Countdown to Thanksgiving: A checklist to help you host a stress-free holiday
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. I suspend all travel and work events just so I can be home for the holiday.
That being said, Thanksgiving is not without its own stresses, especially if you are hosting the big meal. Since it only comes once a year, a lot rides on this gathering. Fortunately for you, I’ve hosted countless Thanksgiving lunches, dinners, potlucks, and parties. I’ve posted some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, from Creole corn to this easy broccoli rice casserole. This year, I’m going to help you pull it all together into one seamless event. How? By arming you with the invaluable Thanksgiving checklist.
I use one every year to help me prepare and cook for the big day. My personal prep schedule may change from year to year, depending on what’s on the menu, what time the meal commences, and how many guests are coming. For the most part, though, I follow a basic menu, schedule, and checklist. And today, I’m sharing it with you in hopes that you can host and still enjoy this awesome holiday.
Any questions or tips? Please leave a comment.
I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!
A Thanksgiving Checklist
More than 1 week before
- Invite your guests. You’ll need a head count in order to scale your recipes.
- Plan your menu. My staples are turkey, gravy, stuffing/dressing, mashed or whipped potatoes, some sort of corn dish, and a casserole. Sometimes we’ll have cranberry sauce or compote, sometimes a pumpkin cheesecake or ice cream for dessert. Occasionally, I’ll put cornbread or biscuits on the menu. Obviously before you start prepping, you need to have a plan.
- Buy any necessary supplies. This includes tools and equipment for executing your menu, plus linens and settings for your table. Plan to fry your turkey? You’ll need a large turkey pot and an outdoor propane burner. Cooking your turkey using the sous vide technique? You’ll need a immersion circulator. Serving wine at your dinner for 12? You’ll need three sets of these wine glasses.
1 week before
- Buy your groceries. Make your list, check it twice, then head to the store or, better yet, order your groceries online.
- Prep your casserole(s). I’ll usually have a broccoli rice casserole or green bean casserole on the menu, and I’ll go through all the recipe steps just shy of baking. Once the casserole is in the baking dish, cover it with plastic wrap and foil, then pop it in the freezer.
- Cook your gravy. Since the hubs and I never roast a traditional turkey (we opt for fried turkey or sous vide turkey instead), I can’t really make a proper gravy from a roasted bird. Who wants to be fussing over gravy on the day anyway? Here’s a recipe for make-ahead gravy from The Kitchn which has you cooking and freezing the gravy well in advance.
- Make the cranberry sauce. With its high sugar content, this will chill just fine in your fridge until the day.
2+ days before
- Prep your pie. Similar to the casserole concept, you can prep your pie, freeze, and thaw and bake come closer to Thanksgiving. For a chilled pie, like my pumpkin cheesecake, you can take it all the way through the cook process, cover it tightly, and let it sit in the back of your fridge until dessert time on Thanksgiving.
The day before
- Make your whipped or mashed potatoes. Cook the potatoes, beat ‘em up with a mixer or hand masher, then spread in a casserole dish to chill. You’ll heat these up in the oven on the day.
- Prep ingredients for remaining dishes. Like your corn, green beans with ham or bacon, Brussels sprouts, and/or stuffing. Primarily, this means wash and chop all the necessary veg so that on the day, all you have to do is throw together and cook.
- Prep the turkey. If you’re frying, that means injecting marinade into and rubbing seasoning on the turkey. If you’re sous vide-ing, chop up your turkey, season it, and vacuum seal the parts. If you’re roasting and need to brine it, oops—you probably should’ve done this yesterday.
- Thaw your frozen foods. Move your gravy, casseroles, pies from your freezer to your fridge overnight.
- Set the table. Since prettily folded napkins don’t run the risk of spoilage (and, thus, food poisoning), you can safely do this the day before. That way, minutes before your guests arrive, when you’ll inevitably be scrambling around like a turkey with its head cut off, you’ll have one less thing to worry about. The only thing I’d say to leave off the table until the day are the fresh-cut flowers. But if you’re the type who has the skills to arrange a beautiful floral centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table, then you’re also likely the person who scoffs at my checklist, because you already have a superior list neatly tucked away in your Martha Stewart brain.
The day of!
- 4+ hours before: Make sure all your previously frozen foods are thawed, and let your turkey warm up to room temp. Check on the casseroles/gravy/pie in the fridge. Are they nearly thawed? If not, let them sit on the counter. The turkey should also warm up to room temp for optimum cooking results. And don’t forget to unchill the cranberry sauce, too.
- 2 to 4 hours before: Cook turkey. Keep in mind this mainly pertains if if you’re frying or sous vide-ing your turkey. If you’re roasting it, you should calculate the cook time by estimating about 12 minutes per pound, e.g. if your turkey weighs 12 lbs, it’ll take roughly 2.5 hours of oven time. Of course, this depends on several variables, like the temperature at which you roast and how your oven heats, etc. But if you’re cooking the turkey via a fryer or immersion circulator, you can start heating the oil or water bath about two or three hours before it’s time to eat.
- 2 hours before: Bake casseroles and stuffing. You might need to do a little strategic juggling with the oven, depending on how long and how hot you need to cook each dish. If they finish early, you can keep them covered in the oven, either on warm or off mode, until game time.
- 1 hour before: Heat pre-cooked dishes and cook stovetop dishes. Dollop some butter atop the cold whipped potatoes and pop them in the oven at 300 or 350°F until they’re heated through. Remember to stir occasionally so it cooks evenly. For dishes that can be cooked on the stove in a fairly short amount of time (I.e. the green beans with bacon or corn from above), you’ll want to start them now.
- 30 minutes before: Reheat gravy. Pour the gravy into a saucepan, and heat over medium heat, whisking occasionally to incorporate anything that’s been separated.
- When guests arrive. You can start moving the food to the table. If you’re behind schedule, don’t worry—open a bottle of wine, park your guests in front of a football game on TV, and put out some snacks. (This is why I usually have chips, fruit, cheese, or cured meats hanging around the kitchen.) You want to ease your guests into your amazing meal anyway. Build up to that climax! And don’t forget to pour yourself a glass of wine, too—you deserve it.