Millions of Americans will be traveling home for the holidays next week — and if you’ve been asked to contribute a dish for Thanksgiving dinner, air travel can really complicate things. TSA’s many restrictions on what can be carried aboard an airplane could force you to forfeit a quart of painstakingly prepared gravy if you’re not careful.
But it’s actually possible to get most foodstuffs through the security line, provided you pay close attention to the rules. Here’s how to successfully bring the most common Thanksgiving foods through the airport, if you really must:
Frozen turkey: If you’re toting a pricey, frozen heritage bird all the way to Grandma’s house, it can go in either your checked or carry-on baggage. But keep in mind that due to the TSA’s restrictions on liquids, the ice or ice packs accompanying it have to be completely solid when going through security; if they’ve started to melt and water is pooling at the bottom of whatever container it’s in, it won’t be allowed. (Dry ice is an option, but travelers are limited to five pounds of the stuff, and it’s got to be in a properly vented container.)
Cooked turkey: You could technically shove this in either your checked suitcase or your carry-on, but that would be fraught with food safety issues (salmonella, anyone?). Just don’t.
Mashed potatoes: Unfortunately TSA considers mashed potatoes a liquid or gel, rather than a solid. That means as far as carry-ons go, you must adhere to the usual liquids rules: Containers must be 3.4 ounces or smaller, and they must fit in one quart-sized zip-top bag. That probably won’t be enough potatoes to feed Uncle Eddie and his nine kids, and you could pack a larger container in your checked bag — but that just sounds messy. Better to make the potatoes when you get to your destination.
Gravy: See mashed potatoes guidelines above.
Cranberry sauce: It’s definitely a gel, and is also therefore subject to the usual liquids rules. If for some weird reason you really need to take a can of commercial cranberry sauce on a flight, know that the cans are typically 14 ounces and will have to go in a checked bag.
Stuffing: Thankfully, TSA recognizes stuffing (err, dressing?) as a solid, so you’re free to cram as much as you’d like into your carry-on bag. It will probably smell up the entire business class section of the plane, however.
Pie: Good news: You can totally bring pie, cake, piecaken, and other baked goods on a flight. Stuffing them in a checked bag sounds like a guaranteed disaster, so definitely carry them on; be advised you’ll have to send them through the X-ray machine, and they may be subject to “additional screening.”
Got more Thanksgiving-related airport security questions? Hit up the TSA website’s handy “Can I Bring?” site.