Plan your best Thanksgiving ever with these time- and sanity-saving ideas. Here are our winning cooking tips and menu planning advice.
While some have been planning for the feast for weeks, others are making a mad dash to the supermarket for final details. Want to pull off your holiday like a pro? Follow these 10 tips.
1. Defrost your bird.
There’s nothing worse than a rock-hard bird on Thanksgiving Day. If you’re buying a frozen turkey, be sure to defrost it in advance in your refrigerator—by far, the easiest way. Defrosting times vary depending on the size. According to the USDA, if the turkey is 4 to 12 pounds, give it 1 to 3 days. If it is 12 to 16 pounds, it will take 3 to 4 days. And if it is 16 to 20 pounds or more, allow about 5 days for it to defrost completely.
2. Get a meat thermometer.
Don’t rely on the little plastic timer that comes implanted in your turkey. They are unreliable, and usually “pop” when the breast meat is already overcooked. Make sure you have a meat thermometer handy to make sure the turkey is cooked through, but not overdone. Check in two places: the inner thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The meat is cooked when it reaches 165˚.
3. Set the table—including serving utensils.
Setting the table the day before Thanksgiving is a classic—and smart—piece of advice. But go a step further and pull out all your serving utensils, platters, and bowls too. Don’t forget the salt and pepper shakers while you’re at it.
4. Pull out your slow cooker.
Oven space is precious on Thanksgiving, so consider making a few side dishes in your slow cooker—or using your slow cooker to keep a side dish warm while your oven is fully occupied.
5. Think ahead.
If you can make a dish in advance, do it. Make-ahead recipes will save you so much time and stress on Thanksgiving. Dishes like mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables reheat beautifully. And some dishes, like casseroles, taste even better once the flavors have had some time to marry.
Related: Sweet Potato Casserole Recipes
6. Make gravy ahead too.
Why does it always feel like we wait until the last-minute to make the gravy? Your turkey is done, everyone’s starving, and all the food is hot and ready to go. All you need is that gravy! Wouldn’t it be easier if you had it already made and ready to re-heat? Take the pressure off with this simple and delicious gravy recipe.
7. Get some stock.
Stock is your secret weapon against dry food. Use it to baste your turkey, add moisture to dressing, or even add a splash to roasted vegetables. And of course, it’s essential for making gravy. Grab an extra container of stock at the grocery store—you’ll be glad you did.
8. Carve the turkey in the kitchen.
If you think slicing a turkey is as scary as public speaking, you don’t have to carve it in front of a crowd. Once the bird is out of the oven and onto a platter, parade it around the dining room if you must, then retreat to the kitchen and carve it up in private. And check out this turkey carving video to brush up on your skills.
Related: Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides
9. Pick up disposable containers for leftovers.
If you’re planning on leftovers, you’ll need something to put them in. You’ll look like a Thanksgiving pro when you send guests home with food packaged neatly in disposable containers.
Related: Makeovers for Thanksgiving Leftovers
10. Keep it simple.
When in doubt, simple is best. Thanksgiving is all about comfort. People want the familiar recipes they enjoy year after year. When planning your menu, stick to the classic dishes everyone loves and you’ll have a table full of thankful eaters.
Related: 7 Ways with Scalloped Potatoes
Thanksgiving should be a day for family and feasting, not of chaos and disarray. As long as you stay ahead of the game with these easy, fool-proof tips, there will be no need to panic the day of.