So it’s your turn to host the big family Thanksgiving dinner this year. Be aware, without some pre-planning and special attention to preparation and menu planning, the dinner could turn into a dining disaster instead of a memorable culinary event to be cherished for years to come.
From selecting and cooking your turkey to the type of desserts and napkins you provide, making the right decisions and planning ahead will ensure the success of your holiday feast.
The first thing you’ll need to do is select your menu, which in most cases centers around one thing: turkey.
When purchasing a turkey, typically plan for 1½ pounds person, which will provide you with enough turkey for big eaters and those who want leftovers.
When thawing, plan on 24 hours of thaw time for every five pounds.
Decide how you want to prepare your turkey. While oven-roasted turkey is a traditional favorite, other options include smoking, deep-frying, and barbecuing.
If you don’t want people intruding in the kitchen while you’re preparing your meal, make sure you have a great selection of appetizers and wines (or non-alcoholic beverages) to occupy guests while the savory smell of your turkey wafts through the air. Make sure these items are super-easy to prepare, can be purchased from the prepared foods section of your local grocery, or can be made ahead. Some suggestions include cheese and crackers, pumpkin dip with ginger snaps, hot crab dip, roasted pumpkin seeds, and candied pecans.
While the turkey is the star of your culinary extravaganza, the side dishes play an important co-starring role. Though it’s not a written law, every delicious Thanksgiving feast needs a great casserole. Some popular selections include casseroles featuring green beans, sweet potatoes, broccoli and cheese, yellow squash, and corn. The great thing about casseroles is that they are typically very conducive to making in advance and freezing. Other great side dishes include mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, spinach gratin, candied yams, and roasted Brussels sprouts.
First and foremost, Thanksgiving Day desserts are all about the pies. You can choose from a long list, including pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, apple, and mincemeat. Suffice it to say, a Thanksgiving feast without at least one pie is like attending a baseball game without eating a hot dog—it can be done, but it just doesn’t seem right. Other dessert possibilities include gingerbread, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp, pecan bars, and pumpkin crème brulee.
Now that you’ve decided on a menu, it’s time to plan out a schedule for shopping, cooking, storing, and serving. One or two weeks before Thanksgiving, purchase your turkey (if buying frozen). Depending on where you live, you may need to reserve your turkey further in advance, so check with your preferred grocer about their time line for ordering.
A few days before the meal, start thawing the turkey in your refrigerator or in cold water.
Three days before Thanksgiving, make sure you have a sufficient amount of serving platters, glassware, table linens, and napkins.
The day before Thanksgiving, purchase all perishables, such as fresh bread, seafood, salad, and veggies to make sure they’re at their absolute freshest.
As much as possible, prepare dishes in advance and store them properly by freezing or refrigerating until Thanksgiving (just be sure to allow for plenty of thawing time if freezing). For example, cranberry sauce or relish can be made two or three days in advance if stored in the refrigerator, or up to 1-2 months in advance if properly frozen. Ideally, on the day of Thanksgiving you’ll only have to worry about roasting the turkey, making the gravy, preparing any highly perishable dishes such as salad or mashed potatoes, and reheating pre-made items.
Consider which items you’d like to make from scratch and which you’d rather purchase from the grocery store or local bakery. For example, you may opt to buy yeasted dinner rolls or even a pie or two to save yourself time. Be sure to schedule these purchases in advance and note, too, that many bakeries require you to reserve pie orders in the weeks leading up to the holiday.