great, for about $100. There are a lot of new (cheaper) sous vide setups just coming out now, so I'd probably wait a bit to see which one comes out on top. Sous vide requires shifting the way you cook a bit, but if you are adventurous and after results that can't really be achieved with traditional methods I'd highly recommend getting into to.

LisaMcManus14 karma

I fell in love with pressure cookers during testing. (I tested 12 models for our story.) They are amazing, not only for things like stews, but also for beans. Easy, easy, easy and fast. Why you need a Pressure Cooker

smack4u14 karma

How involved is Chris Kimball in the production of the food for America's Test Kitchen? Does he only show up and put on his bow tie on taping days?

LisaMcManus11 karma

He's very involved. As you can probably tell, he has a lot of opinions! And luckily he also has good advice to offer, too. He keeps us on track during weekly edit meetings where we discuss progress, tastes the food, etc. He's here every day. Early. And yes, he wears the bow tie every day.

Frajer12 karma

Do you have ideas for Thanskgiving/Hannukah hybrid dishes?

Dan_Souza19 karma

Some quick ideas:

*Sub in Hallah for bread in your stuffing

*Reduce down some manischewitz and use it in your cranberry sauce (cut the sugar and liquid to compensate)

*Make matzo balls and just serve 'em. Matzo balls are delicious.

Also, my buddy Kenji Lopez-Alt just posted an insane looking deep fried Latke-Stuffing-Cranberry creation here: Thanksgivukkah Recipe

logrus1019 karma

What happens to all the food you guys cook during your testing? Does it go to waste? Go home with employees? Get donated?

LisaMcManus25 karma

Believe me, nothing goes to waste! After everybody tastes and comments on a recipe in development, or finishes filling out their tasting sheet during a blind tasting, we pack it up and it goes into the Take-Home Fridge. People stroll down and check out the fridge all day long...sometimes it's just leftover celery, other times, you can score something really fabulous. Like five kinds of shortbread. If we have unopened boxes of ingredients we don't need, we do donate that to charity.

Ortiz348 karma

Has anyone ever mentioned to Chris Kimball that he looks like the guy from American Gothic

Dan_Souza15 karma

I haven't yet (today). Thanks for the reminder.

funrunrecords8 karma

Ok, I've got two pumpkins that never got carved from Halloween, how long are they good for? Can I roast and eat the seeds? And what the best way to roast the seeds for eating? Pumpkin pie recipe from scratch?

LisaMcManus8 karma

Pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns aren't good for eating. But the seeds are great. If you cut into them and they smell fresh and look good, they're fine. Wash the seeds to remove pumpkin guts, salt them and spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 300 F -- checking them often and moving them around till they're all dry on both sides, and start to get crispy. Then eat. But not too much at once. :) We're actually working on a pumpkin-pie-from-scratch recipe...not for this year, but stay tuned.

Wingenit7 karma

Have you guys experimented yet with finding a really great recipe for gluten-free bread that can be made at home? I haven't found one on my own, and I know you wouldn't publish one that didn't work...!

Dan_Souza11 karma

You are in luck! We just wrapped on Our upcoming Gluten-Free Cookbook. I was very skeptical about gluten free ever being delicious, but the book team did a killer job developing the recipes.

loseit_birds6 karma

Oh, ok. Here's a baking question: should I beat eggs before I add them to batter, or add them whole?

Dan_Souza8 karma

For batters that get mixed pretty thoroughly whole eggs won't be a problem. However, if you have any doubts, there's no harm in using a fork to break the yolks and gently combine them with the whites. Avoid actual beating.

keto1015115 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA! ATK and Cooks country tv are the only cooking shows I watch.

For Dan, what was the messiest food experiment failure that has every happen in the test kitchen?

For Lisa, What was the most frustrating piece of kitchen gear you ever tested? What was the most fun?

Also just had to add I love listening to the ATK radio/podcast.

LisaMcManus12 karma

Hm, I think I've had frustrating moments in every kitchen equipment testing, but overall, I just keep working on it (and complaining to everybody and asking everybody what they think ... till I get un-stuck.) A bad moment was when I'd ordered something like 8 different half-size sheet pans (rimmed baking sheets) and they all arrived, and looked ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL. I thought, what am I going to say about these? THEN I started cooking with them, and the problem solved itself. Some really sucked. Best, most fun testing was probably setting fires when I tested fire extinguishers. My inner pyromaniac came right out. I could not believe I was getting paid to set stuff on fire. Of course, I had to first arrange the supervision of the Worcester Fire Department...Didn't want to burn down my own workplace!

karma_bus2 karma


LisaMcManus3 karma

you have some very, very nice, patient firefighters.

Dan_Souza8 karma

I was recently playing around with all sorts of carbonated beverages for a science video that will be out in the next couple of weeks. I was testing adding Mentos to diet coke and things got out of hand. Sticky everywhere. I also tried dropping bowling balls on lots of food when working on The Science of Good Cooking and no one in the kitchen was very happy about that.

karma_bus4 karma

Thanksgiving Question - Can I keep mashed potatoes in the crockpot 2 hours before mealtime?? If so, how do I keep them from drying out??

Dan_Souza3 karma

Yes you can. Definitely set it on keep warm setting and keep it covered. You may need to adjust the consistency with a bit more milk before serving.

missmeow3254 karma

What meat thermometer would you recommend? Any particular type or brand?

LisaMcManus6 karma

We like this one by Thermoworks, if you want a leave-in probe. Meat-Probe Thermometers But our all time favorite, which we all use in the kitchen, is the Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen, also by Thermoworks. Instant-Read Thermometer It's pricey, but super-easy, accurate, worth it. And it comes in really nice colors--mine at home is bright lifeguard orange, because I'm always grabbing it at the very last second and I can spot it in the kitchen drawer.

Revere124 karma

How important is it to brine a turkey? Will it make a big difference?

Dan_Souza5 karma

Today's broad-breasted white turkeys have incredibly lean breast meat (and lots of it) which easily overcooks and dries out. Whether brining or dry-salting, we do recommend some treatment to provide a bit of insurance.