Here’s a rundown of tasks to check off to ensure a low-stress, enjoyable meal.
Pick your recipes! You know I had to say it. While there’s no pressure to actually get in the kitchen, decide what you’d like to cook (and start a shopping list). This gives you plenty of time to track down elusive family recipes, ask everyone else for input with regard to dietary restrictions or other preferences, and figure out which dishes (platters, bowls, etc.) you’ll use to serve each recipe. Of course, we have hundreds of Thanksgiving recipes in our archives. And coming Wednesday: Two menus from me and my colleague Aaron Hutcherson, with different approaches to the holiday feast.
Acquire or order your turkey. Don’t be left scrounging around the grocery store for turkey the day before the holiday. If you find a good deal on what you want now, go ahead and buy it to pop in the freezer. (Just give yourself enough time to defrost it, if you don’t want to cook from frozen.) Otherwise, place an order now so you get exactly what you want. If you are going the heritage bird route, through the supermarket or your local farmer, it’s even more important to order in advance.
Buy all your shelf-stable goods. The grocery store aisles are already brimming with many of the ingredients we turn to for Thanksgiving. While you’re relaxed and thinking ahead, go ahead and grab your canned pumpkin, canned cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, marshmallows and whatever else your family’s favorite dishes use. Fresh cranberries will store fine in the fridge for a few weeks, as well. Also stock up on all your drink supplies, especially your favorite champagne.
Order your meal. If you’ve made the decision to outsource the cooking, whether it’s the whole meal or a few parts, you can probably place your orders now. The sooner you do so the better, as some sources may limit the number of orders. Deadlines vary, but generally restaurants and bakeries require a longer lead time than grocery stores.
Locate all your tools and tableware. No one wants to be tearing up the house the day before Thanksgiving — or even the day of — looking for grandma’s china or the fat separator you only use once a year. Long before you start cooking, take an hour or so to find what you’ll need, dust it off and put it somewhere obvious and easily accessible. And if it’s something you rarely use, like that electric carving knife, make sure it still works!
Clean up. Now’s the time to streamline and organize the pantry. Sort through, clean and empty out the refrigerator, using up anything you can cook with right now. You want to have as much room available as you can once those ingredients, make-ahead dishes and then leftovers start piling up. And clean your oven! Won’t it be nice to be able to see through the glass window to check on your food without opening the door? Oh, and you might as well check if it’s running true to temperature, too.
Eye the timeline. After you’ve selected your recipes, you can start figuring out what to do when. Here’s our list of how far ahead you can make things. (More of a last-minute person? We have a strategy for that, too.)
- Cranberry sauce. Up to a week.
- Gravy. A few days.
- Bread. A day or two; wrap in foil and warm in the oven before serving. Or freeze for longer storage and defrost the day before.
- Pies and other desserts. Two or more days.
- Turkey. If you’re brining, start brining the day before.
- Stuffing. Make wholly a day in advance or up to the point of adding the liquid. Reheat or finish baking Thursday.
- Sides. Prep raw veggies or roast, blanch or steam a day ahead.