Last Updated on November 19, 2021
Here’s the thing about hosting Thanksgiving dinner: It’s a marathon AND a sprint.
And just like running either one of those races, preparation is critical. To keep yourself sane and make space to enjoy the process and the day itself, you need to start early, delegate often, and work off of a detailed timeline.
A few tips for success along the way:
Keep it Simple
For most families, Thanksgiving is the time to stick to the tried-and-true recipes. This is good! It’s easier than having to learn a bunch of new dishes every year. If you do want to roll out something new, we have a bunch of new recipes to share for this year’s feast. Consider doing a run-through of any new recipe a couple of weeks before the big day.
Delegate Thanksgiving Duties
If you’re hosting, cover the core menu and let friends and family bring their special sides and desserts. It takes the pressure off and it’s way more fun!
Put the fam to work
Assign tasks to your family members. Have kids who are old enough to whisk together pie filling or prep veggies for stuffing? Enlist them.
If you’re the cook, make sure someone else is thinking about “front of the house”—the drinks and the glasses, creating the playlist, making sure there’s enough seating for all, welcoming guests, and getting the party started.
Thanksgiving Planning Timeline 2021
Two-to-three weeks ahead of Thanksgiving:
- Finalize your guest list
- Delegate some sides, drinks, and desserts to guests
- Confirm the turkey order
- Take stock of the bar, replenish whatever’s needed and order the beer and wine
- Think through centerpieces and order whatever’s needed
- Line up additional seating, if needed
Ten days ahead:
- Confirm menu, and who is bringing what
- Make your shopping list
- Shop for nonperishables (the weekend prior to Thanksgiving week is best)
- Identify serving platters and utensils for different dishes (and label, too, if you really want to lock it in).
Five days ahead of Thanksgiving:
- Make the pie dough, roll out, fit into pie plates, cover, and freeze.
- Take the turkey out of the freezer and move to a refrigerator so it can start to defrost.
Three days ahead:
- Finish the shopping
- Make the cranberry sauce and refrigerate
- Make stock
- Make the stuffing and refrigerate
- Make pumpkin pie filling and refrigerate
- Pick up beer and wine
The day before Thanksgiving:
- Brine or dry rub the turkey
- Make salad dressing
- Toast any nuts
- Make herb butter
- Set the table, pull the platters and serving utensils
Day of Thanksgiving (Go-Time!):
- 7 am: Bake off pie
- 8 am: Chill drinks
- 9 am: Prep potatoes—peel, cut, and place in cooking pot with salted water
- 10 am: Turkey goes into oven OR light the grill
- 11 am: Do any remaining prep for side dishes
- Fry shallots
- Clean lettuce for salad
- 1 pm: Shower and change (Don’t forget this step!)
- 2 pm:
- Make gravy
- Start potatoes
- Pull any appetizers that are served at room temp out of fridge
- 3 pm: Guests arrive
- Pull turkey
- Put stuffing and other baked dishes in oven
- Open wine
- 4 pm: Finish salads
- Mash potatoes
- Make gravy
- Finish any remaining sides
- Carve turkey
- 4:30 pm: Serve dinner
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