The Thanksgiving Countdown
Preparing a Thanksgiving Feast Does Not Have to be Difficult!
Thanksgiving has a different meaning for every person sitting at the dinner table. For most, it
marks the beginning of the holiday season during which food is often a focal point. For most
Americans, turkey is the main course on Thanksgiving Day. From sauerkraut to rigatoni, family
favorites creep into the menu alongside more traditional dishes with the turkey like stuffing,
gravy, sweet potatoes, and other accompaniments.
While these traditions and expectations are part of what makes Thanksgiving so special, they can
also be very intimidating to a new or part-time cook. It takes special effort to remember
everyone's favorite sides, dessert, and, most importantly, how to time the meal so the turkey
is ready before dessert time. With a little organization, a few simple recipes, and tips from
people who have conquered the Thanksgiving feast already, even a novice cook can prepare and
enjoy a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal.
The Thanksgiving Countdown
Organization is the key to a successful Thanksgiving dinner. Use the following checklist to help
plan your meal, and stick to a reasonable time line.
Up to Three Weeks Before Thanksgiving
- Decide how many people you are going to invite to your Thanksgiving day celebration, and
plan your menu. You may want to ask everyone to bring their favorite Thanksgiving dish, solicit
ideas from your guests, or start your own traditions.
- When planning an extensive menu, figure a half serving of each dish per person, with
stuffing being the exception. Prepare a full serving of stuffing for each person.
- As you prepare your menu, note which items you plan to make at home, and which you plan
to buy already prepared or have friends bring.
- Decide on your table setting. Whether you plan to use fine china and crystal or disposable
pieces, now is the time to make sure you have enough of everything. Also, remember to check
your stock of serving utensils and dishes so that you don't get caught rushing around at the last
One Week Before Thanksgiving
- Sit down with each of your recipes and make a detailed shopping list. In addition to your
recipe items, you will also need beverages, ice, paper products, ice cream or whipped topping for
pies, coffee, cream, and a host of other odds and ends. Think through what your guests will need
throughout the day, and buy as much as you can ahead of time.
- If you are planning to purchase a refrigerated turkey, order it from the grocery store in
advance. If you are preparing a frozen turkey, remember to allow time for it to thaw.
- Check your recipes. If any of them can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen,
now is a good time to start cooking. The trick is to do as little cooking as possible on
Thanksgiving Day. Oven space will be limited, so it is helpful if your side dishes can be quickly
heated in the conventional oven, microwave oven, or cooked in the crock-pot.
- Decide where your guests are going to sit for dinner, and how you are going to serve the
meal. If you plan to put everything on the table, make sure that it is large enough to
accommodate trivets, hot pads. and all the dishes you will use. If you are going to serve
buffet-style, use a table or counter that everyone can get to easily.
The Night Before Thanksgiving
- Double check to make sure you have everything you need for the festivities. Stock up now
as some grocery stores have shortened hours or are closed on Thanksgiving Day.
- Arrange your table and buffet. If possible, set the table to avoid rush and confusion
- If you have not already done so, finish your baking. Pies, rolls, and other baked treats are
best prepared no more than one day ahead if they are not going to be frozen.
- Decide what time you need to begin cooking your turkey, and set your alarm clock
accordingly. DO NOT cook the bird overnight or for long cooking at a low oven temperature
(250°F) This method is NOT recommended because it is not safe. Because of the low
temperature, the turkey may not reach a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria. The quality
of the turkey might suffer too. During prolonged cooking, some areas would tend to become
very dry. The oven needs to be at least 325°F.
- Preheat the oven and prepare your turkey for roasting.
- Finish up any last minute chores around the house in preparation for your guests.
- Thirty minutes before the turkey is ready, put the dish of stuffing in with the turkey to cook.
Begin heating/cooking anything that will take more than 20 minutes. (Hint: If your guests are
bringing side dishes that need to be heated or attended to before the meal, ask them what
needs to be done and offer to do it for them. This will limit the number of people in the kitchen.)
- Right before taking the turkey out of the oven, tell your guests that dinner will be served in
about 20 minutes. Offer to refresh their drinks so they will not be in the kitchen when you
are trying to get dinner on the table.
- When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to sit for 20 minutes. This
allows the juices to distribute throughout the bird and makes it easier to carve the bird. The
oven is now available for heating dishes that cannot be heated on the stove or in the
- If you are going to carve the turkey at the table, put all of your other food dishes on the table
while the turkey is sitting. That way, your guests can serve themselves while you carve. If you
are going to carve the turkey in the kitchen, enlist someone's help to put things on the table while
- Once you have carved and served, relax and enjoy the meal!
- After everyone has finished, remove all food from the table and prepare it for storage. This
is also a
good time to make coffee and prepare the dessert for serving.
- When the food is safely stored, you can begin the clean-up process.
Staying organized, following food safety instructions, and using spices and other staple items to
accent pre-packaged goods can make preparing a Thanksgiving meal fun and easy. Consider
using the slow cooker or crock-pot to cook in or warm up side dishes to free up oven space. Or
even consider cooking side dishes in the microwave oven and then transfer the food to a slow
cooker or crock-pot to keep food warm. These tips and recipes from our web site will allow you
to spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying the holiday festivities with your guests.
Turkey Cooking Tips