Planning is key, so here is my timeline for planning your meal:
-- Few weeks ahead of time - talk to your guests about what they might bring. Ask them what they would be interested in bringing, or feel free to assign. I usually ask people to bring the dinner rolls or pie or dessert. I try to find something easy for them to bring that they don't have to worry about warming up.
-- Week before - plan your menu and make your store list. This is also a good time to start cleaning out the fridge so you have room for the turkey and all of your ingredients.
-- Weekend before - go shopping. I like to go shopping the weekend before so I can get my turkey a few days in advance so it can start thawing. If you get a frozen turkey, place it on a sheet pan and place on the bottom shelf of your fridge. It's likely to leak once it starts thawing, so the sheet pan is key to contain the turkey juice. Keeping it on the bottom ensures it won't drip all over your other food (learn from my mistakes :) )
-- Monday before - a few days in advance I like to create my centerpiece, set my table and pull out my serving dishes.
-- Tuesday before - if you are making pies or desserts, this is the perfect time to make them.
-- Day before - I always mix up my side dishes the day before, but I don't bake them. I place them in my casserole dishes, wrap with foil, and place in the fridge. I will then bake them an hour before serving time. The only side dish I make the day of is the stuffing so I can use the turkey juices. Also the day before check on your turkey to make sure it's thawing. If it's still pretty frozen, it might be best to take it out the night before to start thawing in your sink (see more details below).
-- Day of: I usually pull out my turkey about 3 or 4 hours before I place in the oven to finish thawing. I place it in my kitchen sink, fill the sink full of water and place a kitchen towel over it. Then about an hour before planning to place in the oven, I start prepping it. I always use the guide on my turkey bag box on the oven temp and to determine how long to cook my turkey. I would plan on having the cooking complete about an 1 - 1.5 hours before dinner time. This will give your turkey time to rest, and will make your oven free for heating up your sides.
Some other tips I have learned include:
-- Use serving trays and tall cans/jars to make extra shelves in your fridge to help store all of your sides.
-- Make a list of all of your dishes and list in order of the time they need to be pulled out, or placed in the oven to heat up. The last thing you want to do is forget about something, which I did the first year.
-- Don't forget to take the bag of giblets out of the turkey before prepping it and placing in the oven. I actually did forget to do this once...oops!!
-- Whip up a few appetizers while your turkey is cooking so they are ready to go once your guests arrive. If your timing is off, and dinner prep is running behind, these help so your guests don't go hungry. One of my favorite appetizers is this veggie turkey Rick and I worked on together before our guests arrived last year.
-- Last year I made these cute turkeys to dress up my dinner table. They were super easy and a great conversation starter. I just took some pine cones and hot glued some feathers I picked up at Michaels to look like tail feathers.
Looking for some menu inspiration:
-- Last year's Thanksgiving recap with recipes and a great recipe for using up left-over turkey
-- My Thanksgiving Remix post with a fun twist to mix up your Thanksgiving meal.
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