Christmas dinner plated up with gravy being poured

Your most common Christmas dinner problems, fixed

From delayed dinner guests and dropped turkeys to broken ovens and dry desserts, here's how to fix the most common Christmas food mistakes so you can rescue your meal before there's a full meltdown.

We asked our Facebook and Twitter fans for their biggest festive faux pas, and they shared some spectacular Christmas catastrophes with us. We put the most common quandaries to our cookery team, and gathered their top tips to help you rescue your Christmas dinner from a culinary disaster.

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For more, visit our Christmas kitchen to find recipe inspiration and top tips for making the big meal, including our handy Christmas menu plans to help you schedule out your day.

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Christmas dinner plated with all trimmings and gravy

Dinner is ready, but my guests are late. What should I do?

Don’t panic! The turkey will stay warm for a few hours if it’s wrapped well (a layer of tea towels or a bath towel over the top will help insulate it further). Keep the roasties warm in a very low oven, and drain any boiled veg a few minutes before it’s finished cooking so you can reheat just before serving. Make sure the gravy is piping hot, and keep the plates warm, too. Stir an extra splash of milk through the bread sauce to loosen it, then just pop it in the microwave to reheat.

I forgot to defrost the turkey – is there a way to do this quickly?

The short answer is no. You can leave the turkey out of the fridge for a few hours to start the defrosting process, but it should really be out of the freezer for at least two days before cooking to allow it to totally defrost. If all else fails, serve ham on Christmas Day and save the turkey for a Boxing Day feast. We love this cola ham with maple & mustard glaze. It’s just as special and will keep the whole family happy.

What should I do if I don’t have enough space for all the dishes in the oven?

Cook the turkey first – once it’s out, well-wrapped and resting, stick everything else in. Cook as many of the side dishes on the hob as you can. Vegetables can be boiled and potatoes can be pan-fried – we love these baby potato fondants. You can even use your slow cooker to reheat the Christmas pudding.

The turkey is too big to fit in the oven! How can I cook it?

Break it down. Cut off the legs and braise them or make a confit, then reheat on Christmas Day. If the crown still doesn’t fit, take the breasts off the carcass and roast with the wings.

What can I do if I spill the gravy and don’t have any instant powder?

Make a roux, then add yeast extract, a chicken stock cube and soy sauce.

Jug of gravy, pot of bread sauce and jug of cranberry sauce

What if I’ve made gravy, but it has no flavour?

Add a stock cube, some soy sauce or a few teaspoons of yeast extract for a salty-savoury kick. Or for sweetness, try adding some redcurrant jelly or onion marmalade.

What can I do if my roast potatoes are soggy?

There’s probably too much steam in the oven. Try to cook them without too many other dishes in at the same time, and make sure they’re well spaced out on a baking tray or across two trays. Roasties need space for the hot, dry air to circulate. Also, make sure you’re using the correct oil – goose fat will add a lovely flavour, but you should combine it with an oil with a high burning temperature, such as vegetable or rapeseed. Try our really good roast potatoes to ensure you have perfectly crisp, fluffy spuds.

How can I move the turkey from roasting tin to carving board without dropping it?

Don’t wreck all your hard work by letting lunch slip through your fingers! We find the easiest way to transfer the turkey is by using a pair of thick rubber gloves. Make sure your bird is rested and has cooled a little before trying to move it, and pour any juices from the cavity into the gravy pan before lifting.

Bay & bacon roast turkey with make-ahead gravy

Christmas turkey in the middle of a table with all festive trimmings

I left the giblets in the turkey when I cooked it! Can I still serve it?

So long as the giblets weren’t in plastic packaging and there’s no melted plastic on the meat, it’ll be fine.

My turkey is too small to feed the number of guests coming. How can I make it stretch to more servings?

You don’t need masses of meat to keep everyone satisfied. Make sure you serve lots of extra pigs in blankets, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings – these are most people’s favourite bits anyway. To liven up veggie sides, we’ve got delicious recipes for red cabbage, roasted carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Finish your feast with some cranberry sauce and creamy bread sauce and no one will have room for more turkey.

I’ve overcooked the sprouts and they’re mushy. How can I serve them?

Don’t worry – with just a few everyday ingredients, you can turn them into creamed sprouts. Drain well, then return to the pan with a knob of butter and mash, then add a generous splash of cream and plenty of seasoning and nutmeg. These smashed sprouts with chestnuts will be just as delicious, but make sure you’ve made enough – even sprout haters will want seconds!

My beef wellington has a soggy bottom! How can I fix it?

We’d recommend removing the pastry completely. Serve the beef in generous slices with a shard of pastry (cut from the crisp top of the wellington) on top. Tell everyone it’s deconstructed beef wellington.

My Christmas cake is dry, what should I do?

If you still have a week or two to go before Christmas, you can feed the cake with booze every other day for a week to make the cake moist and the fruit juicy. If you’d like to start again, our suits-all Christmas cake tastes delicious just a day or two after baking. If you’ve cut into the cake to find it dry, crumble and use it to make Christmas cake soufflés, then serve with a thick caramel & whisky sauce.

I’ve bought a Christmas pudding but left it for too long, and the plastic bowl melted. What last-minute alternative can I serve?

Buy a spare one just in case! If it’s too late, change strategy. Crumble Christmas cake into ice cream and serve with a sauce made of coffee liqueur and double cream. A lighter dessert of Christmas pud ice cream might even be a welcome relief after such a filling feast.

My oven has broken – how else can I cook my meal?

If you’ve got a gas kettle barbecue, you can cook your turkey on it. It takes roughly the same amount of time, but make sure your barbecue circulates the air properly. Cook all your vegetables on the hob or in the microwave, and try these stoved potatoes.

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Have you had any festive fiascos, or do you have some tips to avoid added stress? Leave a comment below…