So, you need to plan and cook an entire Thanksgiving meal with just one week to go. Even though Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of every November every year, the holiday can certainly sneak up on you, especially this year, when days feel like weeks but weeks feel like milliseconds.
Whether you’ve had to make last-minute Thanksgiving plan changes due to the pandemic, simply forgot it was your year to host dinner, or tend to procrastinate on everything in life, it is totally possible to execute a highly successful Thanksgiving dinner in just seven days. Don’t believe us? Here’s how to pull it off.
If you’re having a small group of friends or family over for Thanksgiving, consider taking some of the heat off yourself by having your guests bring their favorite side dishes and desserts to share. That allows you to focus on the bigger items, like the turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing.
The first thing you need to do before getting ready for Thanksgiving is clean out your fridge, freezer and pantry to make room for all of the ingredients you need for dinner. Do this sooner rather than later, ideally a week out. Know how long food lasts in your freezer and pantry, and toss any expired or no-longer-desirable items. While cleaning out your pantry or freezer, you may find some necessary Thanksgiving ingredients that have long shelf lives, like cream of mushroom soup, frozen veggies or rice.
Whether you decide to stick to your mom’s classic stuffing recipe or play around with new-to-you casserole options, plan your holiday menu as soon as you know you’ll be responsible for cooking. The menu is the core of everything else you need to do to get ready for Thanksgiving.
Write out your Thanksgiving grocery list as soon as you’re done menu planning, and organize it by grocery type (and, ideally, aisle) instead of by dish. You’d be surprised how many dishes need the same ingredients, like chicken stock or onions. With seven days to go, don’t stress about making every single thing for Thanksgiving from scratch. In fact, there are plenty of essential dishes and ingredients you can just buy premade at the store, such as seasoned bread cubes for stuffing, pie crusts, cranberry sauce and rolls. Take advantage of these convenience products as much as you can.
One of the best tips for Thanksgiving grocery shopping is to take two or three trips to the store instead of doing one big shop. On the Friday night before turkey day, head to your grocery store and stock up on items you need to execute your menu, such as butter, eggs, canned and frozen vegetables, chicken stock, stuffing mixes, pasta, rice, canned pumpkin and anything else canned, dried, frozen or preserved you may want or need for any of your dishes.
Before you buy your turkey, know how many people you’ll be feeding and how much turkey to buy per person. If you haven’t bought a frozen turkey yet but intend to do so, try and buy it at least one week before Thanksgiving — turkeys need a lot of time to thaw in your fridge — roughly one day per 4 pounds, and after it’s defrosted, a turkey is OK in the fridge for two days. So, really, you can buy your turkey a week before Thanksgiving and put it straight into the fridge. The best way to defrost your turkey is to keep it in its wrapping, place a baking tray with sides on the bottom shelf of your fridge, then put your turkey breast-side-up on the tray (aren’t you glad you cleaned out your fridge?).
With three days to go, stock up on everything else you need for Thanksgiving, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, milk and refrigerated rolls you can bake day-of. This is also the time to pick up anything you forgot on shop No. 1 — you don’t want to fight the massive grocery store crowds on the night before Thanksgiving. If you haven’t done it yet, three days out is also a good time to stock up on drinks for the holiday, whether you choose to serve beer, wine, soda or cocktails that pair well with dinner.
Favorite holiday pies like apple or pumpkin will be good in your fridge for up to one week, so you can — and should — make these before Thanksgiving Day itself. Take a weeknight leading up to the holiday, say Tuesday, to get this task done. Keep your pies in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them.
Didn’t scoop up a frozen turkey earlier in our timeline? No need to panic, you can still buy a fresh one from the grocery store, just don’t do it too far in advance — one or two days is best.
If you did buy a frozen turkey but forgot the crucial step of thawing it in your fridge, you don’t need to rush to the store for a fresh bird. You can safely defrost your turkey using a cold water bath. Remove your turkey from the freezer but keep it in the wrapper. Fill your sink, bathtub or a cooler with cold water and completely submerge your bird, breast-side-down, in the cold water. Change the water every half hour. For every 1 pound of turkey, you need to keep your turkey submerged underwater for 30 minutes. So set plenty of alarms on your phone.
You need diced celery and onions for a classic stuffing and many casserole recipes, and turkeys should be stuffed with cut aromatics like herbs, onion and garlic. Do all of this prep work the night before Thanksgiving to give yourself time to focus on bringing dishes together on the day itself.
Breakfast is an oft-neglected meal on Thanksgiving, especially for the cooks, who just munch on pieces of celery and sip wine before dinner is served. Luckily, there are plenty of breakfast dishes you can make ahead for Thanksgiving morning. Do yourself and your family a favor and whip up an easy recipe, like slow cooker banana French toast or an eggs Benedict casserole.
As you put your make-ahead dishes in the fridge, ensure that you save some space to chill soda, beer, juice, white wine and other drinks. If you’re out of space, prep a cooler with drinks that you can pour ice into a few hours before your guests arrive.
No matter how you choose to cook your turkey, this is one thing you have to do on Thanksgiving Day itself. If you’re keeping things traditional and roasting your turkey in the oven, how long you need to cook your turkey will depend on the size of your bird. You need about one hour for every 4 pounds at 325 degrees, so a 12-pound turkey will take three hours, while a 24 pound bird can take as long as six.
Don't judge just by time, by the color of your turkey's skin or by a pop-up timer. You'll know your turkey is done when you insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh and the breast and it reads 165 degrees.
While your turkey is roasting away in the oven, it’s your time to shine. Grab all of that chopped onion and garlic and start prepping your turkey day casseroles. Dump all of those canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup into a green bean casserole, add sweet potatoes and butter into a dish and top them with marshmallows and don’t forget to add all of that cut broccoli and onion you prepped last night into a broccoli casserole.
Your turkey needs to rest after you take it out of the oven, so prep these casseroles while your turkey cooks, then put them in the oven after you take the bird out.
Stuffing is an integral part of Thanksgiving and is best when made day-of. Take your dried bread, add all of the onions and celery and other veggies you chopped up the night before, season them liberally and coat them in chicken stock. A classic stuffing recipe takes about one hour from start to finish.
No Thanksgiving is complete without the ultimate comfort food: mashed potatoes. As your casseroles and stuffing are in the oven, start peeling your potatoes and get a pot of water boiling to make a classic garlic mashed potato. If you want to save yourself this stress, you can easily make a slow cooker mashed potato recipe, which will be ready in about four hours. You can do that as soon as your turkey is in the oven.
Make the most of your flavorful turkey pan drippings and whip up a savory turkey gravy. Season with whatever herbs you desire — we like herbs de Provence, but thyme, tarragon or even oregano could be scrumptious.
After your turkey rests, which should be about 45 minutes to an hour, it’s time to carve her up. Read our full guide for how to cook and carve a turkey for a step-by-step guide to making your bird look picture-perfect.
Hosting Thanksgiving is a lot of work, so you deserve to tap into that bar you set up and dive into all of that turkey, casserole and more. After all of this, you deserve it.
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