OK, first-timers, we're going to let you in on a little secret. Thanksgiving dinner isn't really a complicated dinner to make. Roasting a turkey is like roasting a very large chicken, which is pretty basic stuff. Trust us, you've got this.
Still, when you're hosting your first Thanksgiving, there are plenty of small steps you can take to ensure you pull it off without a hitch.
1) Make a List, Check It Twice
First things first. Make a guest list. Then plan your menu. Are you doing all of the cooking or are friends and family bringing dishes? Create a complete shopping list. But before that...
2) Minimize the Menu
Don't make the feast a beast. Do what you can to make it easy on yourself. Simplify the menu down to the essentials: Turkey, taters, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, rolls, pumpkin pie, for example. Considering the size of the meal, it isn't necessary to load guests up on a vast array of fancy appetizers. Keep things simple: Roasted nuts and maybe a platter of cut fresh vegetables should do the trick -- and a glass of sparkling wine.
3) Time to Take Stock
At least two weeks out, take stock of your dinnerware, kitchen tools, and gadgets, spices and other staples in your pantry...and don't forget to count chairs.
4) Shop Early, Preferably at Off Times
At least one week before the big day, do your shopping. The longer you wait, the more packed the grocery stores get. Plus, stuff gets sold out. For a low-stress shopping experience, head to the store early in the morning or late evening.
5) Perform a Test Run
If you're really nervous about making Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, take some recipes out for a little test drive beforehand. If you like, pair them up with the wines you plan on serving. Tweak what needs tweaking, and you'll be set up for success on Thanksgiving Day.
6) Make Your Make-Aheads
This is a seriously major-league sanity-saving move. Plenty of side dishes, desserts, and breads can be made ahead of time. You can cross stuff off your to-do list and save counter space on the big day. If you do have to make several dishes on Thanksgiving day, try to distribute them evenly between the stovetop, oven, microwave.
7) Unfrozen Bird Is the Word
You'd be amazed how often people forget to thaw the turkey. Usually it's not wholesale forgetfulness, it's that they don't realize just how long it takes to thaw a big frozen bird. To thaw a turkey in the fridge, you'll need approximately 24 hours of thaw time for every 5 pounds of turkey. For more on the three ways you can thaw turkey, check out How to Safely Thaw a Frozen Turkey.
8) Timing Is Everything
This is really the hardest part about the meal: getting everything to the table hot and on time. These tips can help you time Thanksgiving right.
9) Tend to Your Bird
Keep the turkey basted as it roasts and let it stand for at least 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven. While the turkey rests, pop your make-aheads into the oven to heat up.
10) Time for Time-Savers
Don't be afraid to give yourself a break. Buy a store-bought dessert and add a little personal flair. Defrost a frozen pumpkin pie, top with streusel, and bake. Or simmer cranberries in orange juice and a little sugar just until they pop and spoon over purchased pound cake.
BONUS TIP: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
If something goes South along the way -- dry turkey, burnt pie, lumpy gravy -- don't sweat it. We have solutions for common Thanksgiving disasters. But even if you can't fix the foul ups, the true secret to being a gracious host is to not let the mess-ups ruin the day. If one of your side dishes burns, simply toss it out and enjoy the bounty you do have. If the turkey turns into a flaming torch, try take-out. And don't forget, even if your first Thanksgiving is a total 3-alarm disaster: .
More Keys to Thanksgiving Success
- How to Set a Dinner Table to Impress Your Guests
- Expert Tips for Hosting a Beautiful Thanksgiving Potluck
- Create An Adorable Mini-Dessert Buffet for Thanksgiving
- The Right Wine to Pair with Each Thanksgiving Course