Stress Free Thanksgiving
One of the most stressful parts of Thanksgiving is cooking the meal and having it all come out at the same time, hot (or cold) and ready to eat. I’ve known people that make everything the day before then heat it up, one plate at a time, for Thanksgiving dinner. I also remember women in my family that didn’t get to enjoy the day at all because it was spent in the kitchen. All day. That’s not how I roll. I have several dishes that I make up ahead of time, making Thanksgiving day a whole lot easier to deal with, and then I have a couple that I make the day of, like mashed potatoes, Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes, and of course, gravy. How do I get it all to the table on time and at the right temperature? Planning. It’s all in the planning.
The Weekend Before Thanksgiving
If I’m going to make cranberries, I make them up the weekend before Thanksgiving. Usually I make a cranberry chutney that is so much better if I make it up ahead of time and let the flavors meld. If you are using the cranberry sauce in the can, you can refrigerate that at any time. If you want to put out any pickle trays, refrigerate the ingredients now so you don’t forget. Homemade cheese balls can be made up this early and placed in the fridge for later too. Don’t forget to take out your larger turkey too. Thawing in the refrigerator takes an average of 1 day per 4 lbs of turkey! So anything 16 pounds or more needs to be in the fridge on a platter or in a big baking sheet so you don’t cross contaminate other things in the fridge.
The Day Before Thanksgiving
Here’s where a lot of the prep work happens. Salads and casseroles can be made up the day before Thanksgiving, baked if needed, and refrigerated until tomorrow. While the turkey is resting, you can heat up the casseroles to the right temperature for serving, saving you time and energy on Thanksgiving day. I also get my pies baked that need baking, so the oven is ready for the turkey later on. It makes the day before Thanksgiving a long day, but it’s well worth it.
The Evening Before Thanksgiving
After dinner, which usually consists of take-out pizza, I start making my stuffing for the bird and getting the bird ready. Since I always cook a big bird and start the Roasted Turkey the night before, it really eases up what I need to do on Thanksgiving day, and the turkey always comes out perfect and moist. Give your turkey 40 to 45 minutes per pound for baking time if you follow my Roasted Turkey method. I start mine around 10 pm for a 25-27 lb turkey, assuring it’s fall off the bone tender for dinner.
Sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee or two in the morning. You’ve got this handled. If you like, get your potatoes peeled early and in a pot of salted water for mashed potatoes. I get mine ready first thing in the morning, after I’m up and around, so I don’t have to worry about it. About an hour and a half before dinner, I peel my sweet potatoes for Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes, and get that ready to turn on.
The Hour Before Thanksgiving Dinner
An hour before dinner, now’s the time to be in full kitchen mode. Turn the mashed and sweet potatoes on, watching them carefully for boil-over. Take the turkey out and place it somewhere warm and safe from pets, so it can reabsorb the juices. Place any casseroles in the oven and allow them to heat up. Don’t forget to check the temperature of the oven if you cooked your turkey on a low temp! Get your flour and water ready for the gravy. Once the bird is browned you can take out the juice and get that going.
Twenty minutes before dinner, check the casseroles to make sure they are all hot. Get them placed on your buffet or table. Unwrap the turkey and turn the oven up to 425 degrees F. Place it in the oven and let it brown, about 10 minutes. While it’s browning, drain your white potatoes and get them mashed and in a serving dish. Also, put your candied sweet potatoes in a serving dish, ready to go. When the turkey is perfectly browned, remove it to a serving platter to rest while you make the gravy. I often put the turkey drippings in another pan for this. If you have rolls to heat, put them in the oven while you make your gravy. Once the gravy and rolls are done, you are ready to slice that turkey and have dinner!
Don’t Fear Making Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving dinner is about giving thanks for all that you have this year, for family and friends to come together and enjoy each other’s company. Don’t spend the whole day in the kitchen, or be stressed about getting dinner to the table. Plan everything out in advance, make a list of everything you are making and the order they make sense in, and enjoy Thanksgiving!