Thanksgiving dinner is a dance. Stress comes from not planning. The key to nailing this particular dance is to have a written timeline. A plan gives you freedom, because even if you get side tracked, you can just look at the timeline to get back on schedule. I don’t have to remember anything, so I actually get to enjoy my company. Beyond having a written plan of attack, there are a few other strategies you should employ to make sure Turkey Day flies off without a hitch.
Downsize and Delegate
Before we dive headlong into actual prep, here are a few tips you’ll thank me for later:
- Make two smaller pans of sides instead of one big one. If you can fit the pans side by side, you get four sides in your oven at once, rather than two, and smaller pans take less time to heat through. Serve the first wave while a second wave is in the oven. Disposable half pans are perfect for this and, if you buy the covers, they stack in your fridge.
- Only outsource dishes to guests that won’t require your stovetop or oven, such as appetizers, dessert, or salad. Your plan will get crazy if someone shows up planning to prep in your kitchen or hands you a pan to reheat.
- Stuff your bird, because it is delicious and means the first wave of stuffing comes out when the bird does. You’ll have a backup pan of stuffing in that second wave of sides.
- Rather than buying a frozen bird, order a raw or defrosted one and pick it up as late as possible.
- Print out your recipes, old-school style. It’s easier to flip through multiple papers than it is to flip around online between recipes.
Divide to Conquer
Start by getting your menu together, and divide it into what has to be made Thanksgiving Day and what can be made ahead. Some things, like cranberry sauce and pie, are even better after having a day to chill out. Don’t be a hero, lean hard on Wednesday in your prep plan.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Broccoli Cranberry Salad
Pumpkin Bread (for breakfast)
Cranberry sauce (so easy and better than can)
Green bean casserole
Strawberry Jello Salad
Pies (Pecan, Pumpkin, Cranberry Custard)
I’m making some sweeping assumptions here, but you most likely have a job and a life and things going on, so you’d probably prefer to enjoy Thanksgiving with your loved ones. This day, however, is a whole production and you’re going to need to get some things done early, or your Turkey Day is going to devolve into that bad sitcom where everyone is hungry because the food is not ready, the lawn is on fire and you all end up eating pizza. No worries, I’ve broken it down for you.
The weekend before Thanksgiving
- Clean out your fridge. Rearrange shelves to accommodate as much as possible.
- Check staples—flour, sugar, spices, garlic, butter, oil.
- Make your shopping list. Add extra butter, because obviously.
- Wash dirty kitchen towels.
Monday before Thanksgiving
- Shop. Markets will be crazy after today.
- If you need to defrost your turkey, pick it up today.
- Wash and dry serving dishes. Use sticky notes to mark what they’ll be for. I always set mine out where I want them.
The Day Before Thanksgiving
Pick up the defrosted/raw turkey early in the day, if you haven’t already, and deal with it first to avoid cross contamination. Pull out the giblets and neck, and brine/salt/inject it before putting it in the fridge. Alternatively, you can store the bird in a cooler lined with an unscented garbage bag, as long as you can keep the temperature around 40 degrees. You can also put the turkey in a brining bag, and put the brining bag in a trash bag full of ice. Once that’s done, clean your counters and sink
Why not set your table the night before Thanksgiving Day? I can’t even imagine not doing this. I love waking up on Thanksgiving with a beautiful table all ready. Slips of paper are in bowls on table and counters where I want food placed.
Continued tomorrow…Part 2