Thanksgiving Tips—What I Wish I Knew Way Back When

I’m about to be incognito for a bit, as we execute two out-of-town trips and Thanksgiving for 15-20 or so peeps, all within about four days. Before I go, I figured I’d pass along some tips, in case you’ve got a little hostess anxiety going on.

As I said in this post, hosting Thanksgiving is all about organization, and over the years, my family perfected our preparations into a well-oiled machine. I think that most people are intimidated by the sheer volume of small tasks that are associated with hosting a large Thanksgiving get-together, but if you break it down piece by piece and make lists, executing a perfect holiday meal is much easier than you think.

  • Do not underestimate how long that turkey will take to defrost. We cook a 23-25 pound turkey, and if I were serving it on Thursday, I’d move it from the freezer to the fridge on Saturday. Yes, it really does take five days for a bird that big. Whatever your turkey instructions recommend, add a day to the defrost time, just to be safe. There is NOTHING worse than realizing your turkey is still half-frozen on Thanksgiving morning.
  • Grocery shop as early as possible, saving only the absolute perishables for the week of Thanksgiving. I have everything but the vegetables bought no later than the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Also, shop very early in the morning, or very late at night. A congested store full of snarly shoppers will ruin anybody’s holiday spirit.
  • Thanksgiving Day is always hectic. Just getting the turkey, gravy, rolls and ham together is enough. Almost all of our side dishes and vegetables are casseroles or items that can be assembled the day before, then baked that morning. When planning your menu, don’t have too many dishes that require complex assembly at the last minute. You’ll end up unnecessarily frazzled, and will be more likely to make a mistake.
  • Since we prep most of the food the day before, I set up a table just outside of my kitchen and place every ingredient on it that we will use in the food preparation, grouped by dish. This saves time, because we aren’t digging through cabinets looking for stuff. We can move from dish to dish quickly and easily. Once we have all the prep work done the day before, the table can easily disappear back into our garage.
  • Without fail, I buy a couple of packages of cheap Glad-ware when I am buying the groceries. There is nothing more annoying than going to put the leftovers away and realizing that the Tupperware thief that hides in your cabinet has depleted your food storage stash. Ditto for Ziploc bags.
  • Every single thing that can be chopped, sliced, grated or prepped ahead of time should be. I place it all in Ziploc bags, so when we are assembling dishes, the process goes quickly. For example, I have four casseroles that call for chopped onion. Instead of stopping and chopping an onion each time, I do it all two days before Thanksgiving, then mix up the casseroles the day before.
  • Thanksgiving eve is not the time to test-drive new recipes. When you are hosting a crowd who is depending on you to have an edible meal, one bad experiment can ruin your day. If you want to try something new, give it a try ahead of time.
  • Unless your ice-maker is on steroids, you will most likely run out of ice. I have a clean ice chest that my husband fills with ice from the gas station so we won’t run out. If you don’t want an ice chest in the house, keep it on your deck, garage or carport. People would much rather hunt down the ice chest than suffer hot hooch.
  • Plan easy dinners for the entire week of Thanksgiving, so you aren’t overwhelmed with keeping your house going while trying to plan for the big day. If at all possible, we even eat out, or get take-out the night before, because by then, the tables are set and I need a break from the prep work.
  • I do a big housecleaning the weekend before Thanksgiving, so that by Thursday, I only need to run the vacuum and clean the bathrooms. If you clean as you go all week, you’ll have minimal stuff to worry about that day.
  • I set up a drink station far away from the kitchen. I have a small table, where I put the glasses, drinks and all the paraphernalia that goes with it. The last thing I need in the kitchen is a traffic jam of people hemming and hawing over their cocktail preparations, all while I’m trying to get a 25 pound turkey out of the oven without injuring myself. Some things are just not a spectator sport.
  • If you’re hosting kids, have something for them to do. I’m not saying you have to be their cruise director, but expecting young children to sit idly by and stare at the walls while the adults visit is unrealistic. Putting ten minutes of forethought into this issue will save you headache later.
  • Take ten minutes the day before to figure out your timing. What time are you serving? When does the turkey need to go in the oven? Have your schedule already planned, so on Thanksgiving morning, you only have to follow it.
  • Lastly, fix yourself a cocktail and chill out. As cliché as it sounds, the togetherness and memories are far more important than a magazine-cover-perfect meal. A sense of humor is the most valuable tool in your toolbox.

If you have any questions about hosting a big Thanksgiving, just leave a comment and I’ll be around. As for now, I better get back to Bean, who is letting me know in no uncertain terms that my presence is requested.

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