A Step-By-Step Guide to Thanksgiving Prep
This will be the fifth year that I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner. As the older generations of our family started passing on, I realized I should take over the duties of this massive undertaking.
With two months of culinary school under my belt, I prepared my first Thanksgiving dinner back in 2010. I had no clue what I was doing.
It turned out being a fantastic meal, but the reality was, by the time we sat down to eat, I was exhausted. I’d been up too late the night before, and too early the day of, trying to do all the prepping and cooking in the hours immediately leading up to the holiday.
I didn’t realize how much prep I could (and SHOULD) have done days prior. Luckily, I get better and better at planning and prepping each year.
Thanksgiving Dinner doesn’t HAVE to be a stressful project that leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Use this step-by-step list to do a few small tasks each day, starting this weekend. SO MUCH of Thanksgiving dinner can be made in advance!
By the time Thursday rolls around, you should have plenty of time to watch football, make cranberry margaritas, play cards, and just relax on Thanksgiving while the turkey is roasting.
Saturday Before Thanksgiving
- Go grocery shopping. I buy EVERYTHING the weekend before, and it all stays good until Thursday. Try to hit the store early in the morning or really late at night (or better yet, Friday evening) to avoid crowds. Pack your patience. Celebrate with a beer when you get home.
- Stock up on Press’n Seal wrap. I JUST started using this amazing product (I know, I don’t know what took me so long). Now, I’m kind of obsessed with it and use it every single day, as I’m always making and photographing my dinner in the morning for the blog, then wrapping it up and refrigerating it until dinner time.
- Make the cranberry sauce. I like to just put it in it’s pretty serving bowl already and wrap it up. Nothing says low-stress like literally pulling it out of the fridge and ripping off the plastic on Thursday.
- If you’re making homemade dinner rolls or bread, you can totally make these in advance and freeze them until Thursday.
- If you’re making homemade turkey stock, make it tonight. Or buy some, and just chill out tonight. Nobody will know the difference.
- Figure out which serving dish you’ll be using for each item, and mark them with sticky notes. This will be hugely helpful in a few days, I promise.
- Make the gravy from scratch tonight. Seriously, do this in advance, simply using turkey or chicken stock, and roux. To be honest, making gravy sort of stresses me out, as I have a really hard time with it. I find it best to just get it out of the way early. I like to think of it as a gravy “base,” really. I add the roasted turkey drippings to the gravy on Thursday, and heat it back up. But I don’t have to baby it and worry about it if I make it in advance.
- I like to make a nice herb compound butter to spread on rolls. Rather than one big bowl of it, I divide it into several small ramekins, so that I can spread them around the table on Thursday. Put the butter in the ramekins tonight and wrap them up.
- If you’re brining the bird, you might want to start thinking about that tonight.
- Make the stuffing/dressing tonight. I like to half-bake it, then cover and refrigerate it. It can finish baking tomorrow while the turkey rests.
- Serving a salad with dinner? Clean and chop all the ingredients for it, and store them together in the fridge.
- If you’re making green bean casserole, this can be assembled ahead of time. Cover it with plastic wrap and throw it in the fridge. All you’ll need to do is bake it tomorrow.
- Make the desserts tonight, or buy some. Or ignore dessert altogether and just serve coffee. I know, blasphemy. But seriously, just give me some espresso.
THE BIG DAY! THURSDAY!
- Get that turkey in the oven.
- RELAX. Spend quality time with your family. Cuddle a dog. Bicker about politics. Wait. Don’t do that.
- At some point, meander out to the kitchen and make the mashed potatoes. I love making these late morning or early afternoon and keeping them warm in a slow cooker set on low!
- After the bird comes out of the oven, recruit a few helpers, and:
- Unwrap the cranberry sauce and compound butters and put them on the table.
- Toss the salad.
- Bake the stuffing/dressing and green bean casserole; re-heat the dinner rolls in the oven.
- Heat the gravy on the stove, and stir in any turkey drippings you get.
- Get out a big knife, carve that turkey up and take it to the table. Think about all you have to be thankful for, sit down, and gobble ’til you wobble.