Hosting Thanksgiving dinner and not quite sure how to manage? Simply follow this Thanksgiving timeline to divide up all the tasks – from shopping to getting it all on the table – to make sure you’re ready.
If you haven’t already, order your turkey and pick a Thanksgiving menu. Bookmark or print recipe pages as needed.
To shop easier, and save precious fridge space, make 3 separate lists – 1 for non-perishables that can be bought more than a week in advance, 1 for longer-lasting perishables that can be purchased a week before, and 1 for ingredients that need to be bought on the day or just before Thanksgiving.
Next, make sure you have a good inventory of your tableware: silverware, serving bowls, plates and linens.
And of course, make sure you have all the kitchen equipment you’ll need, including a large roasting pan, roasting rack, meat thermometer and pie plates.
The week before
It’s time to make pie dough and bake rolls and bread, then freeze them. This will save oven and counter space for casseroles.
Clean the kitchen, dining room and fridge then rearrange your icebox to make sure there’s room for everything to fit in.
Buy all the non-perishable items on your grocery list such as broth, wine, pumpkin puree, spices and crackers. Some dairy ingredients such as eggs, cream and butter can also be bought now too.
Work out Thanksgiving Day preparations based on what time your guests are arriving and what time you’re planning to eat. Keep in mind oven space per dish – one rack or two? – and make sure to test your pans to see if you can actually get them to fit together before they’re loaded with casserole.
4 days ahead
Now’s the time to shop for perishables. Buy fruits, vegetables, herbs and anything else you’ll need, except for fresh breads and baked goods (shop for these a day or two before serving them, max).
Depending on your turkey’s size, you may need to start thawing now if it’s frozen. Plan on 1 full day for every 5 pounds (2.25 kg) of turkey. Get all the tips on defrosting a turkey here before you start.
3 days ahead
If you plan to use homemade chicken stock for your gravy, make it now. Cool the stock, refrigerate it, skimming off any fat that rises to the top the next day.
Also make dips and cold dishes now. Most dips or spreads can be made up to 3 days in advance, but save any seafood or meaty dips for making the day before or the morning of Thanksgiving.
2 days ahead
Remove pre-prepared items from the freezer (including pie dough and baked goods) and transfer them to the fridge.
Prepare the cranberry sauce – keeping it for a couple of days in the refrigerator will actually allow the flavors to develop.
Prepare any salad dressings or soups now and store them in the fridge.
1 day ahead
Shop for any remaining perishables: baked goods, fresh flowers for the centerpiece, a fresh turkey (if that’s what you’ve chosen to cook), pre-ordered store-made entrées and sides.
Go ahead and prepare your stuffing, but wait until Thanksgiving Day itself to bake it.
Get a head start on side dishes. Some sides can be made early, covered and refrigerated, then just reheated the next day without sacrificing flavor (think green bean casserole) but hold back on the crispy fried onions for the top or anything else that might get soggy.
Prep what you can—chop vegetables and store in airtight containers in the fridge to save time later.
Make pies and other desserts. Most pies are fine simply cooled and then loosely covered and left at room temperature. Cream-based desserts should be refrigerated though.
Begin brining the turkey.
Set the dining table, laying out serving platters and utensils.
Refrigerate beverages, or place them outside to cool if the temperature is right.
Boil the potatoes early (don’t underestimate how long they’ll take!).
Put your turkey in to roast. (At 350°F, or 175°C you can expect to cook your bird for about 13 minutes per pound or half kg.) Count backwards from the time you’ll want to serve it, being sure to leave enough time for it to rest before carving (usually about 30 minutes).
While the turkey is baking, prepare vegetable dishes and salads. Cover the tops of salads with damp towels to keep them fresh, but wait to dress them until the last minute before serving to avoid limp lettuce.
Set out the appetizers for early arrivals.
Cook any remaining sides and the stuffing.
Bake any bread, rolls and desserts that still need it.
Do any dirty dishes now, to make room for the post-meal clean up.
Whip some cream for dessert and store it in the fridge until needed.
Remove the turkey from the oven and, while it rests, rewarm soups and sides. Make gravy if you didn’t ahead of time (use the juice from the turkey – transfer the bird to a chopping board and ladle it out).
Put pies in the warm (but turned off) oven before the Thanksgiving meal begins.
The day after
Last but not least… Make a list of your favorite dishes for next year and what you want to do different.
But remember, you don’t have to do it all! So why not take the trouble out of Thanksgiving dinner by ordering in? FIELDS, the popular online grocery store has teamed up with award-winning Madison chef Austin Hu to offer a range of ready-to-serve, hot Thanksgiving dinners, including roast turkeys, hams and the traditional fixings – all given an unmistakably delicious Madison twist!
Click for more information about pre-ordering FIELDS THANKSGIVING DINNER BY AUSTIN HU, with deliveries beginning 17 November and running throughout the holiday season.