By Jennifer MacKenzie, Professional Home Economist
Hosting a big holiday meal can be nerve-wracking, even for seasoned hosts, but it doesn’t need to be stressful. Here we bring you how to cook Thanksgiving dinner with a timeline, tips and a few don’ts. Being prepared goes a long way to reducing panic and getting your fabulous meal on the table on time! If you need some recipe ideas and technique refreshers or you’ve never tackled the big meal before, check our Thanksgiving 101 videos and recipes then make your plan.
Plan: One week ahead (or more)
- Write your menu, keeping in mind guests’ dietary requirements (if you don’t know, be sure to ask) and making sure to balance flavours, colours and cooking methods (avoid 6 oven dishes cooked at different temperatures or all brown foods!) and keep in mind activity plans with respect to cooking times. To streamline cooking time on the big day, try turkey parts, such as Roast Turkey Parts with Maple Thyme Glaze which roast in just over an hour.
- Purchase it early enough to allow time for thawing – it often takes longer than you think it will! As recommended by Canadian Turkey, thaw on a tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, allowing 5 hours per pound (10 hours/kg); that’s more than 3 full days for a 15 lb (7.5 kg) turkey. Or, immersed in cold water, for 1 hour per pound (2 hours/kg), refreshing the water once per hour. A thawed turkey can be stored in the fridge for up to 48 hours before cooking.
Get Ready: Four to 5 days ahead
Write out your grocery list; check each recipe you’re making and check ingredients you have on hand. Don’t forget staples, especially herbs and spices, that may be getting low. If you want leftovers, be sure to buy extra ingredients, but if you’re not leftovers fans, scale back on larger recipes.
- Check you’ve got all of the cooking equipment and utensils you’ll need for cooking and serving; don’t forget containers for leftovers.
- If guests are bringing something, get in touch to have them confirm what and how much they’re bringing.
- Make sure you have enough room in your refrigerator to fit all of the perishables that are on your grocery list.
- If you’re buying a frozen turkey for refrigerator thawing, buy it now.
Prepare: Two or 3 days ahead
Do your grocery shopping.
- Set out cooking equipment, serving dishes and utensils. Wash anything that’s been in storage.
- Set the table to be ahead of the game. Drape a clean tablecloth or sheet over the setting to keep everything clean.
- Prepare make-ahead condiments, such as Apple, Onion and Sage Chutney, relishes and cranberry sauce.
- Make pie pastry dough.
The day before
- Bake pies and desserts. The Best Pumpkin Pie can be baked a day ahead and stored at a cool room temperature.
- Chop sturdy vegetables like carrots, celery, squash, and store in airtight containers in the fridge; avoid onions and garlic as their strong flavoury can infuse other foods.
- Make bread stuffing (aka dressing) ahead–try our Apple Herb Stuffing recipe. Don’t stuff the turkey; keep stuffing separate until just before roasting.
- Some vegetable side dishes, such as casseroles, can be partially or fully made ahead (check the recipe!). Just make sure you have refrigerator space.
Cook! On the big day
Calculate the time your main course takes to cook plus resting time and work backwards from your planned mealtime to determine when to get it in the oven. Don’t forget to include about 20 minutes to dish up and get everyone seated.
- Set the table (if it’s not done yet). It’s a good job to delegate; even young children can help (don’t fret if it’s not Downton Abbey-perfect!).
- Chop tender vegetables a few hours ahead; refrigerate with a damp towel to keep from drying out. Peel potatoes for Classic Mashed Potatoes and soak in cold water up to 1 hour ahead.
- Set saucepans of water for tender vegetables on stove, then cook those veg in the last few minutes before serving to keep them tender-crisp and colourful.
- Prepare dessert accompaniments and garnishes.
- While the main course cooks, finish off side dishes in the last hour. Cook potatoes and other sturdy veg, then as the main rests, make gravy (try our Classic Turkey Gravy) and cook tender vegetables.
- Dish up, enlist helpers to bring everything to the table and feel proud of yourself while you enjoy the meal.
- Lastly, but importantly: be food safe! Remove meat from bones, transfer all leftovers into storage containers and refrigerate within 2 hours.