Here’s How to Plan for Thanksgiving Dinner

If you’re asking yourself how much prep work has to be done for your Thanksgiving meal, it really depends on how much effort you want to put into it and how much time you have.  If you’re limited on time, you could buy most of your items pre-made.  Another option would be to have your Thanksgiving meal catered, but then you’d miss out on the opportunity to socialize and reconnect with others while cooking.

However, if you’re willing to do the cooking, then preparing Thanksgiving dinner isn’t something to be pulled off in one day.  The holiday tradition of cooking a turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce takes more than just knowing how to cook each of those items.  It’s the delicate balance of knowing when to cook the meal, which ingredients to have beforehand and when to heat up, cook or defrost.  Some people know how to orchestrate all the moving parts without thinking twice.  But, for such a large, important meal on Thanksgiving, you’ll want to come prepared and organized, so we’ve compiled some tips to help you plan out your Thanksgiving Day meal.

Thanksgiving Day Meal Prep

Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and remembering what we are grateful for.  With that in mind, it’s a good idea to plan ahead so you’ll have time to mingle with your guests and not spend all your time in the kitchen.  With this little bit of extra planning, you can reduce the chances of being stressed and enjoy the day, too.  Here are a few ideas to think of as you begin your Thanksgiving preparation.

  • How many guests are coming?
  • Do you have enough food, silverware and glassware for all guests?
  • Choose the menu.
  • Create two shopping lists. One for food & supplies to be bought a week in advance, the other for 2-3 days before Thanksgiving.
  • Prepare a few dishes beforehand, like pies, and cranberry sauce.
  • Calculate how much time it will take to defrost the turkey in the fridge.
  • Estimate the cooking time for the turkey (figure about 20 minutes cooking time per lb.)

The pièce de résistance of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey.  Finding the right size turkey to feed your guests is important.  Be sure to follow the cooking directions on the package for the turkey.  Here are a couple other ideas for cooking your turkey. 

10 Tips to Buy and Cook a Turkey Successfully

  1. Frozen, conventional turkeys can be stored in your freezer 1-2 weeks in advance.
  2. Don’t forget to factor in the thawing time. These are the general guidelines used for thawing your turkey:
  • Example:  It takes 24 hours per 4 lbs. of turkey to thaw.  If your turkey is 12 lbs., that’s three days.
  1. Take your turkey out of the refrigerator one hour before putting it in the oven.
  2. Dry the turkey thoroughly (inside and out) to keep the skin crisp.
  3. Roast your turkey at 475 degrees for the first 30 minutes so the skin will be crisp. After 30 minutes, turn down your oven to 350 degrees.
  4. If you notice the skin getting too dark, lay aluminum over the areas that are about to burn
  5. To baste or not to baste? Depending on your turkey routine, basting may be part of cooking your turkey.  However, some cooking experts suggest you should eliminate basting altogether.  While we’re not sure if we really agree, the following reasons do make sense:
    1. Your oven loses heat every time you open the door, causing the turkey to dry out more
    2. The pan drippings aren’t 100% fat. They’re actually a mixture of fat and liquid which can turn the turkey skin soggy and dry out your meat.
  6. Use your own thermometer, instead of the one that comes in the turkey. You’ll get a more accurate temperature reading.
  7. Don’t cook turkey past 165 degrees or it will be dry.
  8. After taking your turkey out of the oven, wait at least 15 minutes so the juices will have a chance to settle into the meat.

If for any reason you really get stuck, you can call 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372) and they will answer any turkey cooking questions you have. 

How Much To Serve?

Thanksgiving is not a day when you want to find out you didn’t make enough food for your guests, or heaven forbid, you don’t have enough for left overs.  Once you figure out how many guests are coming, use this helpful guide to determine how much food you’ll need to buy.

Create a Cooking Timeline

After you’ve determined what you’ll be cooking, it’s a good idea to figure out the cooking times for all the side dishes, so they’re all ready at one time.  Unless you have a double oven, planning out the timing of your meal will be critical to keeping warm foods warm and cold foods cold.

Here’s an example of what your Thanksgiving Day cooking schedule might look like:

Guests arrive in less than 8 hours.

9am       Chop all your veggies using the Clever Cutter knife and cutting board. It allows you to chop, mince, cube, slice and dice with this one kitchen tool, so you can get this task done quickly.  Next, peel potatoes and submerge in water to keep from turning brown.

10am             When you’re ready for the stuffing, use the turkey stuffing roasting basket.  It’s a clever way to keep all the stuffing together while it cooks inside the turkey.

10:30am       Pumpkin pie needs 4 hours to chill after it bakes, so make this first thing in the morning.  We have a great non-stick pie mold pan that will cook your crust evenly and with a non-stick surface that allows you to easily remove your baked goods for serving. 

11am             As the pie is baking, get the turkey ready to roast.

12pm             After preparing the turkey, place it in the oven.  If you are basting your turkey, you’ll love this basting brush and glass bowl and how well it will keep your counters clean.

  • To protect your wrists and arms as you take hot foods in and out of your oven, invest in oven rack guards.

12:30pm       Make casseroles and put in fridge.  They go in when the turkey comes out.

1:30pm         Make mashed potatoes and keep them hot in a slow cooker.

2:15pm         Make the gravy and keep warm on the stove.  If you don’t have a favorite gravy recipe (that is worthy of Thanksgiving), try this foolproof gravy recipe.  It’s quick, simple and easy to make it.  You’ll need drippings from the turkey, some flour, and seasoning to taste.  Check out the recipe here.

3pm               Set the table.  Here are some ideas to inspire you.

3:30                Take the turkey out of the oven and put foil over it so it stays warm while it rests.

4pm               Food is hot and ready to be put on the table.

Once you’ve finished Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll have a chance to watch football and eat dessert.  As you get comfortable on the couch, take a minute to pause and reflect on how fast life moves by and how precious time is with our loved ones.  Remember to slow down, stay present in the moment and appreciate all the blessing of what we have in our lives now.

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