For most cooks, Thanksgiving is the foodie Super Bowl. It's the moment of truth; expectations are high and the pressure is on - how will you handle cooking a multi-dish dinner for a group of friends and family?
Our editorial team is here to help, sharing expert recipes and advice for hosting and cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Whether you're a veteran host looking for a new challenge in the kitchen or a Thanksgiving novice making a turkey for the first time, here's the essential guide for all your Thanksgiving needs.
This Thanksgiving countdown planning guide takes you day by day leading up to the main event, outlining tasks that you may find beneficial in making your Thanksgiving stress-free and, of course, delicious.
Above all, the important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and think about the blessings in life - put eating a good meal at the top of that list. istockphoto.com
ASAP: Order the Bird
If you have your heart set on a heritage, farm-raised, organic turkey, you should get your order in as early as possible! istockphoto.com
14 Days Out: Confirm Guest List
Confirm who is attending. This is a necessary step for planning a menu and ensuring that your meal caters to those with allergies or food aversions.
If you are preparing dinner for a big group, you may need a little help from a rental company for a larger table or extra chairs or dinnerware. Put your call in to reserve the needed equipment.
13 Days Out: Research Recipes
Pore over favorite cookbooks, stained family recipe cards, websites (especially this one), and recipe blogs to find the best Thanksgiving recipes around. Read reviews and poll guests on their favorite dishes - Pinterest is great for inspiration as well. istockphoto.com
12 Days Out: Place Food Orders
First, decide how much of the dinner you would like to make yourself; a semi-homemade meal is totally acceptable and can make a world of difference if you're pressed for time. (Don't be afraid to delegate certain dishes to your guests!) Bread and desserts specifically can be tricky and time-consuming, plus if you're banking on leftovers for the ultimate Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, make sure you have copious amounts of good bread.
Place orders for pre-made dishes or and specialty ingredients (like pie) from bakeries or purveyors before they sell out. istockphoto.com
11 Days Out: Clean
Give your kitchen a good scrub. A clean and organized space will help you feel relaxed and make cooking much easier and more enjoyable. istockphoto.com
10 Days Out: Have a Test Kitchen Day
Try out that new roll recipe or practice your lattice crust technique - because one can never have too much pie, after all, and testing the recipes you'll be using throughout the holidays is never a bad idea. istockphoto.com
9 Days Out: Create a "Master Run of Show"
Plan your cooking schedule day by day, and then hour by hour, for Thanksgiving Day. Work backward from the time you wish to begin eating. For example, turkey generally needs to cook for 20 minutes per pound, so a 10-pound turkey needs three and a half hours of oven time plus a good 30-minute rest period. If dinner is at 5 p.m., your 10-pounder must be out of the oven by 4:30 p.m., meaning it must first go into the oven at 1 p.m. Repeat for each dish and delineate every action on a master list.
This practice will help you figure out which dishes can be made in advance and when; there simply isn't oven room and stovetop space - or time - to cook everything on the day of the event. istockphoto.com
8 Days Out: Make Your Shopping List
Make a list of every dish you plan on making followed by the ingredients and the amounts you need to purchase. Planning out what you are going to buy is just one of the ways you can easily save money at the supermarket. istockphoto.com
7 Days Out: Plan and Prep Non-Thanksgiving Day Meals
Since your fridge is bound to be full to the brim with ingredients and supplies, prep a few meals in advance. Make and freeze ready-to-eat dinners for the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Your fridge will be full of Thanksgiving foods off-limits to hungry family members, so it may be prudent to have alternatives readily available. Now's also the time to get any make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes made and stored to make the big day much easier to handle. Shutterstock
6 Days Out: Grocery Shop
Armed with your list, brave the crowds to gather your ingredients; make sure your refrigerator and cabinets are clean in order to facilitate organization and storage and ensure you know how to avoid the sneaky ways supermarkets trick you into spending more money than you want to. Shutterstock
5 Days Out: Food Prep Phase 1
Make your pie crust and freeze it to use in any of the delicious Thanksgiving pies you plan on making. istockphoto.com
4 Days Out: Food Prep Phase 2
Make your cranberry sauce - or perhaps a cranberry relish or cranberry fluff?
Also, if you plan on prepping your own bread for mind-blowing stuffing, take time now to cube the bread and lay out the pieces to dry on a sheet tray.
3 Days Out: Food Prep Phase 3
Pull out serving dishes and serving spoons; write out which foods are destined for which plates with sticky notes.
Also take this time to set the table and decorate; this is sure to set the festive tone for the holiday! Enlist little ones to make place cards or craft other awesome Pinterest crafts.
2 Days Out: Food Prep Phase 4
Defrost your pie crust in anticipation for pie making.
Begin to prepare simple casserole dishes. For instance, you can cook and assemble your sweet potato casserole base days in advance; simply cover it tightly with plastic and store it in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving Day when you can then re-heat it with the marshmallow topping. Make-ahead dishes can be a lifesaver and will let you enjoy the day more.
1 Day Out: Food Prep Phase 5
Double-check that you have all your ingredients necessary for the main day.
Wash, trim, clean, and process vegetables like Brussels sprouts or onions in preparation for their respective dishes. (Save chopping any herbs or potatoes for the day of to avoid oxidation, though.)
Prepare and brine your turkey (if applicable).
Make the pies; structurally, they will benefit from an overnight rest - plus you'll free up oven space for tomorrow.
You are ready. Reference your Master Run of Show (see 9 Days Out) and stick to it hour by hour. Put on some music, get pumped, and get cooking and don't forget to enjoy some delicious Turkey Day snacks to hold you over until Thanksgiving dinner!
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