Make a list
If there’s one take away I’ve gained from decades of family dinners, it’s that not all good cooks need a recipe but they all need a list. My great aunt used to write hers on the cardboard inserts from her hosiery packages. My mother-in-law on a piece of notebook paper stuck on the refrigerator and my grandmother on a notepad kept on the counter.
From groceries to meal plans to a daily prep schedule leading up to the big day, it was all there. You never woke up wondering what you needed to do that day, or ended up at the dinner table only to realize you forgot to make something. Keep a list and have a plan.
Clean out the refrigerator
We’ve all done it. With list in hand, we’ve gone out, done all our shopping, only to come home and have no place to for it. Fresh vegetables get stuffed into drawers; other ingredients fill shelves and then you unpack the turkey. Suddenly you wish you would have chosen something much smaller.
This year, be proactive and take time to clean out your refrigerator beforehand. Eat what’s in there and clear out what you don’t need. This will give you space for all your groceries, the baking pans with pre-prepared foods and all the leftovers you’ll have after the dinner.
Remember to thaw your turkey
The turkey is often the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. But despite being the focal point, it is often forgotten about until it’s time to cook, resulting in chaos as you grasp at desperate methods to thaw your turkey before baking. Proper planning will eliminate such stress.
If you’re serving a 20 pound bird, it could take up to five days to safely thaw. The rule is one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey. Just place the wrapped bird, breast side up, in the refrigerator. If you’re in a pinch, you can also use the cold water method to thaw your turkey. Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold water. Usually 30 minutes of thawing is required per pound. This method is a bit more labor intensive since you’ll need to change the water every 30 minutes.
Make some dishes in advance
We all know to make the pumpkin pie early, but you can make many other dishes in advance of the big feast. Advanced preparation for some dishes actually makes them better because flavors have the opportunity to integrate. This creates a brighter, more flavorful dish and a lot less last minute stress for you. Cranberry relish, apple sauce, and some salads can all be made days in advance.
The day before, casseroles or dishes like twice baked mashed potatoes can be assembled and refrigerated so you only have to pop them in the oven the next day. Fresh vegetables can be marinated for roasting, chopped for stuffing, or prepared for the relish tray.
This also helps cut down on the clutter and mess on Thanksgiving Day. And it gives you more time to enjoy your company and be thankful.
Use your countertop oven to prevent overcrowding in your traditional oven
Appetizers, rolls, and smaller sides often play second fiddle to large baking dishes, especially during the holidays. I have memories of rolls and smaller baking dishes crammed into the corners of the traditional oven so everything could be done at once.
This not only slows the baking process down for everything, but it also can lead to over and undercooked dishes, especially since many foods require different baking temperatures. A countertop oven can help eliminate the overcrowding. It will also allow you to bake foods at a different temperature than the one your conventional oven may be using.
Truss your turkey for a perfect presentation
If you’re looking for a turkey worth of a Norman Rockwell painting, trussing can help. Not only does it hold in juices, but it also helps gives your turkey a picture-perfect shape sure to WOW your guests.
Even better, it’s not difficult. Simply lay your thawed turkey out and stuff it, if you’d like. Then simply tuck the wings back behind the turkey. After, take the legs and tie them together with a long string. You can do this by placing the string under the legs, then crisscrossing over top. The string again goes underneath the legs and is tied in a knot. Our test kitchen director, Pat, demonstrates in the video below.
Use a Roaster Oven
Say goodbye to dry turkey. For a juicy, tenderbird, a roaster oven delivers. A roaster oven cooks like a range oven, but the lid helps to keep in the moisture and lock in the juices. In essence, it self-bastes. For this reason, it is not the best for baking, but it is perfect for roasting meats and poultry. And a 22 quart oven can normally accommodate up to a 24 pound turkey.
By using a roaster, you have more space in your traditional oven to bake all the holiday favorites like large pans of potatoes or casseroles. Get our recipe for a deliciously juicy roaster oven turkey here.
Have extra storage containers on hand
Going to a friend or family member’s house for the holidays can be great. You don’t have to cook or clean. But, it could also mean no leftovers. The next day when those rumblings for warmed up turkey and stuffing call your name, you’ve got nothing.
Since most of us tend to overcook, spread the wealth a little and let your family members leave thankful with a bit of the leftovers. When doing your grocery shopping, pick up a package of disposable containers so you’ll be ready to divvy up what’s left while cleaning up. Chances are you probably won’t finish all the food yourself anyway.
Set the Thanksgiving table in advance
No matter how prepared you are there is always a lot to do Thanksgiving morning. The turkey needs to be cooked; last minute dishes prepared, plus you need to get ready for your guests.
Setting the table should be the last of your worries, so get it done the night before. This gives you more time to decorate and make it perfect without juggling ten other things at the same time.
Set a truly thankful tone
Often the meaning of Thanksgiving is lost in the chaos of cooking, eating and cleanup. Take a moment to enjoy the day and your company by setting a thankful mood.
A simple, yet effective way to do this is by taking the time to write each guest a special note. Make place cards for each person at the table. Inside the place card, write them a short, but personal message as to why you are thankful for them. This is a great activity for children to help with too. Not only will your guests feel special, but it will set a festive tone for the start of your meal. And if you’re feeling especially crafty, customize napkins with a decorative note using these iron-on designs.