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Thanksgiving is a holiday full of warm memories, cozy colors and – of course! – delicious food, but it’s not always the easiest one to coordinate! That’s why I’m here: to help you make this holiday season full of love and laughter, no matter what. With these Easy Thanksgiving Dinner Tips, handy links and recipes, you’ll never need another Thanksgiving guide!
Simple Thanksgiving Dinner Prep
Prepping for a big meal with lots of guests is hard work! Even aside from cooking everything, there’s dietary restrictions, tastes, shopping, storage, and so many other little factors that can make planning feel like a headache waiting to happen.
That’s where these tips come in. I’ll give all my best tips and tricks from years of coordinating family suppers, starting with planning the meal and ending with storing it all away for later.
If your family can’t attend, don’t worry! I know how hard it can be to meet up in this wide world of ours. I’ll cover all sorts of great ideas for how to connect with your loved ones around the dinner table, be they your direct family or beloved friends, close or far.
Step One: Planning
This is a critical step for a simple Thanksgiving dinner, and will make your life so much easier. Take the time to go through every step and really make sure you’ve got a plan!
- Make a guest list! This could be a grand family get-together for a day or more, or it might be a quiet, comfortable dinner with yourself and your partner. Make sure to get a headcount so you know how much to make.
- Check with every guest for dietary restrictions. The last thing you want is a dinner your loved one can’t even enjoy! Write down every restriction for later.
- Once you know how many people are coming, go get a bird. Most turkeys can be stored in the freezer until 3 days before the meal, when they should be removed to de-thaw. The general rule of thumb is 1½ pounds of Turkey per person. For example, with 8 guests, you’ll buy a 12 pound bird. See our Turkey Thawing Guide for a more exact idea of when you should start thawing your turkey!
- If there are any other festivities planned, start them early! You can decorate days beforehand and set up any games or moves so there’s no extra hassle once family arrives.
Step Two: The Menu
Arguably, coming up with Thanksgiving menu ideas can be harder than the cooking! My secret is to make it a group activity. Anything can be fun if you do it together!
- Make it a family activity, and ask everyone what their favorite Thanksgiving dish is! If they have an old recipe they adore, that’s even better. Make up a big list to pick from.
- A classic Thanksgiving dinner will have five main components: Protein, Vegetables, Stuffing, Sauce, and Dessert. For easy recipes to follow, see our Recipes for Thanksgiving below (click to jump)!
- As much as you can, try to limit the amount of recipes with extremely unique ingredients. Buying tons of niche ingredients can get expensive fast and lead to a lot of leftover ingredients going to waste.
Step Three: Thanksgiving Shopping List
Let’s face it, grocery shopping during the holidays is never fun. It’s packed, things are out of stock, and if you’re avoiding crowds, it might not be possible to get more shopping done at all within the same week as Thanksgiving! Here are some tips for making it as easy as possible.
- Get staples early, and I mean really early, and make a list of what you already have plenty of. You might already have all the pantry ingredients you need.
- If it can be frozen, buy it early and freeze it! Meats, pies and soups are all easy to freeze and forget until the holidays roll around. You can even freeze a few boxes of butter.
- Pantry-safe vegetables like potatoes and onions can last a few weeks, so make sure to stock up early. Just be sure to store them separately! Onions release a gas that makes potatoes sprout faster!
- Write out the ingredients for every single recipe you’re making, then combine, combine, combine! Total the amount of butter, milk, eggs, etc. until you have a nice, clean list, then cross off anything you already have.
- Once it’s written, re-organize it to match how your grocery store is organized. This way you’ll spend less time going back and forth in a crowded store. Budget tip: Check those bottom shelves, and buy store-brand. They’re often just as good and a fraction of the cost.
- If you don’t have a bunch of storage containers, stock up now. There’s nothing as frustrating as realizing you don’t have enough Tupperware for saving leftovers. Budget Tip: Save up and use takeout containers or leftover jars and tubs!
Step Four: The Cooking
The cooking is where the fun starts, and also where the breakdowns happen when too much is left to the last day. Trust me, I’ve been there.
- For each recipe, make note of if it can be frozen and reheated. If it can, make it ahead of time, then freeze it and reheat it right before dinner. Side dish: done! Casseroles are especially freezer friendly.
- If anything does better cold, make it the day head, too. Pies are often preferred cold, and salads can be stored already mixed (before adding dressing) for a day or two before getting limp.
- Write down what days you’ll make each dish, and what appliance they use. This is especially important on Thanksgiving day. If you’re baking your turkey, you won’t have the oven most of the day. Keep that in mind for other dishes!
- ❗ Be careful with the broiler. Seriously. It’s so, so easy to get distracted, and it takes seconds for a crispy marshmallow topping to turn into a bonfire. Set a timer, don’t leave the kitchen, and watch the oven the entire time.
Step Five: The Fun!
You’ve planned, you’ve shopped, you’ve cooked- it’s time to have fun! How will you spend time with your family, or how will you include them if they’re far away?
- If you have visiting family, set up a movie or a favorite game. Visiting kids (or adults!) might enjoy playing a competitive video game together, or if the weather’s nice, get everyone together for a nice pre-supper walk. (Added benefit: everyone leaves the kitchen so you can cook and set up in peace!)
- A beloved memory of mine from childhood is decorating cookies as a family! Get the kids involved if cookies are on the menu by setting out baskets of cookie cutters, bowls of icing, squeeze bags for decorating, and any sprinkles or candies of choice. Let them decorate, and the adults can relax!
- Ask everyone to bring a plastic container, and fill it up with leftovers before they head home. It’s less for you to store, and a great take-home treat for them!
- If you can’t have family over, or don’t have any at all, that’s okay too. One Thanksgiving when I was away from home for the holiday, my neighbors invited me to be part of their family for the day, and I’ve never forgotten how wonderful and loved I felt sharing the holiday with them!
- If family just can’t reach you, try a video call! Show each other what you’ve made for dinner, give thanks over the phone, trade recipes, or try making each other’s favorite meals. You’ll feel close even across the globe.
Always adjust your menu to the size of the crowd; a cozy Thanksgiving for two might not need more than a turkey breast and 2-3 sides, but a family of a dozen will need a feast!
A good menu to start with will include turkey (or a favorite protein, like pork or tofurkey), root vegetables like yams, mashed potatoes and carrots, gravy, cranberry sauce and stuffing.
Start buying non-perishable ingredients at least one week before Thanksgiving to avoid crowds, or even earlier, if you can! Frozen turkey needs to be thawed for 2-3 days, so make sure to buy it several days before the meal, as well. Check out my Turkey Thawing Chart for more info!
Naturally, making an incredible meal is the first thing that springs to mind for Thanksgiving, but the whole day can be a special one! Cookie decorating, silly impromptu dinner speeches, and reaching out to non-family loved ones can make a classic holiday a treasured memory.
Of course the tradition of Thanksgiving is to spend it with family, but I know for many people, that may not be an option. Don’t worry; family is what you make of it, and the spirit of the holiday is all about sharing and love, no matter who you spend it with! Reach out to friends, or if you have family and a friend doesn’t, invite them in to share it with yours!
Recipes for Thanksgiving
Turkey Recipes for Thanksgiving
Naturally, the turkey is the star of the show, and I have so many amazing recipes for you to try! For an even more impressive result, try my easy Turkey Rub and Dry turkey brine, and really kick up the tender moisture with Turkey Butter Injection! Make sure to save the drippings for my favorite Turkey Gravy recipe and top it all off with Cranberry Sauce!
For a list of turkey recipes you can make with any appliance from the oven to sous vide and deep frying, see my Best Turkey Recipes.
Read on for one of my very favorite turkey recipes: Grilled Turkey! Remember, once the bird is picked clean, save the bones. You won’t want to miss out on a pot of amazing Turkey Carcass Soup.
Turkey Breast Recipes
A whole turkey is great for a crowd, but if you’re keeping it small this year, why not try a turkey breast instead? These are the Best turkey breast recipes!
Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes
Thanksgiving sides truly show off the best of the season! Candied root vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing, there’s no end to the amazing dishes everyone will love. For even more ideas, check out my list of the best Thanksgiving Sides!
Best Thanksgiving Desserts
Somehow, even after a big dinner, we all still have a little room left for dessert. Send off the holiday right by making it a good one!
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Turkey on the Grill (plus Thanksgiving Tips!)
- 2 cups chicken broth to catch drippings under turkey
- 4 Tbsp. butter melted
- 1 onion
- 1 batch rosemary sea salt rub
- citrus of your choice I used lemons and clementines, cut into wedges
- fresh chopped parsley optional, for garnish
- fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme optional, for garnish and stuffing
- 20 lb. turkey
- Season turkey with rosemary salt seasoning. Pat the rub all over the bird and rub it into the meat and under the skin.1 batch rosemary sea salt rub, 20 lb. turkey
- Dab turkey with melted butter all over. Make sure to dab, not brush, so you don't brush off the seasoning.Then, stuff the turkey with citrus wedges along with an onion and fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme if using. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.4 Tbsp. butter, 1 onion, citrus of your choice, fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme, fresh chopped parsley
- Preheat the grill to 450°F. Pour chicken broth into a foil roasting pan and place under the grill where you'll be cooking the turkey to catch the drippings. Reserve drippings to make gravy!2 cups chicken broth
- Turn off the middle burner and set the side burners to low. Grill turkey over indirect heat for 2½ hours, over the foil roasting pan. Check the turkey every 30 minutes or so. A whole turkey will reach an internal temperature of 165°F when done cooking.
- After seasoning, dab your turkey all over with melted butter. This will give you the crispiest skin and makes the juiciest turkey.
- We used the indirect grilling method which works great on large pieces of meat. Place the turkey in the middle of the grill and only light the two side burners. Refer to the step by step above on how to step up the indirect grilling method.
- Make sure to place a shallow aluminum foil pan under the turkey. The drippings along with the turkey or chicken broth make the most amazing gravy.
- Using a dry rub and dabbing butter on top will guarantee the crispiest skin.
- Use a meat thermometer to check the proper temperature. You can check the temperature in the thickest part of the breast or in the area in between the thigh and the breast.