*Make sure to scroll all the way down to download your FREE Thanksgiving Planner, to help you stay organized in the kitchen this week!
Cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be an overwhelming experience. Depending on how large your family is, planning the entire event can take days, if not weeks!
I still remember the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted. It was here in Brooklyn and I picked 10 of my favorite dishes to make for a group of eight people. Things were going pretty smoothly up until Thanksgiving Day. I had done a great job a prepping veggies, my gravy was made, the green bean casserole ready to bake in the oven.
But what I hadn’t taken into account was how much space the turkey was going to take in the oven. It monopolized most of it and made baking and roasting the rest of my dishes a complete nightmare. I couldn’t fit the green bean casserole because our oven was too small to handle both the turkey and a casserole dish.
Luckily, my friends didn’t seem to mind that dinner took about two hours longer than what the original invitation said!
I’m sure you also have your own Thanksgiving horror story – all home chefs do!
So I thought it would be appropriate to post the tricks I’ve learned to maximize my time in the kitchen and make Thanksgiving Day an enjoyable one, even for the hostess!
1.Make lists, lots of lists!
Planning may be the most important step to making your Thanksgiving dinner stress-free. It’s not hard and can easily be done with lists (scroll all the way down to grab your FREE Thanksgiving Planner)! Keep as many lists as possible to keep track of your progress in the kitchen and cooking times in the oven.
- Make a menu and take a look at what can be made ahead of time.
- What dishes can be frozen and thawed the day before Thanksgiving?
- What ingredients you can prep ahead of time?
- What dishes need to be cooked in the oven?
- Prioritize what needs a long time to cook in the oven and what doesn’t. Do the same for the stove top. This way you can see what needs to go in early versus what can wait until later. It helps tremendously with timing!
2. Shop Your Grocery List a Few Days Early to Avoid Lines
Instead of waiting until the day before the big day to get all of your ingredients at the grocery store, try shopping a few days early to avoid the impatient and angry crowds.
A few years ago I made the rookie mistake of grocery shopping the day before and it was one of the worst experiences I’ve had at the supermarket. Not only were the lines wrapped around the store, shoppers were rude to each other and tried to cut in line in order to save time.
You can easily avoid this situation by doing a little planning, shopping 3-4 days early, and picking quieter times such as early mornings or late nights to get your ingredients.
3. Prep Ahead of Time
If you use garlic as much as I do, mincing it the day of can get super frustrating! That’s why I like to prep as much as possible 1-2 days before Thanksgiving. This saves me oodles of time in the kitchen and clears space in my head to focus on all the other tasks to accomplish that day.
- Grab your list of ingredients and see what can be chopped ahead of time.
- Save the ingredients in separate storage containers and stack them up neatly in your fridge.
- Do the same for garnishes like scallions, and herbs.
- You can also peel potatoes ahead of time! Just make sure they are submerged in water (and refrigerated) until you are ready to use them.
3. Keep Your Kitchen Clean at all Times
I’ve become an expert at keeping my teeny Brooklyn kitchen clean since it doesn’t take much to mess it up. On the days when I shoot dishes for the blog, I have to alternate between cooking and cleaning to keep the entire process enjoyable and stress-free.
The picture above? NOT my kitchen by the way.
My kitchen is so small that I can make a mess with just three ingredients! Pots and pans everywhere, a counter so full of that I don’t have space to chop, stir, or blend. I find that working in an untidy kitchen puts me in a bad mood and makes it difficult to work effectively.
Keeping your kitchen clean on Thanksgiving Day will be the difference between running around to find a missing ingredient, and knowing exactly where everything is. It’s a huge time saver!
4. Thaw Your Turkey Ahead of Time
We’ve all been there – the oven is ready to welcome the Thanksgiving bird but the bird is still rock hard and freezing cold. Since turkey is the main event for most Thanksgiving dinners, making sure it’s perfectly cooked should be a priority.
Here’s a quick trick to help you figure out how long your turkey needs to thaw before it can bake in the oven:
- For every 4 pounds of turkey meat, you will need 24 hours to thaw it. So if your turkey weighs 12 pounds, make sure to begin the thawing process 3 days in advance.
5. Delegate Tasks
Such a simple trick and yet many of us, home chef, fail miserably at delegating tasks!
That’s because we like to be in control of our own kitchen. And that’s understandable since we spend so much time working and making sure that Thanksgiving dinner is perfect.
But you can delegate simple tasks such as setting the table, helping out with dirty dishes, garnishing a dish, or making sure everyone is hydrated, without giving up complete control. Keep the bigger tasks to yourself and delegate the ones a hostess or a sous-chef usually take on in the professional world.
I always ask people to bring their own booze if I’m the one making the food. I think it’s only fair that my guests should provide drinks if I’m paying for the meal.
When they ask what to bring, I tell them “whatever you enjoy since you will be drinking it.” Of course I will have a couple of bottles of wine to serve with dinner, but I never spend a fortune on alcohol.
And if you absolutely want to provide some sort of refreshment to pair with your meal, choose something simple and easy like this Kentucky Buck. It’s vibrant, easy to drink and perfectly dressed for the holiday season!
Prep You Can Do Ahead of Time (Mis-En-Place)
- Make space in your fridge (lots of space) for upcoming dishes.
- Thaw your turkey.
- Brine your turkey.
- Chop vegetables.
- Prep garnishes such as herbs, nuts, and other toppings.
- Make your salad dressings.
- Peel potatoes and leave them submerged in water, refrigerated.
Dishes You Can Make in Advance and Freeze (Up to 2 Weeks Before Thanksgiving)
Remember to give your dishes 24 hours to thaw in the fridge so they can be reheated easily.
Note: You can also make green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes ahead of time. The reason why I didn’t add them to my list is because I prefer them when they are fresh (it’s a textural thing).
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