It’s Turkey day and you, my friend, are bound for duty. You have a responsibility, an honor to get this bird on a table. This is your time. Be bold, be brave, be swift. Its go time.
- X hour: Good morning, sunshine! Pull the turkey and stuffing out of the fridge/cooler and place on counter. Get another hour of sleep, shower or have your devotional. A prayer time for the day will certainly help!
- X-hour +1:Turn the oven on to turkey cooking temp. Get that turkey in the pan, stuff it, truss it and season it.
- X-hour+2: Put the turkey in the oven.
Peel the potatoes and get them boiling on burner #1. Prep the salad and the dressing and refrigerate them separately. Finish your appetizers if guests are not bringing them. If you’re going to make gravy from scratch now is a great time to make the roux and the stock (burners #2 and #3). Once they’re done,throw them into bowls or Tupperware and set aside until later. When the potatoes are done, whip and/or mash them, then cover the pan, but do not refrigerate.
Get on with the cleaning/getting ready part of your day because the only thing you need to remember is basting, and you can set your phone alarm for that. From here on out, we’ll be talking about time as it relates to dinner.
The Final Countdown
This final portion of the dance can be done without stress.
- Dinnertime -3 hours: Start checking your turkey; sometimes they get done early. Now is a good time to clear the kitchen and get your serving dishes, carving tools, trivets and oven mitts out. Remove any casseroles, sides and cranberry sauce from the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature.
- Dinnertime -1 hours: An hour before the meal (or when your turkey is done, which you can’t really control), take the turkey out, and immediately reshuffle the racks in the oven to the top and halfway. Turn oven to 350℉ if it’s not there already.
Move the turkey onto the carving board and cover it in foil. Pour all the turkey drippings into a fat separator and get it into the freezer. Put the casseroles and sides into the oven, with denser items like potatoes/sweet potatoes on top, and veggies on bottom.
Put the turkey pan on the stovetop over burners #1 and #2 and deglaze it. Add your roux and stock, grab the separator from the freezer and add the drippings from the pan. Pour it all into a saucepan, and place it back on burner #1 on low, with a lid.
Are you making vegetables that aren’t in a casserole? Now’s the time to steam them or saute them on the stovetop (since they’re already cut/prepped from yesterday) on burners #2-4.
Dress the salad. Have guests move completed dishes to table.
Move the stuffing from the bird to a serving dish. Carve half the turkey and cover the rest with foil. If heated through, send side dishes to the table on trivets or towels. Put the second wave of each dish into the oven, set timer for 30 minutes. Turn off the gravy burner, pour it into a gravy boat and send all the remaining dishes to the table.
You can now enjoy your dinner. When the timer goes off, there’s an additional wave of food. Your guests can help pull them out, and even carve more meat if needed. Once those dishes come out of the oven, your pies and any other desserts can go in. Ice cream can now come out of the freezer to soften on the counter.
Loadout and Clean Up
After dinner, a magical thing happens- everyone starts to pick up dishes and napkins in an attempt to help, and they deposit them in your kitchen in Dr. Seuss-like stacks that defy logic, gravity and utility, as if merely getting things to the kitchen is the heavy lifting. I’ve found that with a little direction, you can maximize the help guests are willing to give, doing as little work yourself as possible. Here’s how:
Have vacuum bags, cheap Tupperware, or large Ziploc bags ready. People will want to help, but they’ll look to you for instructions, so start by only bringing dishes of food to the kitchen. Meanwhile, ask one guest to collect plates, scraping all the scraps into compost or the trash, a second to collect silverware in a large pan, and a third collects linens that go right to the washing machine. Everyone keeps their glasses. Ask for 10 minutes to organize before clean up.
Use the 10 minutes to parse leftovers into bags for guests and for yourself so all the food is put away before dishes start. Throw any turkey carcass parts into a big pot of water on the stove for stock. At that point, let your guests take over. By then it should be straightforward; the food is gone. Anything they don’t know where to put back, they can stack on the now clean table for you to put away later. Playing a little music is a nice touch, and it’s helpful to have plenty of towels, sponges, and soap so no one has to look for supplies. Meanwhile, assume your throne on the couch to drink sweet tea and accept compliments.