So, are you getting ready for the big meal? For some of us, planning Thanksgiving dinner is an exciting “Iron Chef"-like challenge; for others, it’s perhaps more of an exercise in self-torture. Whether you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving or your 50th, this is one meal that can best be tackled successfully with a little planning and some tips.
For starters, figure out a head count. Then try to delegate as many dishes as you can. Having your guests bring some of the food gets them involved, allowing them to share in the meal. And it lessens the burden on you.
Decide if you’re going to be eating on fine china or are comfortable with disposable ware (this will save a lot of cleaning time later), so you can determine what may need to be washed, rented or bought. Start this as soon as possible so you can get a game plan going.
Finally, plan a schedule for how you’ll tackle the cooking itself. Familiarize yourself with your recipes. Keep in mind things like oven space and refrigerator room. Budget some wiggle room and allow time for errors, because something will always come up or go differently than planned (even for the pros).
And try to plan for as much advance preparation as possible so you can still find time to be with your guests.
Here’s a sample Thanksgiving meal schedule, covering a few of the ritual dishes. Use this guide as you plan your own meal. Finally, remember to have fun.
Sunday, Nov. 23
Buy the turkey. Thaw if frozen; save the neck and gizzards for gravy.
Monday, Nov. 24
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).
Tuesday, Nov. 25
Start setting the table. Get this over with now so you can focus on the recipes later.
Buy any snacks — cheeses, olives, sliced meats — that don’t need preparations. Stock the drinks.
Start gathering and prepping whatever ingredients will hold: Prepare vegetables and aromatics for the gravy, and 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.
Wednesday, Nov. 26
Remove thawed turkey from bag in the evening to chill uncovered in refrigerator 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.
Thursday, Nov. 27
Morning: Assemble appetizers and stock up on ice. Chill the beverages.
Mid-morning: 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.
Enjoy your dinner with your guests. You did it!
Craving more? Check out our handy holiday recipes and cooking tips page to help you out with your Thanksgiving planning. Not only do we cover familiar holiday dishes, we also share tips and tricks to save you time and energy during this busy time of year. And you can find all your Thanksgiving recipe needs in our California Cookbook. If you have any tips or questions you’d like me to explore, leave a comment or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.
Love cooking as much as I do? Follow me @noellecarter