The Beginner's Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner, Complete with a Can't-Be-Beat Menu and Timeline
Novice hosts, there's no need to be intimidated by a turkey! Follow this handy menu and timeline for preparing your first-time Thanksgiving menu, and you'll get dinner on the table without a hitch.
Whether your family has passed you the cooking baton or you're preparing a spread for your friends, hosting your first Thanksgiving can seem a daunting task—but it doesn't have to be! With a little bit of strategizing and a foolproof menu, you can pull off the big feast without a fuss. Our menu of classic yet simple recipes and our handy timeline will help you pull off the festivities with ease (and have fun doing it!).
Make your first Thanksgiving dinner manageable by getting ahead with prep. Two weeks before the feast reserve your bird. Whether you're picking up your turkey from your farmer or grocery store, or ordering online, contact your purveyor and confirm that the bird will be available and when you can collect it or when it will be delivered. The weekend before is the time to buy the bulk of your groceries and to clean the kitchen. Doing this will help keep you organized and create room in your fridge. Toss any expired foods, wipe surfaces, and gather platters and cookware. Also wash and properly store produce and make the cranberry sauce.
Three days before Thanksgiving, you'll want to assess the bird. If you're using a frozen turkey, now is the time to thaw it: defrost on a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Allow a full day for every four pounds of turkey being thawed.
You can make the Herb-Marinated Olives and Garden Veggie Dip two days before the dinner. That's also the day to make the pie dough and refrigerate. And get ahead on dishes you'll make closer to the dinner by toasting bread for stuffing and pecans for pie; store them separately in airtight containers at room temperature.
The rest of the meal will be prepared the day before and on Thanksgiving and we've outlined what to tackle when on those days on slides at the end of this gallery.
Herb-Marinated Olives and Garden Veggie Dip
Setting out a bounty of snacks is a wonderful way to welcome everyone—and it buys you more time in case dinner falls a little behind schedule. Even better, both appetizers can (and should) be made-ahead. Herb-Marinated Olives are sure to become your go-to easy app.
Presbyterian Cocktail and Cheese Crackers
The key to hosting a good party might be delicious food, but the key to a great party is to keep the drinks flowing! Your signature cocktail for the Thanksgiving feast should be this whisky and ginger cooler. Choose which friend or relative will be bartender and give them the mixology duties so you can concentrate on the food. These buttery cheddar-laced crackers are the perfect cocktail companion.
Turkey with Brown-Sugar Glaze
Behold the meal's centerpiece! Cloaked in a tangy-sweet glaze, this bird is ready in just under three hours, including resting time, so there's no need to wake up at dawn and baste all day.
Basic Bread Stuffing and Cranberry Sauce with Clove and Ginger
Glazed Carrots with Thyme
Call the kids to help with this dish. Little ones can remove the thyme leaves from their stems. Older children can peel carrots and measure out the ingredients for the glaze.
Shredded Brussels with Pancetta
Green Beans with Caramelized Onions and Tarragon
This dish is great served at room temperature, so it's a real boon at Thanksgiving. You can trim the green beans and caramelize the onions a day in advance.
Simple Scalloped Potatoes
This crowd-pleaser can be assembled up to six hours in advance and baked at the same time as the turkey.
Brandied Pecan Pie
Instead of preparing a full spread of sweets, we suggest serving one spectacular dessert. This brandied pecan pie is simple to prepare but layered with irresistible flavors.
Thanksgiving Timeline: The Day Before
Trim and peel carrots; refrigerate in a zip-top bag.
Trim Brussels sprouts and shred; refrigerate in an airtight container. Cook pancetta; refrigerate it and drippings separately in airtight containers.
Trim green beans; refrigerate in a zip-top bag. Caramelize onions. Let cool completely; refrigerate in an airtight container.
Make cheese crackers, cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Make pie and let cool completely. Wrap well in plastic and keep at room temperature.
Thanksgiving Day Timeline
The morning of: Prepare potatoes, cover, and refrigerate.
3 1/2 hours before: Bring turkey to room temperature; start roasting. Make glaze.
1 hour before: Set out cheese crackers and other snacks.
Call everyone to the table: Dinner's ready!
Pack it. Have airtight containers on hand and encourage guests to bring their own so the leftovers can be easily divvied up.