What Tools Do I Need to Host Thanksgiving?
After you've assembled your menu (more on that below), figure out what kind of serveware you'll need—including serving utensils—but remember, that doesn't always have to mean a bunch of massive platters. Borrow what you don't have from a friend or use the opportunity to go an a shopping spree.
You'll also want to have all the plates, glasses, silverware, placemats, napkins, candles, vases, and whatever other decorations you might want to set out in mind. It is decorative gourd season, after all.
Next, make sure you have all the cooking vessels required in the recipes you've chosen and a sharp knife. For dessert you may need a pie dish, rolling pin, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls. Also, and this is very important: don't forget a wine opener.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, wash all of your servingware, since it's probably been sitting untouched in a cupboard for about 11 months. Write the name of every dish you plan to have on your table onto a sticky note or index card and place the appropriate note on its corresponding serving dish. I like to go ahead and place these on the buffet at this point. That way, anyone helping in the kitchen knows which dish to use and where it goes so that everything fits.
We tasted nine store-bought pumpkin purées to determine the very best one. Did your favorite squash the competition?
What Can I Make Ahead?
- Turkey stock: Refrigerate for one week or freeze for up to six months.
- Cornbread, bread, or biscuits for stuffing/dressing: Cube, tear, or crumble up bread—however you like to incorporate it into your dish—and then freeze it on a flat surface for several hours. Pack into a ziptop freezer bag and keep frozen for up to six months. To use, toss frozen bread onto a sheet pan and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes to thaw and dry out slightly.
- Cranberry sauce: Refrigerate homemade cranberry sauce for one week or freeze for up to three months (thaw overnight in the fridge before serving).
- Pie dough: Refrigerate a well wrapped disc of dough for one day or freeze for up to three months (thaw overnight in the fridge before using). You can also freeze shaped pie dough in a tin for up to three months, well wrapped in a large resealable bag—blind bake straight from frozen or thaw overnight in the fridge to fill and bake.
- Apple pie filling: Freeze for up to three months
- Pies: Any baked pie with eggs in the filling (pecan, pumpkin, chess) can be fully baked, fully cooled, wrapped tightly in at least three layers of plastic wrap, and frozen for up to three months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and then bake at 375°F for 10 to 15 minutes to refresh the crispness of the crust. Fruit pies can be assembled—but not baked—and frozen for up to three months. Bake from frozen at the temperature stated in your recipe, but expect to add 10 to 15 minutes to the baking time. All pies—except for cream pies or pudding pies, which must be refrigerated—can be baked and left to cool on a counter overnight as long as you trust the people you live with to leave them alone. Reserve any whipped toppings until it's time to serve.
- Stuffing/Dressing: Assemble—but don't bake—and refrigerate one day ahead. If you really want to get ahead, you can freeze the assembled stuffing and cook from frozen. (The USDA recommends checking for an internal temperature of 165°F.)
- Gravy: Hate the last-minute gravy rush? You can make your life easier. Refrigerate for up to five days or freeze for three months. Reheat over a low flame, stirring and then whisking (once thawed) occasionally, adding more stock or water (or pan drippings) to thin if necessary.
- Dips: Planning on hummus, muhammara, or ranch for a crudité platter? Make these or any other dip up to three days ahead and refrigerate.
When Should I Buy a Turkey?
If you're sourcing a turkey from a farm stand or heritage breeder, reserve the bird at least a month in advance. (Or call around to see if local butchers will still take your order... right now. We'll wait.)
You'll want to get a frozen bird home at least 5 days before you plan to roast it to give it plenty of time to defrost (you'll need 24 hours per every 5 pounds of frozen bird, plus a day or two for brining or dry-brining).
Bring a fresh turkey home one to three days before you plan to roast it so you can get it properly seasoned. For more turkey buying tips, consult our turkey primer.
When Should I Buy Groceries for Thanksgiving?
Your first step is to make a master list of the groceries needed for all of your recipes. Take stock of what you already have and what you need. Then separate the list into perishables and non-perishables. Go ahead and buy those non-perishables (and any ingredients you need for make-ahead items) up to a month in advance. Pick up an extra box of stock, just in case. Make a stop at the wine store on your way home and buy what you need there, too (more on that below).
The weekend before Thanksgiving, make a final run to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, salad greens, herbs, and last-minute items you forgot on the first go-round.
How Can I Fit All This Stuff in My Fridge?
If your only fridge is a mini fridge, then I'm sorry, but you cannot. If your neighbors are going out of town, maybe you can borrow some space in their fridge. Whatever you've got, though, take an afternoon to clean out the fridge about two weeks before Thanksgiving. Toss out any lingering jars of jam you'll never use. Finally discard the mystery leftovers lurking on the back of the second shelf. Arrange any remaining items in a thoughtful and purposeful way so that you have room to fit the seasoned turkey and any other large items.
If there still isn't enough space, a big cooler on the back porch might be your best answer. If the temperature will remain between 32°F an 40°F (the optimal refrigerator-temperature range) for the entire time it's there, you won't even need ice. Keep an eye on the weather.
How Much Wine Do I Need Per Person?
Plan on one bottle per wine-drinking person. The average drinker will have about two glasses in the first hour and one glass every hour thereafter. An average bottle of wine holds about five servings. This means four bottles (20 servings) will get you through a four hour gathering of four wine-drinking individuals. If your guests stay longer than four hours, and continue to drink wine while doing so, good luck to you.
If you know that your friends and family are light or heavy drinkers, you can scale up or down accordingly. Maybe they'll switch to beer or whiskey or amaro. But remember: unopened wine will still be there for you next weekend and for upcoming holiday parties, so you might as well stock up now.
I like cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.
How Can I Drink All Day Without Getting Drunk?
Drink slower. And think in terms of lower-alcohol cocktails. They'll help you feel fun and festive without breaking the tipsy bank.
Put a pitcher of water or an ice bucket stocked with seltzer somewhere central so that you (and guests) have an option when you go back for a refill. A glass of water between each glass of booze is a pretty good policy.
And don't forget to plan out a few Thanksgiving snacks so that you aren't getting loaded on an empty stomach.
How Can I Host Thanksgiving in a Small Space?
You can do anything you want in a small space—as long as it's not against fire code. If your hang-up is about a the lack of seating for a formal sit-down dinner, consider this: I have never been to a formal sit-down Thanksgiving dinner in my life and they still allow me to work in food media! I've been to Thanksgivings of 50 people, Thanksgivings of eight, and Thanksgivings of three. Every one of them has been a buffet-style serving situation with a find-a-seat-where-you-can mentality.
A few other ideas: make it a standing cocktail party vibe. Or toss some throw pillows around your coffee table, or skip the coffee table and turn it into a Thanksgiving picnic on the floor with blankets and pillows strewn about.
If you're more concerned about kitchen space, it's time to get creative. Refer to the list above about dishes you can make ahead. Consider a potluck (see below.) And be sure to make use of all possible cooking implements. Maybe you free up your oven with a juicy sous vide turkey or smoky grilled turkey. Maybe you make mac and cheese in an Instant Pot. Consider all your burners and make a plan for what is getting warm when. (And maybe it's ok if some things are served room temp.)
How Do I Plan the Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner Menu?
I'm going to encourage you to skip this section and just head over to our fresh, new 2019 Thanksgiving menu, or our guide to executing Thanksgiving menus for one to 40, where we've done all the menu planning for you. But if you like a bit more control over what ends up on your Thanksgiving table, keep reading.
Start with the turkey. Think about what flavor profile you want your turkey to have and then consider what dishes might complement that flavor profile.
Next, ask yourself: Are there nostalgic dishes you must include—ones that "it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without?" Add those to the menu and don't worry about how they fit in otherwise. Has any guest expressed interest in bringing a dish? Give in and let them! If it's a famed green bean casserole, cross the green beans off your own to-do list.
Think about what equipment you have to make things in. Only one casserole dish? Don't make two casseroles! (Or go ahead and buy a second dish.) Think about making some items in the oven while others are on the stove top or not cooked at all. And finally consider what can be made ahead (see above).
Here are a few menu categories to consider, and a few of our favorite recipes for each:
- Vegetarian Main
- Cranberry Sauce
- Green Vegetable (Green Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli)
- Sweet Potato or Winter Squash
- Starch (Potatoes, Corn, Mac & Cheese, etc.)
- Rolls or Biscuits
- Appetizers and Hors D'oeuvres
Then make yourself a timeline, noting what time dishes need to go in and come out of the oven. Use a whiteboard or tape a printed timeline to your cabinets and check things off as you get them done.
How Do I Plan a Thanksgiving Potluck?
One word: Spreadsheets. Start a Google doc or make a copy of ours. In Column A, list the names of everyone who will be bringing something. In Row 1, list a main ingredient or course (i.e. Potato Side, Appetizer, Pie). If you need two potato side dishes, add as many columns for that category as you see fit. Don't forget to list wine, ice, plates, and other items that the non-cooks among you can bring.
Ask guests to choose a category by putting an "X" by their name underneath their chosen category—or if you want more control, ask them to write in the full name of the dish they plan to make. And perhaps most importantly, ask them to please bring a serving utensil with their finished dish.
Want to have even more control? Instead of categories, put the exact name and a link to each Epicurious recipe you want at the potluck in Row 1, and have people choose from those specific dishes.
What Kind of Music Should I Play on Thanksgiving?
As a Guest, What Can I Bring to Thanksgiving?
Please refer to your host's spreadsheet. And whatever you do, don't bring an unasked-for casserole that needs time in the oven. But if your host is looking for ideas, you can suggest one of the dishes below.
97 Thanksgiving Potluck Ideas
In addition to whatever you've promised, it's also nice to arrive with a gift for your host. If people will be drinking at the gathering, find a nice bottle of wine. Think Champagne (or other bubbles), Chenin Blanc, Lambrusco or Cru Beaujolais. For something a little different, bring your host a nice bottle of vermouth or really good amaro.
For something more lasting, pick up a nice serving spoon (they'll probably need an extra one anyway) or pretty salad tongs. And if you know there are always leftovers to be doled out (and only if you absolutely know this) bring some disposable containers to pass around.
How Can Children Help on Thanksgiving?
First and foremost, let the older children entertain the younger children and vice versa. If there are some who would like to help in the kitchen, put them to work tearing up bread for stuffing, whipping cream for dessert, peeling vegetables for side dishes, or one of these other 10 tasks assembled by Epi contributor Janet Rausa Fuller.
How Do I Deal With an Unruly Thanksgiving Guest?
My colleague Anna Stockwell has the solution for a guest who's maybe had a little bit too much to drink and is sloshing around.
For all other issues, please refer to this 14-point plan by my other colleague, Emily Johnson.
How Do I Plan a Thanksgiving Dessert Party?
One of my favorite ways to set up Thanksgiving dessert is to assemble a pie bar: pie crust cookies, pecan wet nuts, pumpkin mousse, apple compote, and more provide guests all the flavors they want without having to commit to a whole slice. What's better? You don't have to bake a ton of different pies to please everyone.
But if you're wanting a desserts only party, commit to it and make as many pies, cakes, and cookies as you can. Make sure to have coffee on hand and maybe a cocktail to match dessert-y flavors. (A bittersweet spritz is always nice but a classic whiskey cocktail might be more your vibe).
I'm Panicking! What If I Have Just One Day to Make the Meal?
Breathe. Anna took care of this one too. She made a menu, including timeline, so that you can get the whole meal cooked in just three hours. But hey, maybe next year, come back to this page a little earlier?
Originally Appeared on Epicurious