Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner Planning Timeline

 How To Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Stress Free Thanksgiving Dinner Planning Tips and Checklist

Thanksgiving Dinner Planning

It is that time of year again – It is time to begin your Thanksgiving Dinner planning. Thanksgiving is the time to gather with your friends and family, turn on some football, and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal.

If you are planning to host Thanksgiving dinner this year, there is no need to stress.  Follow our Thanksgiving Dinner Planning time table to help you get organized and prepared for a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner.  The Thanksgiving meal is the one meal of the year that you usually know what to expect and what you will be eating.

Different areas of the United States have different thanksgiving traditions, plus family have their traditional dishes that must be prepared.  Honor your family traditions and make the traditional foods expected.  Then add a new dish that you would like to introduce.  The Thanksgiving dinner is a simple meal to prepare.  All it takes to pull it off is some advance Thanksgiving dinner planning.  The best advice to reduce the stress, is to write down everything you need to do and then prioritize.

Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving:

Plan and Prepare Thanksgiving Dinner in Advance.

Prepare a list of your dinner guests.  List how many are children.  Ask about food allergies and alcohol preferences to save yourself some surprises or headaches.

Write out the menu and a shopping list (read over each recipe and make a grocery list).  Check out my Thanksgiving Dinner Menu (includes recipes) for some great ideas.

Write out a cooking schedule and timetable.  Indicate the dishes you can make ahead, those that can be frozen, and those that must be cooked at the last minute.  This list will help to keep you organized.

Decide whether you want to ask people (family and friends) to help you, either by bringing parts of the meal (wine, dessert, appetizers, side dishes) or by coming early to help in the kitchen.  Make sure everyone knows what they are bringing and what, if any, serving dishes and utensils they should also bring.  Having some help will free up time for yourself AND oven space for your own cooking.  In other words – Delegate! 

Make sure your have all the kitchen equipment you will need, especially a large roasting pan if you are roasting the turkey.  If you don’t have a meat thermometer, purchases one.  Check out Using a Cooking or Meat Thermometer.

Thermapen ThermometerThis is the type of cooking and meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking.  I get many readers asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking.  I, personally, use the Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the right.  Originally designed for professional users, the Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer is used by chefs all over the world.  To learn more about this excellent thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined: Thermapen Thermometer.

If you are making cheesecakes, make them now and freeze them for later use.  This will save you lots of time and frustration.  Check out How to Freeze Cheesecakes.  Check out my favorite  (It tastes like you are eating pumpkin pie).

If you are baking pies for dessert, make the dough for the crust, roll it out, lay it into the pie plates, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze.  NOTE: The recommended storage time for unbaked pastry is two months.  Pie Recipes – All your favorite pie recipes plus lots more!

Decide how you are going to cook your turkey.  If you choose to barbecue, deep fry, or smoke your turkey, you will not be able to stuff it.  Stuffing or dressing will have to be made as a side dish.

How To Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey:

Oven-Roasted Turkey
Do you know that a “frozen” turkey is fresher than a “fresh” turkey?

Turkey Basics

How to purchase a turkey.
Choosing a fresh or frozen turkey.
How to thaw a frozen turkey.
How to prepare turkey for stuffing.

Guidelines For Roasting a Whole Turkey

Learn how to safely and easily prepare and roast your turkey.

Turkey Variations:

How about substituting your oven-roasted turkey for:

Collage of images of Turkeys cooked in a variety of ways

Barbecued or Grilled Whole Turkey – This is a very easy and efficient way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey.  No mess in your oven or the kitchen.  A whole turkey may be prepared on either a gas grill or a charcoal grill.  This method requires a covered barbecue grill and heavy duty aluminum foil.  Your turkey will be crisp outside and juicy inside.

Cajun Fried Turkey – This is the best way of cooking a turkey I have ever tasted. The turkey is anything but greasy as the deep-frying process seals the outside and the turkey remains incredibly juicy, while the skin gets wonderfully crispy.

Smoked Turkey – Learn how to smoke a whole to smoke a whole turkey.

Turducken – This regional delight has become one of the latest food fads.  From the outside it looks like a turkey, but when you cut through it, you see a series of rings making up the three birds and three stuffings.

Tofurky (Torfurkey) – Vegetarian/Vegan Thanksgiving:
For your vegetarian and vegan family and friends.

One Week Before Thanksgiving:

Clean out the refrigerator to make room for the Thanksgiving dinner groceries and prepared dishes.  I know you probably do not want to do this, but you will thank me later.

Do your shopping now and purchase all non-perishables.  Buy all the ingredients listed for your Thanksgiving dinner recipes. Wait until the day before Thanksgiving to buy salad greens, fresh breads, or seafood.

Purchase your frozen turkey.  Learn about the different types of turkey that can be purchased:  Turkey Terminology – Types of Turkeys.  Put the frozen turkey in the coldest part of your freezer.  To figure out how big of a turkey you need, estimate that each guest will eat about 1.3 pounds, and then round up:

8 guests: 8 x 1.3 = 10.4 – Your turkey should weigh at least 11 pounds.

13 guests: 13 x 1.3 = 16.9 – So the bird should weigh at least 17 pounds.

Cooking Equipment:  At this point, you should also make sure that you have all the necessary cooking equipment.  Besides the usual assortment of pots and pans, you should get your hands on a cheese grater, a strainer, an electric mixer, and various sized mixing bowls and baking dishes.

4 Days Before Thanksgiving – Start Thawing The Turkey Now:

Whole Raw TurkeyThawing the Turkey:  If you have purchased a frozen turkey, you will need to start thawing it NOW.

Every 5 pounds of turkey will require 24 hours of thaw time in the refrigerator (i.e., a 15-pound bird will take 3 full days).  Start defrosting the frozen turkey in the coldest part of the refrigerator, in the back.  A slow thaw equals a juicy and moist turkey.

NEVER DEFROST TURKEY AT ROOM TEMPERATURE – since bacteria multiplies and breeds at room temperature.

Refrigerator Turkey Thawing Time (40 degrees F) by Turkey Weight
Following information on thawing turkeys from the National Turkey Federation

8 to 12 pounds – 2 to 2.5 days

12 to 16 pounds – 2.5 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds – 4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds – 5 to 6 days

Emergency Thawing Only:  If you need to thaw the turkey more quickly, you may thaw the bird in COLD water, in the original wrapping.  The cold water must be changed every 30 minutes.  Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound using this method.  This is not my favorite method as it is a last-minute hassle and does dry out the turkey.

COLD Water Turkey Thawing Time by Turkey Weight

8 to 12 pounds – 4 to 6 hours

12 to 16 pounds – 6 to 8 hours

16 to 20 pounds – 8 to 10 hours

20 to 24 pounds – 10 to 12 hours

3 Days Before Thanksgiving:

Prepare Table Settings:  iron table linens, designate serving platters, and make sure your glassware and silver sparkles.

Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate.

Prepare other sauces, jellies, and dressings; store in the refrigerator.

2 Days Before Thanksgiving:

Clean your house.  The most important areas are the kitchen and bathrooms the guests will be using.  Resist the temptation to redecorate or rearrange, as this will only stress you!

To brine or not to brine – The secret to juicy poultry is simple – brine them before grilling or baking!  This is the secret that chefs never tell you about.  It is very easy and economical, and requires no special cookware.  Brining is like a marinade as it keeps food moist and tender.  If you choose to brine your turkey, check out Guidelines for Brining Poultry.  Sometimes I brine my turkey and sometimes I don’t.  It is your choice.

Frozen Desserts:  Remove frozen cheesecakes or frozen pie crust from freezer and let thaw in the refrigerator.

Gelatin Dishes:  If you are making a gelatin dish, make it now and store in the refrigerator.

1 Day Before Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving TablePies: Finish preparing any pies that you are making.

Shopping Day – Purchase perishable items such as salad greens, fresh breads, or seafood.

Mise en Place – This is a French term for preparing all the ingredients for a dish in advance, such as washing, trimming, chopping vegetables, setting out your spices and herbs, etc.

Salad Greens – Clean and dry salad greens, and store in re-sealable plastic bag.

I also make the Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes at this time.  See recipe here:  Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Set your table now – Set the table as far in advance as you can.  Use your best dishes for special occasions.  Having your family together for Thanksgiving is a very special occasion.  You will have plenty of things to do on Thanksgiving Day without worrying about setting the table.

Thanksgiving Dinner Day:

Stuff Turkey9:30 a.m. –  Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, allowing it to sit for 90 minutes to 2 hours at room temperature.  Depending on the size of your turkey, you are going to need to start working on it about 5 to 7 hours before dinner is served.  Make sure that you take the giblets and neck out of the inside of the turkey.  Rinse the turkey in cool water, pat dry, season, and dress it according to your taste and traditions.

Turkey Stuffing – Check out Linda’s Favorite Turkey Stuffing.  Prepare stuffing and stuff the turkey.  Also check out Advice on Stuffing a Turkey Safely.  It takes about 45 minutes to clean and stuff a turkey.  NOTE: Never stuff the turkey with stuffing and then refrigerate it overnight or hours in advance; this is not safe and very dangerous; food poisoning can be a result.

Prepare the turkey according to your recipe.  Roast the turkey.  Check out my Guidelines For Roasting a Whole Turkey.

Check the turkey temperature using an instant read cooking thermometer.  Always use a cooking thermometer.  Check out Using a Cooking or Meat Thermometer. Cooking time will vary with different ovens and whether or not the turkey is stuffed.  Remember to leave time for the turkey to stand before carving.

Turkey GravyMake the gravy – Remove the turkey from oven and make the gravy according to recipe.  Check out Making Perfect Turkey Gravy and Gravy Making Tips.

Complete the vegetable dishes.  Reheat before the meal.

Make the mashed potatoes or reheat Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes in the oven or microwave.  I like to put my mashed potatoes in the crock pot to reheat.  Saves oven space!

Warm breads or rolls.

Garnish desserts.

Before Dinner

Serve a small appetizer (I like to serve fresh cut-up vegetables with a dip.  Also maybe some cold cuts).  You do not want your guests to fill up on the appetizers, just whet their appetite.  Check out my Thanksgiving Dinner Menu (includes recipes) for some great ideas.

Relish TrayPimentro Cheese Dip

Enjoy your family and friends!

Thanksgiving Dinner

Comments and Reviews

One Response to “Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner Planning Timeline”

  1. Jessica Simmons

    Very informative article! Thanksgiving is a great time for the family to gather around and enjoy a hearty meal. I usually have deviled eggs as an appetizer and my turkey has a simple chorizo and celery stuffing. Your recipes are great too.


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