While cooking on a typical weeknight can be stressful, preparing the centerpiece meal for a holiday that basically revolves around food might sound downright scary. But with a little planning, your Thanksgiving dinner will be fun, flavorful, and worry-free.
Use this day-by-day guide to plan your best Thanksgiving ever.
Find the Perfect Turkey ASAP
The first—and arguably most important—step to planning dinner is securing your turkey. Take into account the number of people you’re expecting to attend, as well as how much leftover turkey you’d like.
The typical guideline for turkey portion picking is one half-pound helping of meat per person (20 people = 10 lbs, etc.).
Remember, unless you’re planning to start defrosting your turkey right away, you should make sure there’s enough storage space in your freezer ahead of time.
Do a Defrost Check on Sunday (or Before)
Thanksgiving is almost here! Sunday is a good time to start thinking about thawing your turkey.
For every 4 lbs of turkey, allow 1 day of refrigerator defrosting time.
- For a 12 lbs turkey = 3 days of defrosting
- For a 14 lbs turkey = 3.5 days of defrosting
- For turkeys 16+ lbs = 4+ days of defrosting that massive bird
Shop on Monday
Before you start prepping, you have to make sure your kitchen is fully stocked. Monday is the perfect day to sharpen your pencil and write your menu and shopping list.
First, jot down all of the dishes you’re planning to serve. Next, do an inventory check. See what you have on hand, and make a list of what you’ll need to buy. Since Thanksgiving is still a few days away, now’s a good time to stock up on items such as:
- Shelf-stable/canned goods
- Dry herbs and seasoning mixes (for brining, sides, and gravy)
- Drinks (Need some creative cocktails?)
- Paper products (napkins, plates, cups), disposable utensils, storage containers for prep and leftovers
- Chef tip: Aluminum pans with lids are great for storing and reheating!
Prep on Tuesday
It’s time to get down to business and start prepping. You might want to make another grocery store run first to pick up any fresh or prepared foods for your feast.
Today’s also the day to start thinking about what you can bring to the table (besides food). Gather what you’ll need for place settings and serving. Lastly, you can start getting some ingredients ready for the next two days of cooking.
- Go shopping for fresh/prepared foods
- Wash and dry tablecloth
- Organize ingredients, place settings, and serving utensils/platters (don’t forget your roasting pan)
- Make pie crusts
- Peel/dice/cut veggies and fruits (potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, apples for pies, etc.)—refrigerate until you’re ready to use
More Prep on Wednesday
Thanksgiving Day is almost here!
Today’s the day to roll up your sleeves and get to work. If you haven’t already set and arranged your table, go ahead and make it happen. Try to get as much prep done as possible today, so you can focus on the turkey and the finishing touches tomorrow.
- Set the table
- Arrange flowers and table decor
- Prepare pies, appetizers, and cranberry relish/cranberry sauce
- Steam/blanch/sauté/roast veggies
- Chop herbs
- Dice bread for stuffing
- Chef tip: If your bread isn’t already stale, leave diced cubes uncovered on baking sheets overnight
- Make a last-minute shopping trip for any items you still need
- Brine your turkey if that’s part of your plan
Turkey Time on Thursday
Today’s the big day. Get all your ducks (or turkeys) in a row. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a few trusted guests to make sure everything is running smoothly.
The most important tip for today is to enjoy yourself—it’s a day to be thankful, spend time with friends and family, and have fun.
- Start roasting your Thanksgiving turkey 3–7 hours before the meal
- Set up a beverage station for guests
- Prep/cook mashed potatoes, casseroles, and other side dishes (reheat before serving)
- Assemble/warm appetizers
- Assemble stuffing
- Bake off stuffing once turkey is finished and resting
- Make gravy from pan drippings
- Make whipped cream for pies
- Call everyone to the table and dig in!
- Relax and enjoy the meal—you’ll have plenty of helpers for cleanup
Leftovers on Friday (and Beyond)
While your Thanksgiving dinner was absolutely delicious, you’ll most likely have some leftovers for the next day. Think beyond the typical turkey sandwich, and try some Leftover Turkey Curry Soup or Leftover Turkey Stir-Fry.