Find out exactly what you need to do and when.
overhead view of long table and kitchen island with thanksgiving food
Credit: John Kernick

You've done all the prep and the big day is finally here: It's the fourth Thursday of November and your family will be gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving in just a few short hours. Hopefully you've already created a cooking schedule, so you know when everything needs to go in the oven or on the stovetop, and what needs to be made fresh or simply reheated. To help you further organize your schedule, we're sharing a game-day plan that'll take you from wake-up to sit-down. In addition to getting dinner on the table exactly when you want it, our guidelines also ensure this holiday is as stress-free and enjoyable as possible for you.


The first thing you should do after waking up is prepare the potatoes. Peel them and place them in a pot or other large container. Cover them with water, cover the container with a lid or wrap, and let sit at room temperature until it's time to cook. If you haven't already, you'll want to prepare the other vegetables next. You can trim and peel carrots as well as trim Brussels sprouts and green beans. Refrigerate them in a zip-top bag. Last, chill wine, beer and any other drinks you want to serve cold.

About Four and a Half Hours Before Dinner

It can take anywhere from two and a half to six hours to roast a turkey, depending on how big it is. A 15-pound bird (which is the average weight of turkeys bought at Thanksgiving) needs about three and three quarter hours at 325 degrees, according to the USDA—that means you need to get it in the oven at least four hours before you want to eat. You'll want it to rest for a minimum of a half hour before carving.

Once the turkey is in the oven, get to work on the sides. Parboil or blanch the aforementioned vegetables, and make your mashed potatoes (to prevent them from drying out, top them with a thin layer of milk or half-and-half, then cover with a lid; they can stay like this for up to three hours. Stir the milk in just before serving). Assemble casseroles and stuffing. If there is room in the oven, bake them now and reheat them later. If the turkey takes up all of the oven's real estate, assemble the casseroles, cover and refrigerate them until the turkey's out.

Three Hours Before Dinner

Assemble the cheese plate and any other appetizers that should be served at room temperature. You should also take the cranberry sauce and the butter that will accompany your dinner rolls out of the refrigerator, as well as any pre-made foods so they're not so cold when you place them in the oven later to reheat.

Two Hours Before Dinner

Assuming the guests are arriving soon, take a few moments to clean up the kitchen. Wash any pots that have stacked up in the sink; run the dishwasher so you'll be able to empty it before dinner. Once you've finished cleaning, set out appetizers and snacks for guests to enjoy. Whatever you do, don't forget to keep an eye on the turkey—it could cook faster than you were anticipating.

One Hour Before Dinner (or Whenever the Turkey Is Done)

Once the turkey is done, transfer it to a carving platter and let it rest. Now that it's out of the oven, you can switch the racks (assuming you've moved them to accommodate the turkey) so they divide the oven in thirds. Turn the oven temperature to 350 degrees (if it's not there already) to cook or reheat casseroles and other sides. Now's the time to make the gravy (or, if you've made it already, put it in a saucepan to begin warming). Fill guests' water glasses and open red wine, if you plan to serve it with dinner, to let it breathe.

Ten Minutes Before Dinner

Finish any sides that you're cooking on the stove and warm the gravy. Transfer everything to its serving platter and start bringing it to the table (or buffet). Pour the wine.

Just before inviting everyone to the table, turn off the oven and make sure the stove's off. If you are serving apple pie, place it in the warmed (but turned-off) oven so it gently heats while you're eating dinner. Last but not least, sit down and enjoy the meal—you've earned it!


Be the first to comment!