A plan for when to cook what so you’re Thanksgiving meal is ready to eat when you want to eat it
I’ve hosted quite a few Thanksgiving dinners, in addition to a traditional “Fakesgiving” I often throw the Friday before the real holiday. But if you’re not a veteran Thanksgiving host, preparing all that food can seem like and overwhelming task, and most Thanksgiving guides are fantastic at providing tasty recipes, while a little light on advice for the optimal time to prepare said food. What can be cooked the day before? What should be cooked in the morning? How do you make sure all your side dishes are warm when the turkey is finish, and how exactly does one cook a turkey and green bean casserole when there’s only one oven?
I received a special request from a very good friend of mine to create a Thanksgiving Field Guide for anyone needing a little assistance figuring out the ins and outs of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner (that isn’t a comical disaster). The following guide is a combinations of advice from my personal experiences and interviews with Thanksgiving experts (i.e., my mother). May it help you feel a little less hectic this holiday:
*A few notes on turkeys: If you buy a frozen turkey (as many of us do), it’s important to give your turkey time to fully defrost (this is exponentially more important if you plan to deep fry your turkey, as it’s the reaction between the hot oil and the ice inside the turkey that causes it to explode). The amount of time you’ll need to defrost depends on the size of the turkey so make sure you do a little research before hand so you can plan accordingly for whatever sized turkey you have. If you aren’t buying a frozen turkey, check if your style of turkey comes with any specific cooking instructions (e.g., a pre-fried turkey from somewhere like Popeye’s).
Congrats! You’re ready to start serving your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
A few alternatives to traditional dishes: My family isn’t really a stickler to having super traditional Thanksgiving foods. If you want to avoid cooking a turkey in your oven, try buying the turkey breasts instead of the full bird. You can marinade them in the fridge the day before, and cook them out on a bbq. You can also, obviously, choose to deep fry your turkey, but take a few extra steps to make sure you’re being super safe. (You could also forgo the turkey all together and makes another fun themed main dish, like pumpkin enchiladas or pumpkin lasagna. In fact, any sort of ethnic-pumpkin fusion will do nicely.) My mom, who was not a fan of the traditional sweet potato casserole, would make a lovely sweet potato and sautéed apples dish that is cooked on the stove top (one less thing to try to pop in the oven). While I loved green bean casserole as a kid, these days I tend to favor Brussel sprouts, which I like to cook on the stove top with cranberries and topped with a honey goat cheese. Check out my video below for my two favorite recipes for cooking Brussel sprouts. A soup, such as a creamy potato or butternut squash or even a corn chowder, can also make a nice addition to the menu (prep earlier and reheat). On more than one occasion have I done Thanksgiving dinner as a structured coursed meal instead of serving it family style.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.