The Ultimate Guide to Planning Thanksgiving Dinner
Starbucks red cups are out in full force. Offices are starting to get decked out in all their holiday lights and decorations. Halloween candy has been replaced with Christmas chocolate and candy canes. Yep, holiday season has officially begun!
If it's snuck up on you a little bit, don't worry. In preparation for Thanksgiving, I've created a handy hosting guide to help get you ready for the big day (and prevent you from running around like a turkey with its head cut off!).
Read on for great tips and resources for selecting the perfect bird, planning the most delicious of menus, and prepping in the days beforehand so you can blow your guests away with your culinary genius and epic party planning skills come Turkey Day.
Step 1: Pick Your Turkey
Order your turkey now (or at least a week in advance), by hopping online or calling your local store. You don’t want to be driving from grocery store to grocery store on Thanksgiving eve looking for a turkey when you realize you forgot to order one!
Not sure what type of turkey to order? Real Simple has a great guide that walks you through all the different options.
Step 2: Plan Your Menu
Now, for the fun part! Whether you have holiday favorites your clan eats every year or you want to experiment with new recipes, start to brainstorm what you'll make. For most groups, I would serve 2-3 appetizers, 3-4 sides, 1-2 mains (including the turkey), and 2-3 desserts, so that there’s definitely something for everyone.
As you're planning, be conscious of your kitchen space. If your oven is small, for example, then it's going to be taken up by the turkey, so choose sides you can make on your stove, in your microwave, or ahead of time to be left out at room temperature.
To get you thinking, here are some menu suggestions.
The Main Event
Step 3: Do the Prep Work
I know I’m always rattling on about how you should do as much of the prep work as possible ahead of time, but it’s true. You’ll be so much calmer on the big day if you know you only have to wrestle with your turkey and maybe a side or two.
Here's my list of pre-T-Day prep.
Step 4: Rock the Big Day
First things first, get that turkey prepped. It is the star of the show, after all! Preheat your oven, grab your recipe, and triple check the cooking time, and remove the turkey from your fridge at least an hour before roasting so it can come to room temperature.
Once your turkey is done cooking, let it rest while you get the rest of your sides ready to go. One thing I don’t worry about is the turkey being piping hot—I think it’s much better to have hot side dishes and gravy. I promise, your turkey will taste divine served at room temperature.
Once the turkey has come out of the oven, pop in your side dishes and get them nice and hot. Your microwave can become the hero of the hour if you run out of oven space—dishes like mashed potatoes or carrot mash can always be reheated for a couple of minutes in the microwave. And don’t forget your stove—I’ve been known to reheat mashed potatoes sitting in a large bowl over simmering water. Use all the space you have if possible!
If you need an hour-by-hour breakdown for Thanksgiving Day, Serious Eats has an awesome guide.
Once everything is ready, nominate a friend to rally the troops and get everyone seated. If you need to heat up any desserts, now is your time, as the oven is free as a bird (I know, I know). And be sure to pour yourself a big glass of bubbly—you’ve earned it!
Remember to put your turkey back in the fridge after about two hours go by—sometimes the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers!
Tell us! What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes and tips?
Photos courtesy of Niki Lowry, How Sweet It Is, and Jessica Gurskis.
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