Learn how to make your Thanksgiving easier with these helpful tips for Thanksgiving. We’ve pulled together an epic collection of tips and tricks for hosting your holiday dinner. Discover our top recommendations for preparing, cooking, and carving your Thanksgiving Day turkey! And don’t forget to download and print our free Thanksgiving shopping list.
Hosting Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner
Preparation is the key to being a wonderful host. With advanced planning, you’re able to avoid mishaps and undue stress. So rather than feeling frazzled, you’re sure to be this year’s hostess with the mostess.
Put together a game plan.
Start with a game plan. If you’re hosting dinner, then menu preparation is a must. Create a tentative menu of what you’d like to serve. If your guests will also be bringing a dish, you can then make suggestions as to what to bring and mark off any excess from your own menu.
Prepare a guest list.
Write out your guest list and get a headcount early. This will help you to prepare your shopping list, so you know how much food to buy. While leftovers are common, you don’t want to buy more food than you and your guests can handle leftover in the fridge.
Double check for dietary restrictions.
When planning Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to check with guests to see if they have any food allergies or dietary restrictions. This way, you can ensure there’s something that everyone can enjoy.
Make two shopping trips.
Make two shopping lists for the holiday to make sure you don’t forget anything or have to make unnecessary trips. We advise making two trips to the grocery store when stocking up on staples and recipe ingredients.
Buy your non-perishables early to avoid running around to multiple stores to find that sold out cranberry sauce. You’ll also want to pick up your frozen turkey at this time. (Not only do you want to make sure you get it while it’s available, but it will also take several days to thaw.) Then buy the remaining perishable items a few days before the holiday.
We created a handy, printable Thanksgiving shopping list to assist you. You can print and download two copies, one of each shopping trip.
Set the table ahead of time.
Not only should you set your table for Thanksgiving a day ahead, but you also need to double check to make sure you have enough platters, serving bowls and utensils for everyone who will be in attendance.
If you aren’t sure whether or not you have enough serving ware, inventory what you have at least a week ahead of time. This allows you ample time to purchase any pieces you are missing.
You’ll also want to make sure you have ample seating and table space for everyone that is attending. If not, see if you can borrow additional table and chairs from a friend, family member or neighbor who is attending.
Keep notes on recipes.
Take notes when cooking and preparing. This is especially important for those fall recipes that need to be tweaked and can save you time when baking next holiday season.
Plan for leftovers.
There are always leftovers. And you certainly don’t want to send you cousin, Martha, home with your favorite $10 glass storage container that you take to work every day. Therefore, invest in a set of disposable containers to make sure everyone gets to take their favorite dish home without having to worry about bringing it back.
Cook ahead where you can.
Make things easier and less stressful on Thanksgiving Day by cooking ahead. Sides dishes and desserts and easy to prepare a day or two before to free up time for guests on the big day. We recommend that you make these dishes in advance:
Things you should wait to prepare the day of include:
Provide appetizers for grazing.
Set out snacks and appetizers for guests that arrive early. This gives them something to nibble on while waiting on dinner. It also keeps people out of the kitchen while you finish up cooking tasks and make final preparations. A holiday charcuterie board is perfect if you don't want to cook any additional dishes.
Create a separate drink station.
Refrigerator space is precious. For this reason, you don’t want to tie up needed room with things like drinks. Instead, drag out your summer cooler and fill it with ice for storing cold beverages. This also gives guests room to add their own libations as they arrive. And it’s a handy way for them to grab ice without interrupting you in the kitchen.
Thanksgiving Tips for Preparing and Cooking the Turkey
For many of us, eating turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is a huge tradition. However, there’s a lot that goes into roasting a giant bird versus cooking an everyday family meal. Following are some tips for preparing, cooking and carving your Thanksgiving turkey to guarantee the best results.
Tackle Prep Ahead of Time
In addition, you can also save time by planning ahead. You need to prep your Thanksgiving turkey for roasting ahead of the holiday. This includes thawing and brining the turkey so it’s ready to go on Thanksgiving Day. Or you can make the compound butter for your poultry and store it for up to one week in the refrigerator.
If you plan to brine your turkey, you need to allow time to completely thaw it beforehand. Combine the thawed turkey and brine in a clean brining bag or large stock pan. Brine for 8 to 18 hours before roasting. Take care, however, not to exceed this timeframe as over-brining can lead to overly salty meat and a spongy texture.
In addition to the prepping the turkey to be cooked, you can also prepare the gravy ahead of the big day using low-sodium turkey, chicken, or vegetable broth. We like to add sweet onions, butter, flour, soy sauce and fresh herbs for flavor. Once made, you can freeze the gravy for up to three months. Simply thaw it overnight the day before your dinner. Then reheat over low heat, whisking occasionally to counteract any separation that may occur.
Allow Ample Time to Thaw Your Turkey
Allow plenty of time to thaw out your turkey prior to cooking. Otherwise, dinnertime will roll around and your main entrée will still be in the oven! The safest way to thaw your turkey is in your refrigerator. Just keep in mind that it takes a minimum of 24 hours for a 5 lb. turkey to thaw. Therefore, a large bird weighing 20 lbs. will need 4-5 days to completely defrost.
We advise against thawing a turkey at room temperature or in hot water as this can lead to bacterial growth and the potential for food borne illness.
Tips for Roasting Your Thanksgiving Turkey
The second most important part of Thanksgiving dinner (other than the quality time with loved ones!) is the main course. If you’re serving turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, then here are some tips for roasting the best Thanksgiving bird:
How to Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey
Before Thanksgiving Day, it’s a good idea to decide on who will carve the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll also want to be sure you have the right tools to get the job done. If you’re new to carving cooked birds, we have a great video (below) on how to carve your turkey for the holiday to avoid any mishaps.
Before you carve your turkey, tent the foil, and allow the bird to rest for at least 25 minutes before carving.
Once you’re ready to get started, use a very sharp knife or a carving set designed to handle the task. You want to remove the drumsticks first, followed by the thighs and then the wings. Finally, carve the breast into half-inch slices for serving.
Thanksgiving Safety Tips
Safety is another important consideration this time of year. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is the top day for cooking fires in the US. Therefore, we rounded up precautions to take when cooking, traveling, and preparing food for your guests. You can avoid the most common mishaps that occur on this holiday by checking out our post filled with Thanksgiving Safety tips here.
We hope you find these tips for Thanksgiving useful! If there’s someone you know who loves to cook, then also be sure to check out LifeLong Gifts™ for a wonderful selection of personalized kitchen gifts you can give for the holidays.