Believe us when we tell you: waiting until the last minute is never a good idea. The weekend before Thanksgiving, go grocery shopping, wash your linens, and take an inventory of your turkey tools (i.e. meat thermometer, roasting pan, platter, etc.). A day or two before Thanksgiving, set the table and purchase desserts (if you’re buying them from a bakery). The day before, brine your turkey, wash the potatoes, and place beverages in the fridge. With this schedule, you’ll feel as cool as a cucumber come turkey day.
We’re not advocating that you skip turkey entirely––just skip the hours of prep and cooking the whole bird. Many grocery stores sell whole turkey breasts, which can taste just as juicy and delicious as an entire roasted turkey in less than half the time. When buying the turkey breasts, keep in mind that you should prepare ¾ to 1 pound per person––this will ensure plenty of turkey on the day-of with leftovers to spare.
Brining the turkey will create a moist and delicious bird. Brine your turkey breasts in a mixture of 1 cup kosher salt to 4 quarts water the night before. Then, on the day-of, place your turkey in a roasting pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil and maple syrup. Roast at 400º for 33–40 minutes, or until golden brown and 165º in the thickest part of the breast. Be sure to reserve the pan drippings for making delicious, maple-infused gravy.
Mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole are the OG Thanksgiving sides, and there is really no reason to deviate beyond these (especially if you are cooking for a smaller crowd). Save yourself the trouble of making myriad side dishes this year and opt for these crowd-pleasing favorites instead. No one touches the Jell-O salad and mincemeat pie anyway.
As much as we wish to be Ina Garten in the kitchen, there is no shame in purchasing a few pre-made items for the Thanksgiving meal. By purchasing a few pre-made items, you’ll cut down on kitchen time and increase your time spent with your loved ones. Check out a local bakery for your apple and pumpkin pies and make a trip to a specialty grocery store for jarred gravy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a few pre-made items for the meal––especially if it alleviates stress and makes for a more relaxing day. Besides, canned cranberry sauce will forever be superior to homemade cranberry sauce any day of the week.
When cooking a Thanksgiving meal, timing is everything. Those of us who (gasp) only have one oven need to be strategic about oven space and cooking times. If you are roasting turkey breasts, choose a slightly larger roasting pan than you need and place peeled and diced sweet potatoes around the meat. The sweet potatoes will absorb the fat and juices from the turkey, and since both have the same roasting time and temp, the two will come out perfectly. Voilà! Now you have a main and side dish for the space of one pan in the oven.
Another option is to bake a few dishes at the same temperature. Even if the stuffing is supposed to bake at 325º, the rolls at 350º, and the green bean casserole at 400º, don’t panic. Pick a temperature that is a happy medium (like 365º) and cook the stuffing for less time and the casserole for more time. Just keep a closer eye on these dishes and rotate them between the top and bottom racks to avoid over-or-under-cooking.
Thanksgiving will be here in no time. Whether you are cooking for two or a crowd of 20, we hope this guide will help keep you organized and calm on the big day. Thanksgiving is about being thankful, so our final tip is to take a few moments to express your gratitude on an otherwise messy, busy, and over-indulgent holiday. Relax and enjoy.