Are you freaking out because this is you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner and you’re not sure you can pull it off? Fret not, little turkey. I’m here for you. Since I’ve been through this a couple of times now, I can assure you this is totally doable with the help of some Thanksgiving dinner planning.
Thanksgiving Dinner Planning
All you really need in order to have a successful Thanksgiving is a plan. And please don’t think you can start Thanksgiving dinner planning the day before Thanksgiving and have everything turn out OK. No, you need to start planning at least the week before or if you are like me the moment the calander flips over to November. Granted, I’m lucky because we have our traditional dishes we cook every single year.
One benefit for having hosted Thanksgiving before, I know what I’m cooking and I know how long it takes to put together and most importantly, how long it needs to cook. If this is your first year doing the hosting gig you may not have that list of pre-approved things to cook. But either way, the first step in creating your plan is to decide on your menu.
I found this super cute and convintent menu planner from Target in the dollar section. It has sections for recipies and baking. Along with grocery list section that you take with you when getting prepped for Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Dinner Planning: Let’s Talk Turkey
It’s recommended that your turkey should weigh one pound for every person who’ll be eating. But I also feel it’s important to account for all those leftover turkey sandwiches you could be having (along with the 2nd meal you know you are going back for after everyone leaves.)
I love using this guide I found on Pinterest awhile back. It has been a life saver when trying to figure out what size turkey I need.
Oh, yeah. One last tip. You might not be aware of this but there are extra pieces stored inside the cavity. Gross, right? I’m pointing this out because when I cooked my first turkey years ago, I didn’t realize this. And I’m going out on a limb here and assuming that others may not know this either, especially if it’s your first time dealing with a turkey.
You don’t have to serve turkey at Thanksgiving.
It’s perfectly acceptable to serve ham or even a nice roast beef. But if you’re going the turkey route, decide early. A frozen turkey takes approximately 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator for every 4-5 pounds. If you’re serving a 15-pound turkey that means you need to start thawing it at least 3 days before the big day. How many Thanksgivings have come to a screeching halt because the turkey is still frozen? I have no official stats on that but I’m guessing a lot. I tend to use this recipe for my turkeys that tend to always be an absolute hit.
Your Thanksgiving Dinner Sides
Are you still with me? I hope so because the good news is that the hard part is out of the way. The turkey is by far the most complicated puzzle to solve in your Thanksgiving planning. What kind, how to cook it and how long to cook it are the most important questions you’ll need to answer.
You just need to decide on the remainder of the side dishes now so you can create a schedule.
It seems like side dishes are about as subjective as art. Many families have their own traditions and recipes that get passed down through the generations. Some families prefer to try new and exciting dishes every year. Since we definitely fall into the former category, I’ll use more traditional options as a guideline to give you an idea of how to put your schedule together.
Figure out your cooking and prep times
Once you’ve chosen your dishes, write down both the amount of time it takes to prepare the dish and the time required to cook it. This is important if you have a dish that requires a lot of prep work like peeling or chopping because you’ll need to account for that. Next, decide what can cook in the oven at the same time. If anything can be prepared ahead of time, set it aside on your list.
For us, the only thing I need to cook in the oven is Green Bean Casserole. Don’t forget to include any appetizers or munchies you’ll be serving too. The important thing here is to get it all down with as much detail about times and temperatures and work involved as possible.
The turkey is the real star of this show so treat it like the diva it is.
For those of you with the deer-in-the-headlights look right now, my process for preparing the turkey is this:
- Thoroughly rinse the thawed turkey
- Remove the “parts” from the cavity of the turkey (see above)
- Pat it dry using a soft dishtowel or paper towel
- Place turkey in the center of a roasting pan
- Rub premade compound butter over the skin of the turkey
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over the outside of the bird
- Add about a cup of water to the bottom of the roasting pan
- Cover turkey with foil
- Pop into the oven at 325 degrees!
Now we’re getting somewhere. The above takes about 30 minutes plus you need the extra 30 – 45 minutes after it comes out of the oven. If you want to eat at 2, the time when you need to start your day is around 8:30 a.m. Granted for us, we just eat when the turkey is done.
That’s 4 hours for the turkey to cook plus an extra 30 minutes turkey prep time and the extra time after and also a few minutes, in the beginning, to wake up, make the coffee and put our game face on! So we know when we need to start cooking. We know what we’re cooking and how long it takes to cook. So while the turkey is cooking, you can make the mashed potatoes and then pop then in the crockpot to keep them warm.
Thanksgiving Dinner Schedule
Evening before – make charcuterie board other appetizers that can be prepped ahead
8:30 a.m. – Start Time
8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. – Turkey Prep (see above)
9:00 a.m. – Turkey goes in the oven
9:05 a.m. – Prepare cranberry sauce – (homemade cranberry sauce is super easy – 1 bag of cranberries, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water – cook until all berries pop, then refrigerate)
9:30 a.m. – Drink more coffee
10:00 a.m. – Check on turkey. Baste
10:10 a.m. – Peel potatoes for mashed potatoes
10:30 a.m. – Sneak some Bailey’s into your coffee because we still have a way to go….
11:00 a.m. – Check turkey. Baste
11:05 p.m. – Take Shower ( if you haven’t yet)
12:00 p.m. – Check turkey. Baste
12:15 p.m. – Prepare green bean casserole
12:20 p.m. – Remove foil from turkey. Baste
12:45 p.m. – Green bean casserole go into the oven
12:50 p.m. – And now it’s time to bust out the wine because it’s go-time!
12:50 p.m. – Boil potatoes
1:00 p.m. – Serve appetizers to hungry guests
1:02 p.m. – Wow, that wine went fast. Time for a refill!
1:05 p.m. – Remove turkey from oven. Replace foil and let sit on counter
1:15 p.m. – Drain potatoes
1:30 p.m. – Cook gravy on the stove
1:45 p.m. – Mash potatoes (for a great mashed potatoes recipe, check out my go to recipe from Tyler Florence.)
1:45 p.m. – Green bean casserole come out of the oven
1:50 p.m. – Cook rolls in the oven
1:55 p.m. – Start carrying the dishes to the table
1:56 p.m. – Since you’ll be taking the bottle to the table anyway, you might as well top off your wine glass
1:57 p.m. – Also, don’t forget the rolls are in the oven…
2:00 p.m. – And finally, carry the turkey to the table. This is your moment so be sure to soak it all in. You did it!!