Keep preparations for the big feast effortless using these 25 Thanksgiving tips from Yankee Magazine.
1. First, be thankful. Take time and pause to reflect on the big and small things in your life that you are grateful for.
2. Make a timeline so that you can schedule your day and oven usage.
3. Read through all of your recipes to make sure you are clear about the order of instructions and the ingredients you’ll need.
4. Check and make sure that you have all the pots and pans you’ll need.
5. Check and make sure you have all the plates, flatware, napery, serving utensils, glassware, and chairs that you’ll need. If you are short ask a guest to pitch in.
6. Do as much as you can before BIG Thursday. Most purees can be made a week in advance and frozen. Make the pies, stuffing, etc., the day before.
7. Go easy on the table decor. Avoid fancy and elaborate floral arrangements and knick knacks on your table. You’ll have a lot of color with all the foods being served and with plates passing around and serving utensils poking out here and there, you’ll need more space than usual on your table.
8. Make use of extra hands in your house. The night before rent a movie and put family members to work peeling butternut squash, green beans, or other time-consuming jobs that’ll slow you down the next day.
9. Make a list of all the ingredients you will need a week before.
10. If you have a frozen turkey, be sure to begin defrosting it on Monday — in your fridge, a 14-pound turkey will take 2-3 days. If you forget, fill a large, clean cooler with cold water and put your bird in there, changing the water every hour. If you are lucky (we told you to defrost your turkey earlier!) you bird will be ready in 8 hours.
11. Pick up a few extra bags of cranberries and pop them in the freezer — after the holidays, they’ll be scarce.
12. It’s the one day of the year to eat with no restraint. This is not the day for diets. Be full — unbutton your pants if you have to.
13. Invite guests to your home and don’t get hung up on the table being too crowded or things not being perfect — it’s better to invite a neighbor, friend, or relative who would have been alone otherwise than to fret that someone is sitting in a folded metal chair or eating off a plate that doesn’t match your pattern.
14. If a guest brings a surprise dish that doesn’t go with your menu, serve it anyway. So much of Thanksgiving is about tradition and memories — if Aunt Sarah needs to make chocolate cranberry turnip salad as part of her tradition, let it slide.
15. Thanksgiving is not the day to try out a new recipe. Stick with what you are comfortable with and that you know will work.
16. Instead of one GIANT turkey, consider two or three smaller ones. Everything will cook faster (consider cooking one the day before and one the day of, so that you can present one beautiful browned bird tableside), smaller birds will be more tender and juicy, and if you have a large crowd, you’ll have more drumsticks.
17. Turkeys are notorious for being finicky to cook, because the white breast meat cooks more quickly than the darker meat of the drumsticks. There are several ways to even the playing field: brine your turkey, butterfly your turkey, remove the legs and cook separately, and/or cover the breast with foil (remove the last 45 minutes to brown the skin).
18. Baste or not to baste? Basting does very little to add to the flavor of your turkey (not much of that flavor actually gets absorbed), BUT basting the breast does cool it down (by evaporation) and slows down the cooking time of the breast meat which lets the legs catch up a little.
19. Stuff or not to stuff? Most food safety experts will tell you not to (some of the raw turkey juices could soak into the dressing and not fully cook. I prefer a stuffed turkey, but it will slow down the cook time.
20. At 325 degrees, most turkeys cook at about 15 minutes per pound (stuffed, about 20 minutes per pound). But keep your eye on things. According to food safety experts, your turkey is done when a meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees in the thigh, 170 in the breast, and 165 in the stuffing. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I’d go 170 on the thigh and 160 on the breast.
21. Remember who is wagging this holiday’s tail: If your turkey is done at 2 pm, but you were planning on serving at 3, that is fine. Remove the turkey to its carving place and “tent” it with foil (don’t wrap it in foil or it will steam and the skin will lose its crispness). It will stay warm. I promise.
22. Have a few simple jobs for guests to do (i.e. pouring drinks, setting water glasses, minding the ice bucket, making place cards with the kids, sit next to Grammie and make sure she has what she needs).
23. If you are a guest, be a good one. Don’t stand in the middle of the kitchen and ask, “what can I do?” If you bring children watch them and keep them entertained. If you bring an appetizer, make sure it is ready to go, not something that needs the oven or complicated assembly. Jump in and help with the clean up.
24. Have extra ice. For some reason you always need more ice than you or your ice maker can produce.
25. Buy disposable plastic food containers, to send guests home with leftovers. My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey sandwich the next day!