Advertisement

10 Tips for Thanksgiving Newbies

Relax! You can do this. See more pictures of the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.
Lisa Peardon/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Thanksgiving is a great time to entertain. It's festive and there are many wonderful foods to choose from. Any cook can find something inspiring to prepare. If this is your first time wearing the Thanksgiving hostess hat, don't obsess. Even though a turkey or goose may be the biggest meat item you've ever attempted to cook, consider it a rite of passage and tackle the challenge with gusto -- or at least try to keep your terror under control. After all, Thanksgiving is one of those occasions when holiday spirit and a sense of humor will take you a long way. If you're entertaining a crowd, there'll be folks on hand to help out. Consider family and friends your sous chefs in your time of need. These easy tips will simplify meal prep and help keep your enthusiasm intact.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Stick to the basics, and it should be smooth sailing.
Stick to the basics, and it should be smooth sailing.
Comstock Images/Getty Images

It's easy to get in over your head if you're planning to prepare everyone's favorite dish, design a fabulous tablescape, create a cozy atmosphere and look like a fashion model while you're doing it. By the time you're halfway there, you'll be exhausted, discouraged and probably traumatized. Where Thanksgiving entertaining is concerned, less is best. If you can master one great component, like cooking a superior turkey, you'll be ahead of the game. Re-evaluate your plans and knock off 20 percent of what you have in mind. Really. It may be painful, but you'll thank us later.

Advertisement

Advertisement

No one ever said you should go it alone just because Thanksgiving's at your house. If you're having guests over, use them shamelessly. Ask them to bring their signature dishes, use them as cheap labor and grill them for advice. Hey, if they're Thanksgiving veterans -- and have the scars to prove it -- they'll probably be delighted to assist and offer up some funny stories while they're getting the lumps out of the mashed potatoes.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Plan ahead and start early.
Plan ahead and start early.
Carlos Spottorno/Taxi/Getty Images

There are only 24 hours in a day -- even Thanksgiving Day -- so plan on doing some chores in advance. Clean, prepare a table or buffet layout, and make some dishes in advance that you can freeze and defrost for the big day. Sit down and make lists and timetables, too.

You'll want to buy the turkey far enough in advance to allow plenty of time for it to defrost. A 14-pound turkey will take three days to defrost in the fridge. You can cut that to around 30 minutes per pound if you thaw it in cold water instead. However you're planning to do it, have a strategy.

Advertisement

Advertisement

You'll also want to get your order in for dessert if you're having a local bakery do the honors this year (which is a good idea). The more you do a day or two in advance, the less will be on your mind on Thanksgiving. Don't make the mistake of thinking you'll just get up early. Chances are, you could start at midnight and still be rushed by the time your hungry guests are circling the table.

There's nothing worse than starting Thanksgiving dinner prep and discovering you don't have all the ingredients you need. Do yourself a big favor by reviewing all the recipes you plan on preparing. It doesn't matter if you've made them a dozen times before and know them by heart. Thanksgiving can be stressful, and it's easy to forget one small but important ingredient. Once you make a big mistake like that, it can start a downward spiral that will have you rattled long before the gravy makes it into the boat. Almost as bad as forgetting to buy an ingredient is not buying enough of something. As you write your grocery list, add a note of the quantities you'll need of things like butter, eggs and cream. Count up as you go through your recipes. Don't guess. Guessing is for rookies.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Along with your ingredients, you need to have all of your equipment, too.
Along with your ingredients, you need to have all of your equipment, too.
Lilli Day/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

During the holidays, cooks use equipment that they don't touch any other time of year. If you'll be pulling out the fondue pot, cocktail blender or crepe pan, make sure it works (and it's clean) before Thanksgiving morning. It's also a good idea to clear away as much countertop space as possible. If you won't be using the toaster for the duration, stow it for now. You'll be glad you have the extra space.

Take the time to clean and calibrate your oven, too. A clean oven cooks more efficiently and evenly than a dirty one, and confirming the dial temperature with a portable oven thermometer will give you a heads up if you need to make an adjustment to either the cooking times on your recipes or the knob settting on your stove.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Before you start your cooking extravaganza, pull out the tools and supplies you'll need, especially for the first couple of recipes. You'll work more effortlessly and be less likely to get frustrated if ingredients and tools are easily accessible. As you use them, put supplies back in the cupboard, and place dirty utensils in soapy water to soak. If you have a dishwasher, running a load halfway through prep will keep you from having to stop and hand wash items before reusing them.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Keep the line moving.
Keep the line moving.
Jupiterimages/Comstock Images/Getty Images

Sitting around a huge table and passing a platter of turkey from person to person is the quintessential Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving moment -- in theory. In practice, it can be nerve racking, slow and unwieldy. For easy dining, especially when you're serving a large crowd, try a buffet service instead. This is also a great solution if you have limited table space. Buffet service is convenient and much easier for the cook to monitor and supervise.

Advertisement

Advertisement

If you're a talented baker who can throw together a pie or cake ahead of time, that's great. If not, consider letting someone else take care of dessert -- like the bakery down the street. Your oven is going to be overloaded with lots of dishes that require different temperatures. Make it easy on yourself by taking dessert out of the equation. Since it's the last gasp of the meal, you'll probably be tired (and cranky) when you get around to it. Save the baked Alaska for next year.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Take the pressure off and carve it up in the kitchen.
Take the pressure off and carve it up in the kitchen.
Judd Pillosoff/FoodPix/Getty Images

From green bean casserole to dressing with gravy, there are lots of Thanksgiving dishes that can rob your attention from the big event -- the meat. Whether you're planning on cooking turkey, ham, goose or some other main course, take the time to follow all the directions very carefully. If your main course turns out to be a disaster, it's a much bigger deal than just burning the rolls. Keep your eyes on the prize by pampering the meat portion of the meal.

If you're serving turkey, consider carving it in the kitchen and presenting sliced portions on a large platter instead of displaying the whole bird to an adoring audience. Carving a turkey can take time and some dramatic flair. If no one on the guest list is up for it, do the honors yourself before dinner is served.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Very few Thanksgiving celebrations pass without one minor disaster or another. From Junior flushing his fire engine down the toilet to Aunt Bertha accidentally losing her dentures in the green salad, Thanksgiving debacles are the stuff of future family legends. They seem appalling at the moment, but the moment passes and everyone moves on. The important thing to remember here is that Thanksgiving bloopers happen to everyone, so relax and enjoy -- it's your turn.

UP NEXT

Why Turkey Fryers Explode

Why Turkey Fryers Explode

If you're planning on deep-frying your turkey for Thanksgiving, HowStuffWorks Now recommends reading this first.


Related Articles

Sources

  • Betty Crocker. "Cooking Turkey Tips." Undated. 9/12/10.http://www.bettycrocker.com/how-to/cooking-basics/meat-poultry-and-fish/Cooking-Turkey-Tips.htm?WT.mc_id=paid_search_200101_636117&WT.srch=1&esrc=11151
  • Clifton-mogg, Caroline. "Set with Style." Jacqui Small LLP. 2008
  • Collins, Holly & Thomas Randleman. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Entertaining. Alpha Books 1996.
  • Harpold, Leslie. "How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner." 11/26/03.http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/how_to/how_to_cook_thanksgiving_dinner.php
  • Holiday Spot. "Thanksgiving Facts and Trivia." Undated. 9/13/10.http://www.theholidayspot.com/thanksgiving/trivia.htm
  • Holiday Spot. "How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday." Undated. 9/13/10.http://www.theholidayspot.com/thanksgiving/national_holiday.htm
  • Perfect Entertaining. "Creating the Perfect Turkey." 2001 - 2003. 9/12/10.http://www.perfectentertaining.com/thanksgiving/turkey.html
  • Reed, Julia. "6 Rules for a Successful Dinner Party." My Home Ideas. Undated. 9/13/10.http://www.myhomeideas.com/entertaining/table-settings/seating-simplified-10000001084159/
  • TLC. "Turkey Questions." Undated. 9/12/10.https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/tools-and-techniques/turkey-questions5.htm

Advertisement


Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement