The big feast is just around the corner! To help make your holiday fun and something you can be grateful and thankful for, too, here are my top 25 Thanksgiving tips:
- Whether you’re at a big celebration, or on your own, be thankful. Take time to pause and reflect on the big and small things in your life that you’re grateful for.
- A week beforehand, make a timeline so that you can schedule steps and oven usage throughout the days preceding and the big day itself.
- Read through all of your recipes to make sure you’re clear about the order of instructions, the ingredients you’ll need, and how long each recipe will take to prepare.
- Make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Look at it each day and add/delete as needed.
- Check to make sure you have all the pots and pans you’ll need.
- Check to make sure you have all the plates, flatware, napery, serving utensils, glassware, and chairs you’ll need. If you’re short, ask a guest to pitch in.
- Go easy on the table décor — avoid fancy, elaborate floral arrangements and knickknacks. You’ll have a lot of color with all the foods you’re serving, and with all those plates getting passed around and the serving utensils poking out here and there, you’ll need more space than usual on your table.
- Do as much as you can before Big Thursday. You can make most purées, soups, and marinades a week in advance and freeze them. Make the pies, stuffing, etc. the day before.
- Pick up a few extra bags of cranberries and pop them in the freezer—after the holidays, they’ll be scarce.
- Make use of extra hands in your house. The night before, rent a movie and put family members to work peeling butternut squash, green beans, or other time-consuming jobs that would slow you down the next day.
- If your turkey is frozen, start defrosting it on Monday. In your fridge, a 14-pound turkey, for example, will take two to three days. If you forget, fill a large, clean cooler with cold water and put your bird in there, changing the water every other hour. If you’re lucky (we told you to defrost your turkey earlier!), your bird will be ready to roast in eight hours.
- Invite guests to your home and don’t get hung up on the table’s being too crowded or things not being perfect … It’s better to have a neighbor, friend, or relative over who would otherwise have been alone than to fret that someone is sitting on a folding metal chair or eating from a plate that doesn’t match your pattern.
- If a guest brings a surprise dish that doesn’t go with your menu, serve it anyway. So much of Thanksgiving is about tradition and memories. If Aunt Sarah needs to make chocolate cranberry turnip salad as part of her tradition, let it slide.
- Thanksgiving is not the day to try out a new recipe. Stick with what you’re comfortable with and that you know will work.
- Instead of one giant turkey, consider two or three smaller ones. Everything will cook faster. (Consider cooking one the day before and one the day of, so that you can present one beautiful browned bird tableside.) Also, smaller birds will be juicier and more tender, and if you have a large crowd, you’ll have more drumsticks.
- Turkeys are notorious for being finicky to roast, because the white breast meat cooks faster than the drumsticks’ darker meat. There are several ways to even the playing field: Brine your turkey, butterfly it, remove the legs and cook them separately, and/or cover the breast with foil (remove it for the last 45 minutes to brown the skin).
- To stuff or not to stuff? Most food-safety experts will tell you not to (some of the raw turkey juices could soak into the dressing and not cook thoroughly), but I prefer a stuffed turkey. Note that stuffing does slow down the roasting time.
- To baste or not to baste? Basting does very little in terms of adding to your turkey’s flavor (not much of that flavor actually gets absorbed), but basting the breast does cool it down (by evaporation), slowing the breast meat’s cooking time and letting the legs catch up a little.
- At 325 degrees, most turkeys cook at about 15 minutes per pound (stuffed, about 20 minutes per pound). But keep your eye on things. According to food-safety experts, your turkey is done when a meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees in the thigh, 170 in the breast, and 165 in the stuffing. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I’d go 170 on the thigh and 160 on the breast.
- Remember who’s wagging this holiday’s tail: If your turkey is done at 2 o’clock, but you were planning on serving at 3, that’s fine. Remove the turkey to its carving place and “tent” it with foil (don’t wrap it in foil, or it’ll steam and the skin will lose its crispness). It will stay warm — I promise.
- Have a few simple jobs for guests to do (such as pouring drinks, setting out water glasses, minding the ice bucket, making placecards with the kids, sitting next to Grammie and making sure she has what she needs, and so on).
- If you’re a guest, be a good one. Don’t stand in the middle of the kitchen and ask, “What can I do?” If you bring children, watch them and keep them entertained. If you bring an appetizer, make sure it’s ready to go, not something that needs complicated assembly or oven cooking. Jump in and help with cleanup.
- Have extra ice on hand. For some reason, you always need more ice than you or your ice maker can produce.
- It’s the one day of the year to eat with no restraint. This is not the day for diets. It’s okay to be full … unbutton your pants if you have to.
- Buy disposable plastic food containers, so that you can send leftovers home with your guests. My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey sandwich the next day.
What Thanksgiving Day tips would you add to our list?
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This post was first published in 2009 and has been updated.
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