Kudos to you! Hosting your first Thanksgiving is a rite of passage that needn’t be nerve-wracking—the trick is planning ahead and a little practice. This year, roll up your sleeves and wow your family and close friends with their favorite dishes, plus a few twists of your own—served up with style and ease. Follow these handy tips and dependably delicious recipes, and we promise everyone from your grumpy uncle to your foodie friend will give thanks.
TIPS + TRICKS
Delegate tasks. The key to the success of this meal is having a repertoire you can master, so assign some side dishes and dessert to the guests while you focus on the main trio: the turkey, gravy and stuffing. If you’re feeling confident, add one or two other items.
Practice makes perfect. If you have an eager “test kitchen” at home, and you have some time to spare, try out a couple of recipes on your family or friends before the main event. You’ll be more confident when Thanksgiving arrives, and you’ll know what works and what doesn’t.
Take shortcuts. Not everything has to be made from scratch. Save yourself some trouble and supplement with delicious store-bought cranberry sauce, rolls and maybe even a pie or two. Purchase all non-perishables in the weeks before the holiday to avoid last-minute runs to the store.
Think about crowd control. Too many guests and not enough room at the table? Serve your feast buffet-style—a more casual and space-saving arrangement. Set out simple snacks right away—cheese and crackers, a veggie platter—so those hovering types stay out of the kitchen.
Add a twist. Amp up this wholesome meal by offering a signature cocktail. Display the recipe on a card or in a frame so guests can mix up a round themselves.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Shop ahead. Make sure you have your grocery list fine-tuned far in advance—a last-minute trip to the store for eggs can suck a precious half-hour from your prep time. Shop for the non-perishables at least a week ahead; shop for perishables one or two days before.
Bird is the word. Those turkeys can be finicky, so build in an extra hour more than the recipe time. This will give your bird a half-hour to rest and give you an extra half-hour in case it takes longer to cook. If the bird is finished ahead of time, no big deal—you can keep it warm in a foil-covered pan.
Start with a clean slate. A cardinal rule when it comes to entertaining: Empty the dishwasher before the guests arrive and the meal starts. (pull-out TIP). Thanksgiving typically uses up more dishware than any other holiday—the more space in that washer, the less workspace will be taken up by piles of dirty plates and bowls.
SETTING THE TABLE
Dish it up. Set your table or buffet one or two days ahead of time to make sure you have enough utensils, dishes and glassware. Include clean serving platters and bowls so they’re ready for transferring sides from the oven or a guest’s tin-foil pan. This will also save you time in those last minutes before dinner is served.
Mix and match. Don’t be afraid to mix up your place settings. Grandma’s china, flea market finds, layered tablecloths and new flatware create that eclectic flair that makes the holiday feel personal and special.
Create clever arrangements. For a seasonal look, spoon cranberry sauce into hollowed-out squash or pour soup into mini carved pumpkins. Have your kids or nieces and nephews print out place cards with crayons. Mix feathers into your vases of flowers for a Thanksgiving-inspired arrangement.
Be ready to roast. Invest in a good roasting pan and rack—both are important to help the turkey cook evenly and to catch the pan juices. If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, reference this poultry thawing chart and use this handy timetable to help determine how long to cook your bird. You will need a reliable meat thermometer to aid you in checking for doneness—and to gauge a more accurate serving time.