We are hosting Thanksgiving Dinner this year after a two year hiatus. And while we love cooking, especially for friends and family, the event status of Thanksgiving can be a little daunting, even for those who know their way around their kitchens.
And for those who don’t, Thanksgiving can be a trial that can bring up nightmares of in-laws staring over your shoulder in the kitchen, wondering out loud “Well I’ve never used corn starch in MY gravy when I was cooking Thanksgiving Dinner.”
So while there are a lot of recipes out there, here are some tips we’ve found that can make the day and the dinner go smoother, so maybe you can actually enjoy the meal instead of worrying about it.
1 – Sharpen Your Knives
Most people’s knives were sharp when they first got them as a wedding gift, but over the years they’ve grown duller and duller, until even cutting an apple is a challenge. With all the food prep, let alone carving the turkey, sharp knives will make things much easier, as well as being much safer: no one likes blood on their drumstick. Either take them to a local shop that does sharpening or you can learn the skill for yourself from this Gordon Ramsay video.
2 – Fewer Cooks In The Kitchen
If someone asks to bring something, steer them towards something that won’t need the oven or stove for the 45 minutes prior to dinner. The old adage “Too many cooks in the kitchen” is never more true than on Thanksgiving. In order to keep friends and relatives out of the kitchen when you need all the space for the turkey, gravy, and other items that need to be heated before serving, ask them to bring something that can be brought directly to the table, like salads, pies, rolls, or wine.
3 -Don’t Stuff Your Turkey
An unstuffed turkey takes less time to roast, cooks more reliably, and is a lot safer from a food safety perspective. By adding a little cream and chicken broth to a baked stuffing, you can create a great dish that tastes as good as if it were cooked in the bird (we like the Cook’s Illustrated corn bread and sausage recipe) and then you can use the juices from the turkey to make a tasty gravy.
4 – Have A Plan
Starting the weekend before Thanksgiving, we pull out all our recipes and cookbooks and finalize our menu. We then make a list of what needs to be done and when, and then post that plan on the fridge. We then put the cookbooks back on the shelf and out of the way. Guests may poke fun at your “lists” but when you’re trying to get it everything on the table warm, it helps to have a written list to refer to, not a pile of cookbooks.
5 – Cook Ahead
A roast turkey benefits from a half hour rest on the cutting board for the juices to resettle in the bird. Use that window of time before carving to pop pre-cooked side dishes such as casseroles or gratins into the oven for a final crisping. You can also pre-cut up vegetables the night before and store in bags, so you’re not chopping on a day you should be cooking.
6 – No Time For Experiments
Don’t use Thanksgiving Dinner as the first time to make some new complicated recipe that your favorite Top Chef has featured in the holiday issue of Food and Wine. Or if you do, give it a trial run a couple weeks before (we experimented with Expatriate Kitchen’s Crispy Brussel Sprouts last week, and learned all the steps and found out that the dish worked just fine without the parmesan and pine nuts.)
Yes, foodies are supposed to spend the weeks before Thanksgiving making stock from scratch to use in the gravy, stuffing, and what ever other dishes call for it. However, we go through a lot of it on Thanksgiving, and the thought of making it all from scratch is a little too purest for us. Swanson’s broth in the square box (not canned) has a good flavor, a good ingredient line, and can be bought in a low sodium version. The box package means you can reclose whatever you don’t use and store it back in the fridge. (This is an unsolicited and unpaid endorsement; we just like the product.)
8- Set The Table Ahead Of Time
If you have a separate dining room, or can afford the extra space, set your table ahead of time. Also, this is a good job for those relatives who absolutely need something to do while your cooking. And if you can talk them into ironing napkins for you, even better.
9 – Clean Out Your Fridge
A few days before Thanksgiving, and before you do your holiday grocery shopping, go through your fridge and get rid of old contaners of condiments and leftovers. With all the food for Thanksgiving, you will need every bit of space in your fridge. We also like to set up a folding table in the garage to give us a bit more cool storage on the big day.
10 – Serving Dishes
Pull out your serving dishes ahead of time. Give them a rinse and mark them with a post it note telling what dish they will be used for. This is extremely helpful when you are delegating tasks to your helpers. They will know what dish to use for the brussel sprouts, and which one gets the cranberry relish.
Finally, take time to stop, pause, and remember what the holiday is all about. It’s much easier to be thankful for all you have and all your loved ones, if you aren’t hunting in the closet for the napkin rings as the doorbell is ringing.