Getty ImagesThe best Thanksgiving hosts we know are the ones who start their T-Day countdown early. These forward-thinking folks skip the last-second stress and have plenty of time to sit, visit and enjoy the meal. Read on for their secrets.
Thanksgiving TurkeyGot the guest list number nailed down? Great -- let's talk turkey.
If you're considering any sort of odd bird, like heritage or organic turkey, or one that's a bit larger than the norm, now is the time to put in a special order with your butcher or an online supplier.
Will you be opting for a fresh bird, or one that's frozen? Make sure to carve out freezer and fridge space for defrosting. Frozen birds require approximately 24 hours of defrosting time per 5 pounds of meat, plus 6 to 24 hours of brining. Figure out when your bird is hitting the heat, and count backward so you're not stuck with poultry that's still rock hard in the center.
If you are brining (which you really should, to ensure moist, delicious meat all through way through), make sure you have a plastic, glass, ceramic or stainless steel (no aluminum) vessel large enough to hold your meat, and enough brine to cover it.
Get tips for buying a turkey and watch a how to brine turkey video.
Side DishesWhat's on the menu, veggie-wise? You can get plenty of the labor out of the way ahead of time.
Host a prep party. Invite a friend of two over for a glass of wine, and some peeling, slicing and dicing. You'll get a chance to catch up and put yourself in great shape for T-Day.
Many sides can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen, and many of them actually benefit from the extra flavor blending time. Cranberries, creamed onions, green bean casserole, dressing, and lots of other family faves can be cooked or assembled several days in advance and heated up right before serving.
Bread and rolls freeze well, so plan a baking day if you're making 'em from scratch. Just don't forget to plan in thawing time!
Check out our month's worth of side dishes.
DessertsEveryone loves a sweet ending. Make sure you've got time to sit and savor this year, rather than fussing around in a messy kitchen.
If your menu calls for plenty of pies, set aside time earlier in the week to prep all your pastry shells. Many recipes call for crusts to be pre-cooked anyhow, so make, bake and set aside. If the recipe includes a top crust, roll out the layers between sheets of waxed paper, roll those into tubes, and slip them into the fridge in a plastic bag until they're needed.
Cobblers, crumbles and some cakes actually taste better after they've had some time for the flavors to mingle. Knock these out earlier in the week and set them aside until they're needed. If they're warmed up and topped with a scoop of ice cream or whipped topping, folks won't mind a bit if they weren't baked that day.
Get our classic Thanksgiving pie recipes and learn how to make pie crust.
BeveragesWater is wonderful, but it's not exactly festive. So how do you keep a crowd hydrated, and not break the bank?
Don't be afraid to buy in bulk ahead of time. Today's boxed wines deliver serious taste bang for the buck, and tend to come in 3 liter casks, which hold the equivalent of four bottles of wine. If you're afraid your guests might turn up their noses, just pour it in the other room (and giggle to yourself). They also stay fresh for at least four weeks, so you have plenty of time to savor whatever is left over.
If you don't have fridge space for endless pitchers of potables, invest in inexpensive lidded plastic vessels, and store your made-ahead punch or tea on the porch or in the backyard. If you live in a chilly climate, it's almost as good as the fridge, and you can use a ladle, cup or pitcher to spoon the drinks into a pretty presentation pitcher.
Two-liter soda bottles and even Champagne stay chilled outdoors as well, so stock up.
When your guests ask what they can offer, tell at least one of them that ice would be nice. Stash it in coolers to keep the freezer free for food.
Check out our related articles on holiday-worthy beverages:
- Best Boxed Wines
- Great Wines Under $5.99
- Alcoholic Beverage Recipes
LeftoversDessert's been devoured, ties have been loosened, and the food coma is setting in. You'd like to send your guests off with loads of leftovers, but don't want to give up your precious dishes.
Start saving take-out containers, whipped-topping and butter tubs and anything else with a seal-able lid, They may not be glamorous, but they'll keep leftovers fresh during the ride home.
Make sure to have plenty of foil, plastic wrap and waxed paper on hand so people can easily reclaim any dishes that weren't completely gobbled down. After all, you don't want to get stuck washing extra dishes or trying to reunite them with their owner after the holiday is over.
And what to do with all those leftovers you can't convince your guests to take? Worry not -- we've got plenty of great recipes that will turn your thanksgiving leftovers into meals for the following week. Get our Thanksgiving leftovers recipes here.
Give your kitchen a deep-down cleaning starting NOW.
Toss out past-fresh food in the cupboard, fridge and freezer so there's room for all your provisions.
Scrub the oven, fridge, floors and countertop. It's easier to stay clean if you start with a blank slate.
Clear the countertops of any appliances and other items you won't be using on T-Day and dig out the ones you'll need. Now where's that giant roasting pan?
Speaking of roasting pans -- do you have one on hand?
Choose a roasting pan that will last a lifetime, or arrange to borrow one from someone who's not hosting this year.
Disposables are a great option as well -- just make sure to determine bird size ahead of time.
Serving sides straight from their pans can save some clean-up, but it also takes that dish out of play. Take a second to run through your menu and mentally attach each one to its pot or pan. If you don't have a solution for cooking and serving each one, now's the time to stock up or borrow.
Dishes & Linens
Cooking for a crowd? You may need a little help dishing it out.
If you're short on dishes and table linens for the head count (and always count on a couple of extra tag-along guests), ask a trusted guest to bring extras or consider renting. Not only will they arrive clean -- most rental places take care of wash-up as well.
Paper plates and plastic utensils are available in increasingly festive patterns and colors. If your crew is on the casual side, save yourself some scrubbing. Consider opting for eco-friendly recycled fiber or biodegradable products. The earth will thank you back.
Learn how to fold napkins and the right way to set a table.