For some of us, planning Thanksgiving dinner is an exciting “Iron Chef”-like challenge; for others, it’s more of an exercise in masochism. Whether you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving or your 50th, this is one meal that can be successfully tackled with a little planning and some tips.
First, figure out a head count. Then try to delegate as many dishes as you can.
Come up with a schedule for how you’ll tackle the recipes you’ll be using. Familiarize yourself with the recipes. Keep in mind things such as oven space and refrigerator room. Budget some wiggle room and allow time for errors, because something will always come up or go differently from what you planned (this happens even to the pros).
And try to do as much in advance as possible.
Here’s a sample Thanksgiving meal schedule, covering a few traditional dishes. Use this guide as you plan your own meal. Finally, remember to have fun.
• Thaw turkey if frozen, and start the dry-brine; save the neck and gizzards for gravy.
• Make the cranberry sauce.
• Do as much prep work as possible: candy nuts for salads, toast nuts and other ingredients for stuffing and sides.
• Make the pie dough (it can be formed and refrigerated or frozen at this point).
• Start setting the table. Get this over with now so you can focus on the recipes later.
• Buy any snacks – cheese, olives, sliced meats – that don’t need preparation. Stock the drinks.
• Start gathering and prepping whatever ingredients will keep: Prepare vegetables and aromatics for the gravy, measure out flour and cream, roast vegetables for salad, chop vegetables and toast bread for stuffing, measure out ingredients for pie fillings.
• Do last-minute shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. You don’t want to be out at the store on Wednesday, since it will be crazed.
• Remove turkey from the bag in the evening to chill uncovered overnight.
• Assemble the stuffing until it needs only to finish baking, then cover and refrigerate it. Do not stuff it into the turkey until just before roasting.
• Prepare and cook any vegetables that can be made ahead (such as steaming potatoes for mashed potatoes; they can easily be reheated and mashed later).
• Assemble pie fillings and bake the pies.
Morning: Assemble appetizers and stock up on ice. Chill the beverages.
Midmorning: Stuff and roast the turkey.
Early afternoon: When the turkey is done, finish the gravy. Rest the turkey at least 45 minutes after it comes out, tented with foil, before carving. Finish the vegetables and the stuffing.
During dinner: Get a pot of coffee going; chill the beater and bowl so heavy cream is ready to whip for dessert.