Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s where we gather, stuff ourselves like the turkey, and gather with loved ones to be thankful. But the hard work that goes into planning and cooking a meal can seem overwhelming.
Does the idea of hosting your first Thanksgiving fill you with both excitement and fear? I want to help you be a rock star as you cook your first turkey, so I’ve grabbed my top 16 Thanksgiving tips and recipes that will help you shine.
Are you excited to host Thanksgiving but worried about how to fit everyone — and all that food! — in your small space? We’ve got some easy tips for how you can maximize your entertaining space and host a Thanksgiving to remember!
Tip #1: Keep it simple
That should be your mantra at every turn. Resist the urge to make every delicious recipe you will see while planning. I know it’s hard, there are so many mouthwatering recipes calling your name. But I repeat: Keep it simple and stick to the basics.
When planning your dinner, it helps to ask yourself some of the following questions to narrow down your menu and theme:
- Do you want a traditional dinner or a modern one?
- Do you like sweet and savory or hot and spicy dishes?
- Do any of your guests have a special diet to follow?
- Will you need to offer kid-friendly dishes?
- What kinds of beverages will you be serving?
If your guests are all about the holiday wine pairings, check out our guide to Thanksgiving wine!
Tip #2: Gather your recipes
Gather all your recipes on Pinterest or in a notebook so you can read through and make a timeline. Be sure to note prepping and cooking times for each one, then create a 4- to 5-day plan for creating your Thanksgiving dinner masterpiece — and stick to it!
Tip #3: Make a plan
Think about your kitchen and oven space. Do you have one oven or two? Many Thanksgiving dishes are casseroles that have to be cooked in the oven, but the turkey will require all the space in one oven, so keep that in mind.
To keep your cooking streamlined, follow these tips:
- Select dishes that can be cooked ahead and reheated while the turkey is resting or that can be made in a slow cooker if you have one available.
- Mix these make-ahead dishes with recipes that need to be cooked the day of.
- Be sure to keep family favorites and recipes you love in the mix.
- Don’t be afraid to delegate! That’s the fun of the holidays: People cooking together and sharing the experience.
Here’s a sample plan for breaking down your dinner prep so you can enjoy time with your friends and family:
- Shop for groceries and any supplies you need to host Thanksgiving.
- Make place cards.
- Gather your serving pieces and lay them out. Add a sticky note to serving dishes and bowls that lists which dish is going where.
- Double check your guest list and make sure you have enough plates, bowls, utensils, and glasses to serve everyone.
- Find out how long you’ll need to thaw your turkey. A 20-pound turkey needs to thaw for five days, but if yours is smaller you might be able to start thawing later in the week.
- Make your cranberry sauce.
- Prep and chop all veggies for the meal, then refrigerate them in plastic containers.
- Start making the stuffing by cooking the veggies and refrigerating them in a plastic container.
- Assemble and pre-bake the stuffing by baking it uncovered for 30 minutes. Once done, let it cool to room temperature, then cover it tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.
- Make vinaigrette for your salad.
- Bake your dessert — or create your no-bake treat!
- Bring the turkey to room temperature an hour prior to cooking.
- Preheat the oven and place the turkey in the oven and roast according to directions.
- While the turkey roasts, make your salad.
Need more tips to keep your holiday prep in line? Check out our Holiday Helper series, with planning and budget tips galore!
Tip #4: Remember safety first when prepping your turkey
Turkey is a Thanksgiving classic, but that doesn’t mean its an easy bird to cook. As with all kitchen adventures, remember safety first — especially if you’re opting to use a turkey fryer. Here are some other helpful tips to make your turkey the juiciest of them all:
Tips for cooking your turkey:
- Keep a fresh turkey in your fridge until ready to cook.
- If you’re thawing a turkey, never thaw it at room temperature. Instead, always thaw it in the fridge or in a cooler with cold water, changing out the water every half to one hour.
- Don’t rinse poultry before cooking it! Bacteria can spread everywhere the water splashes, creating more of a safety hazard.
- Remove the giblets and neck from inside turkey, then place it breast side up on the rack that comes with your roasting pan. Next, coat it in butter and season it with salt and pepper.
- To check if your turkey is done, insert a meat thermometer into thickest part of thigh, making sure to not touch any bones. Your turkey is thoroughly cooked with the thermometer reads 170 degrees Fahrenheit for an unstuffed turkey, and 180 degrees Fahrenheit for a stuffed turkey. The drumsticks should also pull away easily. Make sure to check the temperature of the stuffing — it should be about 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Once cooked, take your turkey out of the oven and let it sit for 15-20 minutes under a piece of tented tinfoil before carving
If you’d like to adventure away from a traditional take on turkey, try one of these 7 fun ways to cook a turkey!
Tip #5: Don’t forget turkey essentials
No turkey is complete without hearty gravy and savory stuffing.
- Gravy: Make your gravy while your turkey is cooking or before the big day — it will be less stressful than trying to juggle carving your bird and finishing the gravy at the same time. This easy gravy recipe is the perfect way to make it ahead of time.
- Stuffing: This stuffing recipe is gluten-free, making it the perfect option for guests on a gluten-free or even paleo diet. Everyone else will love the rich flavors of bella mushrooms, walnuts, pecans, and cranberries, too!
- Cranberry Sauce: Cranberry sauce adds a wonderful zing to your turkey dinner. Skip the canned variety and make your own ahead of time with this easy slow cooker hack!
Tip #6: Add a few sides & a killer dessert
Source: The Food Charlatan
For many, sides are the reason for Thanksgiving. A Thanksgiving rock star will know not to over commit and will serve up the best two to three sides for their guests. Think crunchy salad, whipped potatoes, and a good green side dish. Have a balance to satisfy all your eaters.
- Salad: Even salad skeptics will love how the crisp apples and dried cranberries make the perfect complement for feta cheese and walnuts in this hearty autumn salad.
- Mashed Potatoes: The secret to this flavor-packed mashed potatoes recipe? Browned butter, parmesan, and horseradish!
- Green Beans: Who could resist the over-the-top combination of brown sugar, bacon, and crisp green beans? Your dinner guests will love the sweet and salty combination in this dish.
- Discover even more ways to amp up your green been casserole with these 7 twists on the classic recipe!
- Pie: Pumpkin or pecan pie is the traditional, but this sweet potato pie is a Southern classic for a reason.
Tip #7: Plan your tablescape
How do you want your table to look? Decide between a buffet or serving your dishes family style. Take inventory and count how many chairs you’ll need. Review your recipes and list what you might need in terms of serving utensils and dishes. Borrow from family members or check out coupon codes for stores like Target, Kohl’s, and Macy’s to save on household items.
Place Cards: To assign your guests to their seats, you can make a simple or even elaborate place card. For DIY ideas, check out our easy DIY Thanksgiving table décor projects and 31 more ideas for both adults and kids.
Centerpiece: Don’t forget the flowers! Pick autumn colors and create a bouquet that brings a bit of nature inside.
Drink & appetizer station: Have a little corner or table for a drink and appetizer station when your guests arrive. Plan one appetizer. The dinner is a filling one, so serve up something simple like a cheese platter or nuts that they can nibble while sipping a drink.
These sparkly and fizzy cranberry cocktails are sure to be a hit. Offer them up at your drink station for a tasty pre-dinner treat!
Tip #8: Keep calm & have fun
As the host of your event, guests will take their cues from you. An uptight host turns into an uptight party. Go with the flow, laugh off mishaps, and enjoy every moment.
Calm your nerves with these 10 easy entertaining tips!