How to plan and host Thanksgiving dinner

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how well you know your way around the kitchen. If it’s your first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you are going to be anxious. But if you’re here–more than a week before the big day!–searching for help or inspiration, you’re going to be fine. There’s definitely enough time to do it right without going crazy, staying up all night, or resorting to take out!

After you’ve taken a few deep breaths, sit down with a pad and pencil and make some lists. How many people? Don’t forget to account for extra turkey for sandwiches on Friday! What dishes do you want to serve? Can you assign some side dishes to your guests? Now, for the dishes you have left on your list, gather your recipes. At our table, these are the basics:

Review each recipe carefully and make out your grocery list. Make sure you shop early and allow enough time to defrost a frozen turkey.

If you haven’t hosted Thanksgiving before, survey your kitchen. Do you have a roasting pan and rack big enough for the turkey? Do you have enough serving dishes, plates, glasses and cutlery? Thanksgiving is no time for paper plates, so borrow what you can or purchase some simple, inexpensive dishes that coordinate with what you already have.

Consult your calendar and schedule as many tasks ahead of time as possible. The weekend before, you can make cranberry sauce and pie crust. As soon as you begin defrosting the bird, you can take the neck and giblets and make turkey stock. A couple days before, mix up some no-knead bread dough for the rolls and chop celery, carrots or other vegetables and store them in the refrigerator (if you slice potatoes ahead of time, be sure to chill them in water so they don’t brown). Bake pies the day before Thanksgiving. You can even make the stuffing and mashed potatoes the day before (they can reheat when the turkey is out of the oven). Set the table.

On Thanksgiving Day, if there is anything left to bake, try to time it before the turkey needs to go in the oven. Once the turkey is roasting, take a break. Enjoy your guests. Have a glass of wine. Accept all offers of help in the kitchen. When the turkey comes out of the oven, direct your helpers in reheating side dishes, pouring drinks and taking food to the table while you make the gravy.

Before you know it, you’ll be eating turkey sandwiches on leftover dinner rolls and offering to host Christmas dinner.

For a complete guide to Thanksgiving dinner, consult the recently released book Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by Sam Sifton.

Melissa Jerves writes about food, family and 21st century home economics on her blog, Home Baked.

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