These pointers, covering everything from kitchen prep to cleanup, can help ease the stress of hosting Thanksgiving
- Clear your kitchen counters of unnecessary items (including small appliances) before the big day. You’ll need all the counter space you can get.
- Make a master list of the dishes you will be preparing and track down the serving pieces that correspond to each dish. Put a sticky-note reminder on each one and keep them together in a cupboard.
- Look over your list and make note of what can be made ahead.
- For the dishes you won’t be making ahead, see if there is some small task that can be checked off early. For example: chop onions and store them in a big resealable plastic bag; make pie dough and freeze it; wash and trim green beans.
- Even if you don’t normally employ a housekeeper, consider hiring a service to clean house the weekend before Thanksgiving. It can really be worth it if cleaning for company stresses you out.
- If you’re the one doing the cleaning, focus on the areas guests will notice most: the living room, dining room and guest bath (don’t forget to stock the TP).
- It’s perfectly acceptable to gather up your remaining clutter before guests arrive, toss it in an off-limits bedroom and shut the door.
- If you have a coat rack or a garment rack (in the laundry room, perhaps?), bring it to the entryway to handle coats and scarves.
- No coat rack or spare closet space? Clear off a chair or designate a bed for putting personal items.
- Adventurous apartment dwellers can even designate a sturdy shower rod as a coat-hanging spot.
- Designate an early-arriving guest to be the official greeter, so you can focus on not burning stuff in the kitchen.
Appetizers and Drinks
- Go with something that doesn’t require cooking or chopping, such as nuts, olives, cheese and grapes.
- Outsource the hors d’oeuvres. Ask a willing guest to bring an appetizer to share.
- Skip the fancy cocktails and pick up beverages you can just open and pour: sparkling cider, wine and beer.
- If you need more oven space, consider cooking a whole bird on the grill. This, admittedly, takes finessing to get just right, but having a free oven for the side dishes can be a game changer. Bonus: This encourages some guests to hang out around the grill master, freeing up even more space indoors.
- If you want to cook the turkey faster, either flatten (spatchcock) it or buy turkey pieces instead of a whole bird.
- If you’re hosting a small group or don’t want to cook a whole turkey, consider buying roast turkey from a local market instead. If you decide to go this route, be sure to phone in your order well ahead of time, as they can sell out.
- When guests say they would like to contribute to the dinner, offer a choice of a few specific side dishes and let them choose which to bring. Just be sure to confirm what they are planning to cook before you hit the grocery store.
- Don’t feel that you must make everything from scratch if you don’t want to or are short on time. Plan to cook the dishes you enjoy most and pick up others from a good grocery store.
- Go ahead and skip a traditional side dish if it’s not your family’s favorite. It’s your Thanksgiving — do it your way.
- If you’re planning to make pie from scratch, do yourself a favor and make the pie dough in advance. If making it more than a day in advance, store it in the freezer.
- Or go semi homemade by picking up ready-made pie dough or pie shells and making your own filling.
- Or let the pros take over and pick up desserts from your favorite bakery.
- Start making room in your fridge a week or more ahead of time. Toss old stuff and use up as much of your produce and jars of nearly gone condiments as you can.
- Cook items from your freezer in the weeks ahead of Thanksgiving to make space.
- After shopping for Thanksgiving dinner ingredients, remove items from bulky outer packaging and prep the fresh vegetables. Washed and trimmed veggies take up less space.
- Move items that don’t absolutely need to be refrigerated (like potatoes and onions) to a cool, dry place.
- Use an ice-filled cooler to hold chilled beverages. Place it outside the kitchen where guests have easy access — and won’t be tripping up the cooks every time they reach for a fresh drink.
- If fridge space is getting tight, use a cooler to stow ingredients like vegetables and butter.
- Or use a cooler to keep casseroles warm. Just line a cooler with a folded towel, place the covered casserole dish on top and cover with another towel before closing the lid.
- Stuck for dish-clearing space? You can even use a cooler filled with warm, soapy water to soak dishes and cutlery.
- Have a written plan. Working backward from the time you want to sit down to dinner, figure out when each dish needs to go in the oven.
- Timers are your friend. Stick a Post-it note beside each timer, so you don’t forget what each one is for!
- Generally speaking, you can plan to reheat casseroles and other side dishes in the oven while the turkey rests.
Seating and Serving
- If you don’t have enough chairs for your table, get creative by bringing in the piano bench, kitchen stools, front porch chairs or folding chairs.
- Short on serving space? Pull in a bar cart, ironing board or console table, or serve in the kitchen.
- Can’t seat everyone at the table? Go buffet-style instead, and let people dish up and then find their own seats around the house.
Setting the Table
- Use what you have, whether that means formal china or everyday white dishes and jam jars for water.
- Short on dishes? Borrow from friends in advance, or scoop up extra dishes or cutlery (or whatever else you need) from a thrift store.
- Pick up easy centerpiece components at the grocery store or in the great outdoors. Mini pumpkins, gourds, pine cones, pomegranates, pears and seasonal flowers look lovely on the Thanksgiving table.
- No formal tablecloth? Buy a runner or make one out of burlap.
- After dinner, fill pots and pans with hot, soapy water and drop utensils in to soak.
- Clean up dinner dishes before serving dessert. It will give you the feeling of a fresh start and let everyone find a little more room for pie!