Taking on Thanksgiving hosting duties for the first time can be intimidating for even the most seasoned of cooks, but it need not be that way. With a little know-how, you can set yourself up for a relatively low-stress day, leaving you with more time and energy to spend with your loved ones. Here are a few first-timer tips and tricks to consider.
Plan Ahead (as Much as Possible)
Tasks like planning the menu, stocking up on alcohol, ironing napkins, shopping for non-perishable ingredients, prepping make-ahead dishes, and doing a deep-clean of your home can be completed ahead of time. Even if you’re only able to check off a few tasks in the preceding weeks, you’ll be happy to have this head start.
Outfit Yourself with the Right Tools for the Task
While you don’t need every kitchen gadget under the sun, now’s the time to see if you need to buy (or borrow) a roasting pan, pie plate, or platter. Likewise, don’t underestimate the importance of a good instant-read thermometer, which will take the guesswork out of roasting the turkey.
Stick to the Basics
It’s easy to get carried away, stacking your menu with ambitious recipe after ambitious recipe, but now is not the time to test out each and every cheffy recipe you have bookmarked. Consider saving these trickier recipes for when you’ll attend a potluck and are only in charge of one dish, or for when you have a couple Thanksgivings under your belt and know the drill. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
When Possible, Outsource
If mom’s offering to bring her famous stuffing or your wine-loving cousin is willing to pick up a couple bottles or red, let them. While it’s tempting to micromanage, ceding a bit of control in exchange for a helping hand is a great idea. Alternatively, don’t be ashamed to order a pie from your local bakery or lean on a few shortcut ingredients, like pre-mixed turkey brine, stuffing mix or store-bought turkey stock.
Check Your Grocery List Twice
Do your best to save yourself an extra trip to the crowded market by checking your list and then checking it again. Similarly, don’t overlook taking stock of pantry items like flour and sugar when you make your list. When in doubt, buy extras of ingredients that are used in multiple dishes like butter, woody herbs (sage, thyme, and rosemary), and chicken stock. And, as an extra safeguard, take note of your nearest grocery store’s holiday hours in case you run out of an item the day of.
If a Dish Can Be Made Ahead of Time, Do It
Cranberry sauce can be made entirely ahead of time; same goes with pie crust and turkey stock (tuck them in the freezer). Most pies will taste just as good on day two, and stuffing can typically be prepped up until the point of baking the day before. For more inspiration, check out this make-ahead menu.
Anticipate and Accept That Mistakes Might Happen
More importantly, realize that it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t all go 100 percent according to plan. If your pumpkin pie cracks or the turkey’s a little dry, don’t stress. That pie can be topped with whipped cream and gravy was practically invented to fix up overcooked turkey. Moreover, your friends and family aren’t really there because of the food, they’re there to spend time with you and each other.
Last, But Not Least…
Remember that hosting Thanksgiving isn’t too different from hosting a dinner party. And, as seasoned dinner party hosts will tell you, success lies more in the atmosphere and energy—the vibe, if you will—and less in the meal itself. Things will go wrong, but it will be less of a big deal than you think. (At the end of the day the time spent with family and friends is more important than the feast itself.) You’ve got this!