How to throw a four-star Thanksgiving at home

We asked executive chefs at eight top-rated Chicago-area restaurants to tell us their secrets for a Thanksgiving To Remember. Here’s what these culinary wizards came back with, from tips on brining the turkey to a pumpkin mousse pie one chef swears is so good you’ll dream about it.

Brining is a scientific process that unwinds the meat proteins, allowing the flavors of the ingredients to saturate into the meat. The flavored solution becomes trapped inside, creating a delicious and juicy turkey. It’s a careful mix of salt, sugar, water and time, but it’s well worth it.

Chef’s Thanksgiving Tip: “In the restaurant kitchen, we use large containers to soak the turkeys, but you can get the same results on a smaller scale using an extra-large ziplock type of bag (like the kind I use at home to store all the clothes my 1- year-old is rapidly outgrowing). This gem of a tip came from my mother-in-law, and though we don’t use it at Elate, I would definitely do this at home – it’s much easier to refrigerate this way!”

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Chef Jacobs' secret for turkey to remember.

The secret to brining

Executive Chef Robert Fedorko will be serving his pumpkin mousse pie at Grand Geneva Resort &Spa’s Thanksgiving brunch, but says it’s simple enough to re-create in your own kitchen.

Chef’s Thanksgiving Tip: Chef Fedorko’s recipe is a twist on the classic pumpkin pie, but he also offered some tips for turkeyers: “Baste the turkey in fresh thyme, rosemary and orange juice to add a unique and inspired flavor to the dish. Add sausage and cranberries to stuffing to pump up the flavor. Your family will be pleased with the tasty surprise!”

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Chef Fedorko's pumpkin mousse pie

Pumpkin Perfection

Scott Walton, executive chef at Markethouse restaurant in Chicago, starts his Thanksgiving dinner with this soup. He says it buys him time – from his eager gobblers – to finish preparing the rest of the meal.

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Chef Walton starts every Thanksgiving with this creamy seasonal soup.

A Better Butternut Squash Soup

This recipe comes from Geoff Rhyne, executive chef at Naperville’s Sugar Toad. Don’t mention the parsnips (or, Chef Rhyne says, swap in carrots), and your kids will have a blast with the homemade marshmallow garnish!

Chef’s Thanksgiving Tip: “If you know you want to make a soup, make it ahead of time. Same with vegetables. You can cook vegetables like green beans and brussels sprouts about halfway in salted water, drain and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and lock in the color. When it’s time to serve, just toss in a pan with a little butter or olive oil and heat through.”

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Chef Rhyne's marshmallow-garnished starter is a treat for the whole family. 

Parsnip Soup for Persnickety Eaters

Pumpkin may be king among Thanksgiving pies, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Try this cranberry-filled treat instead, from Willwood’s executive chef, Christopher Corby.

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Chef Corby's cranberry upside-down cake

Upside-down, thumbs up

Sarah Kosikowski, executive pastry chef at Trump Tower’s Sixteen, will be serving this tart at the restaurant’s Thanksgiving Day brunch. But it’s simple enough to make in your own kitchen, and if it’s good enough for The Donald, it’s good enough for your in-laws.

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Chef Kosikowski's maple pecan tart.

Log Cabin Pie

Patricio Sandoval, executive chef at Mercadito, an upscale Mexican restaurant in River North, adapted this recipe from his grandmother’s bread pudding. It’s a great way to get rid of bread that’s no longer fit for sandwiches – the older and drier, the better!

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Chef Sandoval's budin de calabaza.

Viva Mexico!

This autumn take on classic creme brulee comes from Palmer House Hilton Executive Chef Stephen Henry.

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Chef Henry's Maple Creme Brulee.

Maple Madness

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