Thanksgiving taste test: Putting store-bought mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pie to the test

TULSA - For some people, Thanksgiving means hours in the kitchen preparing that perfect family dinner. But before you make a shopping list, hear what our taste testers have to say about some popular store-bought Thanksgiving foods.   

Betty Crocker, Bob Evans and Sara Lee are household names this time of year.  From stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and of course pumpkin pie, it can be overwhelming, even for the most experienced cooks.  So rather than making everything from scratch, 2NEWS is saving you time in the kitchen.

ON THE MENU:  Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

We purchased several different brands of each food.  

Mashed Potatoes
Idahoan
Betty Crocker
Hormel Country Crock
Bob Evans

Gravy
Campbells
Heinz
McCormick
Pioneer Brand Brown Gravy

Stuffing
Betty Crocker
Stove Top
Pepperidge Farms

Pumpkin pie
The Bakery (Walmart bakery section)
Marie Callender's
Sara Lee
Mrs. Smiths

We cooked everything according to the directions on the packages, then called in our expert taste testers -- five successful local chefs.  

Shari Beguin - Co owner, Pink House in Claremore
Molly Martin - Co owner, Antoinette Baking Co . in Tulsa
Lou Pugliese - Food services director, Reasor's in Tulsa
Ken Schaeffer - Boston Deli Grill & Market in Tulsa
Bobby Singleton - The Fish Shack in Coweta

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Mashed Potatoes

With each product and plate numbered, we served up the first course -- mashed potatoes -- and let our chefs sample each brand and pick their favorite.

Chef Lou Pugliese said he could immediately tell the difference between the microwave potatoes and the whipped potatoes and Ken said the Hormel Country Crock potatoes looked like piped butter.

"There's actually lumps of potato so gives it the homemade taste," said Shari when describing the Hormel Country Crock potatoes.

Each chef picked their favorite and the Hormel Country Crock and Bob Evans were voted the best.  Both of the brands were the microwave heat-and-serve potatoes.

Our chefs had a few suggestions to make them even better.

Bobby: Add more butter, milk and salt and pepper
Ken: Add butter, heavy cream, garlic powder
Lou: Add whipping cream, garlic salt and pepper
Molly: Add cream cheese, heavy cream and parmesan
Shari: Add cream cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper

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Gravy

Next, we had our chefs sample the four different brands of gravy.  All of our chefs agreed -- McCormicks was the best.

"It has a very unique flavor," said Ken.

None of our chefs liked the Pioneer Brand brown gravy; in fact, one chef said it was "flat out gross."

Suggestions from our chefs to make the gravy even better:

Shari: Add a little fresh meat stalk to bring out the meat flavor
Lou: Add some giblets from the turkey and some drippings from the pan
Ken: Add some giblets, a little more cream and some fresh pepper
Bobby: Add black pepper

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Stuffing is the next course.

Bobby quickly noticed that the Pepperidge Farm had the best base.  Lou liked the taste of sage in the Stove Top.

Once again our chefs all agreed that Stove Top stuffing was the best.

Suggestions to make the stuffing even better:

Bobby: Add some turkey to it, that's about it I liked it
Ken: Add some sauteed celery and onion, turkey base or stock to give it a richer flavor
Lou: Add celery and onions and some rich stock
Molly: Add some celery and onion and a little apple
Shari: Add some dried cranberries, stock and one of my grandma's secrets was she would add water chestnuts with her dressing for a little crunch

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Dessert was last and our chefs had four pumpkin pies to try.

Ken said the Sara Lee pie had a nice silky flavor.  Lou liked the Sara Lee pie as well because of the crust.

Overall, in our taste test, it was a tie between Marie Callender's and Sara Lee.

Suggestions from our chefs:

Bobby: Top it with a pumpkin whipped cream
Ken: Top it with a bourbon whipped cream of some sort
Lou: Fresh whipped topping is the key
Molly: Add some sort of spiked whipped cream with a side of chocolate ganache
Shari: Top with a gingerbread whipped cream and some candied pecans on the side

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Overall, our chefs were impressed with the quality of food that can be purchased at a grocery store.

"I use a lot of these products and I add to it and just wing it," said Chef Lou.  "If you're going to bang out a dinner quick, some of these products are good. You just have to add to it."

Shariadded, "There's no need to be intimidated. You can easily make a whole delicious dinner and not tell anyone it's Stove Top."

If you would rather not do the cooking, our chefs are more than happy to help you out.  Check out their websites to see Thanksgiving meal options.

The Pink House
Antoinette Baking Co .
Reasor's
Boston Deli Grill & Market
The Fish Shack

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