I’ve got to cook Thanksgiving dinner now what?


First this list of tips and tricks will assume you know how to make things like mashed potatoes, etc. I’m just adding my own tricks I’ve used over the years.


Step 1 plan your menu.

Mine always has these items: Turkey, dressing (stuffing cooked in a casserole dish), cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, yams with mini marshmallows, peas, corn, green bean casserole, and pies for dessert.

  • Buy lots of butter (trust me just do it)
  • Buy a gallon of milk (more if you have kids that drink it)
  • Buy lots of disposable pans, throw in a few disposable containers if you want to send leftovers home with guests.
  • Buy a bag of rhodes frozen dough balls for rolls, (it’s great fresh-baked rolls your kids can help with.)
  • Put that can of cranberry sauce in the fridge when you get home from the store, (it’s cold and ready and comes out the can easier)
  • Don’t forget you may have a crowd watching the parade or football games, add in snacks to keep them out of the kitchen.
    • In the morning I put out a breakfast bunt cake  and some fresh fruit, and of course the coffee pot. (If you give them food to eat in the living room it keeps them out of your way in the kitchen.)
    • Since we don’t eat until 5 or 6 in the evening, around 11 am I’ll bring out some pinwheel sandwiches, maybe a cheese ball, or Mexican Caviar.
  • Buy a package of turkey drumsticks, don’t forget the onion, celery and carrots.
  • Pre-packaged dried bread cubes for dressing is so easy it’s the way to go. Just remember this is a blank canvas,  you can season it with whatever you want, whether it’s crumbled bacon, or jalapeno peppers if you are using the corn bread variety, why stress. (Remember this is Thanksgiving not stress out the cook day.)
  • Turkey if you buy a frozen bird be sure to put him in the fridge no later than Monday night or Tuesday morning. (The turkey will be fine and easier to work with if it’s completely defrosted.)
    • DO NOT THAW THE TURKEY ON THE COUNTER. (yes I’m yelling.) No one wants to serve a side of food poisoning along with their bird and this could lead you to doing just that.
  • Potatoes really don’t need refrigeration especially if they are going to be used in a few days time.
  • Go over all of the recipes before you shop add everything to your shopping list, yes everything. (well maybe not water.)
    • Then you shop in your pantry first and cross off what you already have, this ensures that you don’t miss anything.
      • Be sure to set these items aside or mark them as off limits so no one decided that one of your ingredients will make the perfect snack.
    • Don’t forget to do the same thing with spices.
  • Buy at least two disposable turkey pans, and four disposable 9 x 13 casserole pans
  • Grab at least three rolls of aluminum foil (I love the non stick stuff)
  • Throw a roll of plastic wrap in the cart (you need something to cover leftovers with.)
  • If you don’t have a meat thermometer now is the time to buy one. Get one that can stay in the turkey in the oven.

Now that you have gotten your shopping done, and put away your groceries you need a schedule for your oven. Wait what? Yes I said a schedule for your oven. Why I’ve got this. Trust me only so many things can fit in the oven at one time and you don’t want to be stuck waiting on something at the last-minute. So let’s think this through. Sit down with your favorite beverage and take a look at how many things want time in the oven. I count about four at least on my menu.

  • The turkey likes to be alone, well it cooks best that way. There’s about three hours you can’t put anything else in the oven. (I’m assuming a roasted turkey but if you are smoking or deep frying this may not apply.)
  • I’m going to say you can get no more than two 9 x 13 casserole pans in your oven at one time. (I’m going on average US oven size and only one oven per house, the rest of you are lucky.)
  • Remember the turkey will need to rest for about thirty minutes before you carve it. (More on this later.)
  • As soon as the turkey departs the oven I put my green bean casserole and my yams in the oven. These items hold their heat well. I pull these items out of the fridge when the turkey has about forty five minutes left in the oven. No this wont kill anyone, but it will allow the food to reach near room temperature so it can heat up faster.
  • The next items in my oven will the dressing, please don’t stuff your bird. The dinner rolls join the stuffing in the oven at this time.
    • Under cooked stuffing is another primary source of food poisoning, let’s try to avoid the emergency room.
  • For everything in the oven other than the turkey since it’s all alone. I swap top and bottom rack positions at about the fifteen minute mark.
  • This prevents burned bottoms and ensures that the heat in your oven can circulate freely.
    • If you are worried about burned bottoms move that bottom rack up so that there’s just enough room for the pan between racks.

It’s Wednesday the day before the big feast. I’m getting my morning coffee, if you know me it’s a must.

  • Grab those turkey legs, the extra ones I added to your shopping list and throw them in the crock pot. I add an rough chopped onion, a peeled carrot or two snapped in half, and a few stalks of cleaned celery. Be sure to put in some of whatever seasoning you are going to put on your turkey tomorrow in here too. Fill the thing with water turn it on low and leave it alone until tomorrow.  (Yes this is safe, let it run all day and night until the big day.) Don’t worry about appearances no one will see anything that come out of this thing tomorrow.
    • After you get up on Thursday you will turn off the crock pot, let it cool for about thirty minutes and strain your homemade broth or as I call them early pan drippings.
      • Put this in the fridge for an hour or so to let the fat rise to the top.
  • If you are making homemade pies or baking anything other than the dinner rolls get it done today. Remember this is not national stress out the cook day.
  • I go through my pots and pans and make sure I don’t have anything double booked.
  • Go through your serving dishes  and utensils as well, that huge bowl can’t hold the mashed potatoes and the peas.
  • You can’t heat your peas and corn in the same sauce pan at the same time.
  • If you are making a cheese ball or pinwheel sandwiches do these today as well. The same holds true for deviled eggs, dips and other snacks. If you are making a veggie crudité you can slice the vegetables today and store them in zip top bags so they are ready to go for tomorrow.
  • If you are short on serving dishes you can either buy something or if that’s not in the budget get creative. I have used a large glass measuring cup for gravy more than once. I have used loaf pans for cranberry sauce or a rim soup bowl for the butter. Just realize no one really cares, except that one ultra picky relative what the food is served in they just want to eat. (This goes double around my house as I often host soldiers who can’t make it home for the holiday.)
    • If that one extra picky person complains tell them that you’d love a proper turkey platter or gravy boat or… whatever for the holidays or your birthday. These serving pieces can come in handy at other times of year.
  • Now go out for dinner, order pizza hit the drive thru whatever, just don’t make a huge meal tonight. Make sure the kitchen is clean and ready to go for the morning.

We’ve reached the big day! Get up and put on your most comfortable shoes. Please wear shoes, preferably closed toe shoes in the kitchen. I have heard stories of cut and burned feet from kitchen accidents it’s going to be a long day. Let’s try to avoid injuries and the emergency room. Please don’t put on that fancy shirt at least not without an apron to protect it.

  • Get the coffee pot going, at least in this house.
  • Get that bunt cake in the oven if you didn’t bake it yesterday. Set out paper plates and disposable eating utensils on the table in the living room. Remember you want them out of the kitchen for most of the day.
    • At least until it’s time to peel potatoes or clean up.
  • Set up your very own breakfast buffet or snacks or whatever you are calling it out near the TV so they can watch the parade and you can cook.
  • Drink a big glass of water after that cup of coffee, if you get dehydrated it won’t be any fun.
  • Turn off the crock pot and let it sit for thirty minutes to cool, then strain your stock and put it in the fridge.
  • This is when I throw my casseroles such as green bean and yams together. When they go in the fridge the turkey comes out.
  • Now I put the turkey in the sink, unless you brine it and remove the giblets.
    • If you are new at this I recommend the reynolds oven bag method. This may not sound glamorous but it works simply follow the instructions.
  • The turkey goes in one of the two disposable turkey pans I put on your shopping list.
    • The second pan is in case of a leak or for you to carve the turkey into. (just in case you don’t have a huge platter.)
    • Be sure to put the pan on a baking sheet for stability.
          • On carving here is a video to help you.
            • If you are worried about cold turkey I will often put my platter in the oven on low. This way my sliced turkey hits a warm plate as I’m finishing up around the kitchen.


  • Now you take a break and check on the family and guests.
    • Don’t forget to drink your water. Trust me dehydration sucks.
  • Now back to the kitchen you have the mashed potatoes and dressing left to conquer.
  • If you want soft butter for your table now is when I’d take it out of the fridge just put it on a plate out of the way.
  • This is where you recruit helpers.
    • I find the youngest and oldest and hand them the muffin pans and the Rhodes dough balls. Two dough balls per cup with clean hands please. These then find the back of a counter or someplace warm to be ignored.
    • Let them peel potatoes. Yep if it’s just close family and friends I’ll often recruit hubby or some willing victim to peel the potatoes.
    • I start sauteing the onions and celery for the dressing. (Don’t forget to add in anything else you want to customize your dressing.)
      • Get it in a pan, disposable is my preference and throw it in the fridge.
    • You want to put the potatoes on to boil about an hour to an hour and half before the bird comes out of the oven. (Be sure to keep them covered with water or they will brown.)
      • I mash them about fifteen to twenty minutes before I pull the bird slap a lid on them and stick them on the stove top. They hold heat really well.
    • I start my gravy just before the bird is out and the casseroles go in. (You can do this earlier I don’t.) Please be sure to cook the flour. How do you know if it’s cooked. It will seize up and then you add more liquid and presto it’s all good. Be generous with the seasoning but not the salt here.