In Watch This, Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff tells you what she’s watching on TV — and why you should watch it too. Read the archives here. This week: the Bon Appétit YouTube channel’s new miniseries plotting out how to cook the perfect Thanksgiving.
There is no time of year quite like early November for a cooking obsessive like myself. The Thanksgiving issues of the two cooking magazines I subscribe to came in the mail a few days ago, my menu is already in the preliminary stages of completion, and my wife is already rolling her eyes when I talk about the minor tweaks I might make to the mashed potatoes. For me, “pre-Thanksgiving” is a truly magical season.
And an important part of my pre-Thanksgiving ritual is to scour YouTube for new ideas on how to prepare a meal that will make everyone happy and provide leftovers for days. (There’s nothing more satisfying than Thanksgiving leftovers!)
In recent years, my favorites have included this Tasty series that breaks down each component of the traditional Thanksgiving meal to its bare essentials; this series from the New York Times’ Melissa Clark that also features her family lovingly dunking on her, no matter her status as a respected food writer; and this time-honored classic British TV special where Gordon Ramsay prepares Christmas dinner (which is basically just a traditional Thanksgiving dinner), cooking for his family with the wild-eyed zeal of the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge.
But in 2019, I’ve already found my top pick, because what might be the best food channel on YouTube has stepped into the ring with perhaps its best production yet, its Avengers, its Best Picture contender. That’s right: Bon Appétit’s channel (an extension of the beloved magazine) has launched a YouTube TV show about Thanksgiving. And it rules.
Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel is essential food television
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the return of Good Eats, Alton Brown’s hugely influential food TV show, and opined about how online cooking videos have popularized the overhead shot, in which we see someone’s hands preparing food as they’re filmed from above. The person attached to those hands isn’t always as important as the food itself.
Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel typically takes the opposite approach. It’s very old school in its commitment to videos that spend as much time as possible on the various chefs who are doing the cooking, turning them into onscreen personalities in the process. It’s not uncommon to see incredibly earnest arguments break out on social media about which Bon Appétit personality is best, with dedicated partisans on almost all sides. But the correct answer is that they are all great and choosing is impossible. (It’s Claire.)
The primary appeal of Bon Appetit’s “Making Perfect” series (whose second season covers Thanksgiving) is that it’s the only one in the channel’s lineup completely devoted to bringing together the entirety of Bon Appetit’s YouTube talent roster, mixing and matching various personalities in different combinations to tackle certain foods. The first season — a real achievement — saw the team assembling the perfect pizza. But it’s this second season, about Thanksgiving, that has taken off into the stratosphere for me.
The big difference between Bon Appétit’s Thanksgiving YouTube series and Tasty’s very similar “how to make the best Thanksgiving” YouTube series from 2018 is that Bon Appétit methodically shows the work. Most episodes are at least half an hour, with some that are significantly longer. And in each one, the chefs go step by step to determine, say, which potatoes will mash up best and which liquids should be added and then which spice mixture should be added and so on. You see both their successes and their failures, as well as intriguing alternate paths you might want to further experiment with, even if Bon Appétit’s chef’s abandoned them.
It’s not just informing you what Bon Appétit believes is the best recipe for your Thanksgiving dinner table, though it is doing that. It’s also teaching you to assemble your own recipes through trial and error and lots and lots of light bulbs popping up over your head. I love how this Thanksgiving season depicts the act of creating a great recipe as a flowchart of possible options, with this option being crossed out here and that option being selected over there.
It’s arduous and difficult work, but it’s also fun because the Bon Appétit gang is so enjoyable to hang out with. The miniseries has all the appeal of your favorite Food Network show but also those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons where characters from all of the studio’s different cartoons entered a road race against each other or something. It’s not quite the most ambitious crossover event in history (despite what my headline may say), but it’s close, and it’s the ideal way to prepare for any glutton’s favorite holiday.
Bon Appétit’s channel is available on YouTube.