If you can learn how to manage Thanksgiving dinner, then suddenly your turkey day feast will become a lot less stressful and a lot more fun! A little extra planning goes a long way when it comes to a complicated meal. While you can make life a little easier with handy Thanksgiving gadgets, like a turkey fryer that keeps the oven free for all the other Thanksgiving dishes, it can still be hard to coordinate that much food! We gathered our best tips on how to manage Thanksgiving dinner and an example schedule you can adapt to your own Turkey Day feast.
Thanksgiving Planning Tips
Freeze what you can. When you’ve got a lot going on the kitchen, it can be helpful to figure out what foods you can freeze and make those dishes ahead of time. One less dish to make on Thanksgiving Day!
Give the turkey lots of time to thaw. As in, an entire extra day. Remember, it takes about 24 hours to thaw every 4 pounds of turkey. That’s a lot of time when you have a lot of turkey! A 12 pound turkey will take 3 days to thaw, but we like to give it a full 4 days; no one’s ever complained that their turkey thawed too quickly, after all!
Don’t wait to stock up. If you wait to shop for canned pumpkin and stuffing ingredients on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you may find that the store has ran out of these Thanksgiving must-have items. Try to get the essentials more than week in advance, especially when it comes to canned foods.
Set the table the night before. Now your Thanksgiving Day can be free of last-minute hunting for the last set of nice china. The general rule of thumb? Anything that you can do ahead of time should be done ahead of time.
Make as much food as you can beforehand. Learning how to manage Thanksgiving dinner is a marathon, not a sprint; plan accordingly! Like we mentioned before, try to make food that can be frozen early in the week. Other dishes should be made a day ahead, like stuffing and pie. The goal? On Thanksgiving Day itself, the only things you should be worrying about are mashed potatoes, turkey, and the Thanksgiving Day parade!
A schedule is your new best friend. When dishes are flying in and out of the oven, it’s important to have an idea of when food needs to be cooked, baked, or just warmed up. Start with the time you want to eat dinner, and work backwards. For example: the turkey should come out of the oven about an hour before dinner. This gives you an hour to warm rolls, bake stuffing, and do any last minute kitchen adjustments. We made an example schedule below for you to base your own off of.
Example Thanksgiving Schedule
Use this schedule as a template for how to manage Thanksgiving dinner. After you make your shopping list, sit down and figure out where all your dishes fit in!
Up to three weeks ahead: Make and freeze cranberry sauce, rolls, turkey stock, and gravy
One week ahead: Make the shopping list; make sure you have the necessary linens, table settings, and equipment; buy wine and other beverages; buy heavy cream and canned vegetables
Four to five days ahead: Start thawing the turkey
Two days ahead: Make pumpkin pie and cornbread for stuffing, if that’s in your menu (pies like apple or pecan should be made day-of or the night before, as they don’t refrigerate as well); make any soups; assemble casseroles such as green bean and keep them uncooked in the fridge, with a plan to bake them on Thanksgiving Day
One day ahead: Set the table; buy salad greens and wash the lettuce; prepare vegetables for cooking and store in water in the refrigerator; peel potatoes, cover with water in a bowl, and store in the refrigerator. Soaking potatoes in water prior to boiling also helps extract starch, leaving you with fluffier mashed potatoes!
Morning – Prepare stuffing for turkey; cook vegetables; boil and mash your potatoes; stuff the turkey and put it in the oven
While turkey is cooking – Thaw your frozen foods, such as rolls and cranberry sauce; toss and prepare any salads; take a well-deserved break and put your feet up for a bit!
Once turkey is done (one hour before dinner) – Take turkey out of the oven and put a foil tent over it while it rests; bake stuffing/dressing; warm mashed potatoes, rolls, gravy, soups, and casseroles; carve the turkey; ask guests to help bring out food to the table; grab a plate and dig in!