The Ultimate Guide to Hosting Your First Thanksgiving Dinner


No need to be intimidated by a turkey. Get your first Thanksgiving dinner on the table without a hitch, thanks to our tasty menu and handy timeline.

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The Basics


Whether your family has passed you the cooking baton or you're preparing a feast for your in-laws, hosting your first Thanksgiving as a married couple can be daunting—but it doesn't have to be! With a little bit of strategizing and a foolproof menu, you can pull off dinner without a hitch. Here, we breakdown the perfect menu, along with the perfect timeline, to help you pull off the holiday with ease.

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The Menu


From cocktail hour to dessert, we've got you covered. The trick is to load your menu with items that can be prepped ahead of Turkey Day, meaning on Thanksgiving you're largely roasting or reheating, not chopping, measuring—and missing out on quality time with your newly minted sister-in-law or parents!

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The way to guests' hearts is through their stomachs. Set out a bounty of snacks and a delicious signature cocktail to welcome them, and you'll buy yourself more time, too, in the event that dinner falls a little behind schedule.

Here's what's kicking off the feast: Herb-Marinated Olives, Garden Veggie Dip, Baked Brie with Pecans, and a Sparkling Pear and Cranberry Cocktail.

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Main Course


Behold the meal's centerpiece! Cloaked in a tangy-sweet covering, this Turkey with Brown-Sugar Glaze is ready in just under three hours, including resting time, so there's no need to wake up at dawn and baste all day. After taking your bird out of the oven, you'll simmer the drippings with a bit of flour and fat to create flavorful Pan Gravy.

Here's what's on the side: Basic Bread Stuffing with Ginger-and-Clove Cranberry Sauce, Glazed Carrots with Thyme, Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, and Bourbon-Pecan Sweet Potatoes.

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Instead of preparing a full spread of sweets as the last course, serve one spectacular dessert (doubled, if needed). Our Pumpkin Pie Tart with a Press-In Shortbread Tart Shell is simple to prepare but layered with delicious flavors. Serve with whipped cream and ice cream—store bought or homemade—to leave every last sweet tooth nothing short of satisfied.

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The Timeline


No reason to fight the clock. All you need is two-weeks' notice to pull off the annual feast. Here's how to budget your time so that the big day is a big success.

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Two-Weeks Ahead

Clive Streeter

Buy your bird—whether that's from a grocery store or online—and store it in your freezer. For a large party, you'll need a big turkey, about 15 to 20 pounds (figure one-and-a-half pounds for each person), while smaller birds, 12 pounds or less, have a smaller meat-to-bone ratio, so allow two pounds per person.

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One-Week Ahead


Grocery shop!

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The Weekend Ahead


Clean the kitchen and the fridge. Toss any expired foods, wipe surfaces, and gather platters and cookware. Wash and properly store produce, and make the Ginger-and-Clove Cranberry Sauce.

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Three-Days Ahead


Thaw your turkey. Place the frozen turkey, breast side up, in its original wrapper, onto a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, where it's too cold for harmful bacteria to grow. Allow a full day for every 4 pounds of turkey being thawed. Make Herb-Marinated Olives and the Garden Veggie Dip, which you can serve with store-bought crackers or freshly chopped veggies.

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Two-Days Ahead

David Loftus

Toast bread for Basic Bread Stuffing, and store it in airtight containers at room temperature. Make Baked Brie with Pecans.

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One-Day Ahead


Trim and peel carrots, then refrigerate in a zip-top bag. Trim Brussels sprouts, shred, then refrigerate in an airtight container. Cook pancetta, and refrigerate it and drippings separately in airtight containers. Make Press-In Shortbread Pie Crust and let cool completely. Bake Pumpkin Pie Tart and wrap well in plastic once cool. Keep at room temperature.

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On Thanksgiving Morning


Prepare Butter-Pecan Sweet Potatoes through step 2, cover, and refrigerate.

3 1/2 hours before:

Bring turkey to room temperature and start roasting on a shallow rectangular pan just big enough to fit your turkey with medium-height sides (about 3 inches) and strong handles.

Make Brown-Sugar Glaze. After the first hour, baste the turkey often with pan drippings to keep the meat moist and give the skin an even color. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of a thigh, avoiding the bone, registers 165 degrees.

Let the turkey rest, loosely tented with aluminum foil, for at least 30 minutes before carving so the juices can reabsorb.

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On Thanksgiving Afternoon


2 hours before:

Once oven is at 350 degrees, bake Butter-Pecan Sweet Potatoes. Bring Ginger-and-Clove Cranberry sauce to room temperature. Assemble Basic Bread Stuffing.

1 hour before:

Warm Baked Brie with Pecans, and set out the Herb-Marinated Olives and Garden Veggie Dip.

30 minutes to 1 hour before:

While the Turkey with Brown-Sugar Glaze and Butter-Pecan Sweet Potatoes rest, put Basic Bread Stuffing in oven. Cook Glazed Carrots with Thyme. Make Pan Gravy. Finish Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta.

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