This Is the Game Plan You Need to Host a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Real talk: Thanksgiving is the biggest food holiday of the year. While it can be a smidge hair-raising if you're hosting, with some strategic planning and plenty of prep work (you'll need to start planning about two week in advance), you can make this year's festivities totally stress-free.

Two Weeks Before Dinner

Thanksgiving is on the horizon — here's what needs to be done before game time.

1. Get Your Turkey

If you're planning to use a frozen turkey, buy one now. It's easy to store and you'll have first dibs at the grocery store if you buy well in advance.

2. Plan Your Menu

Now that you have your turkey, you need to figure out what to serve with it. Make a list of your essential Thanksgiving recipes , then throw in a few fun pumpkin treats for good measure.

3. Make a Test Pie

If you've never made a pie from scratch (or maybe you just want to test out a new recipe), prepare for the big event by baking a test pie in advance. This way you won't have any surprises when you make the real deal — and you don't have to share with your entire family.

One Week Before Dinner

It's time to start prepping!

1. Stock Up on Non-Turkey Ingredients

From canned pumpkin to fresh produce, stock your pantry now. Don't forget baking essentials like butter, sugar, flour and eggs.

2. Thaw the Turkey

Move your frozen turkey to the refrigerator, where it can defrost safely and slowly. A small turkey (under 14 lbs) may only need three or four days to thaw, but an extra day or so won't hurt. Remember: you want that bird to be completely defrosted by Thanksgiving Eve.

Good to Know

If you're using a fresh turkey that hasn't been frozen, now is the time to buy.

2-3 Days Before Dinner

There's no immediate action necessary, but here's how you should plan ahead.

1. Make Room in Your Refrigerator

Fact: you're about to have a lot of leftovers . Make sure you have plenty of storage space!

2. Double Check Your Ingredient List

Forget something? No shame. Get to the store now so you don't have to scramble later.

3. Make Your Pie Dough

If you're using a pre-made graham cracker crust, skip this step. Otherwise, make your pie dough and store your shaped discs in the refrigerator until you need to add filling. You can even make your pie dough earlier and freeze it , or blind bake your crust before freezing .

The filling gets all the love, but a pie crust can make or break your dessert. If it's too tough, it just doesn't work with the soft inside. And if it's too chewy, forget it. But nailing the perfect pie crust isn't a huge undertaking — if you follow these steps, you'll crush it every time.

The Day Before Thanksgiving

This is the day to prep most of your side dishes , brine your turkey and complete a few other small tasks.

1. Bake Your Pies

Whether apple or pumpkin , almost every pie needs to cool completely before it can be served. Bake yours a day in advance and let cool overnight for the best results.

2. Make the Stuffing

Skip cooking the stuffing inside of your turkey (it's way too easy to undercook) and bake it on the side. You can prepare just about any stuffing recipe the night before, then cover in plastic wrap. It'll be delish the next day (and amazing as leftovers later).

3. Cook the Cranberry Sauce

Homemade cranberry sauce is simple to make and so much better than the pre-made kind. With just three ingredients and three steps, you'll have the staple side dish ready to serve.

Three ingredients. Three steps. Cranberry sauce doesn't get any simpler, or more delicious. We'd say it goes great on leftover turkey sandwiches, but we have a feeling there won't actually be any leftovers.

The Morning Before Dinner

Turn on the parade and get ready to cook!

1. Set the Table

Truth: you're going to want to get this out of the way early. The day will only get more hectic as it goes on, so perfect your table in the AM.

2. Prep the Veggies

Any vegetables that need to be cooked on the stove or roasted in the oven can be covered and stored in the fridge until closer to dinnertime.

Pro Tip

If you're serving mashed potatoes, they're best cut right before you cook and dig in, so it should be the last thing you do before dinner. (Unless you make 'em in the slow cooker .)

3. Tackle the Turkey

Prepare your turkey and cook it in the method of your choosing. Cooking a bird this big will take a while, so you want to start it as soon as possible in the morning.

If you're in charge of roasting the festive turkey this year, there are two things to remember: 1) breathe, and 2) it's not as difficult as you might think.

The Afternoon Before Dinner

It's the final countdown!

1. Let the Turkey Sit

Remove your bird from the oven. Most turkeys will need an hour or so to rest before carving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout. Use this time to finish the rest of your cooking (now's the time to boil those potatoes and cook any veggie dishes).

2. Warm Your Stuffing

Uncover the casserole dish you prepared the night before and pop it in the oven, which will still be warm from cooking the turkey.

3. Make the Gravy

Gravy is quick to make and needs to be served hot, so this should be one of the last foods you prepare.

Gravy is to turkey as frosting is to cake. As coffee is to donuts. As leggings and knit hats are to autumn days. Neither is really complete without the other. Get the picture? Although the turkey is often thought of as the Thanksgiving centerpiece, a good gravy is actually your secret weapon.

When everything's done, all that's left to do is carve the turkey and fill your plate!


Find Your Next Recipe

Your Thanksgiving table isn't complete without these go-to recipes.

No yeast? No problem! These no-yeast dinner rolls rely on baking powder for leavening, and have the tenderness of a biscuit without being crumbly. Spread some butter on 'em while they're warm and you've got a mouthwatering side dish.
Jessie Oleson Moore
It's official: fall is here. I know because I just roasted a squash. And of all the many rituals that mark the change of seasons, this one seals the deal for me. Once you roast a squash, there's no going back.
Ashley Rodriguez
Green beans may seem like an overdone side dish, but braising them with a punchy vinaigrette gives the veggie a fresh lease on life. Make this recipe and see just how often you want to pair 'em with every meal.
Ashley Rodriguez

October 27, 2016
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This Is the Game Plan You Need to Host a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner