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Thanksgiving Dinner: Planning and Prep

With our foolproof recipes, a shopping list and strategy, and a cornucopia of tips and tricks, celebrating this all-American holiday couldn’t be easier. Now, who gets to carve the bird?

The Menu

Turkey with Brown-Sugar Glaze
Pan Gravy
Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Clove
Glazed Carrots with Thyme
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Green Beans with Caramelized Onions and Tarragon
Simple Scalloped Potatoes
Brandied Pecan Pie

The Tips


Size It Up

The smaller the bird, the easier it is for both white and dark meat to come out juicy and tender. That's why we prefer a turkey in the 12-pound range.

The Leg Work

Put the turkey in the oven drumsticks first. Those parts take the longest to cook and the back of the oven is hotter than the front.


If you like plenty of white meat left over for soup, sandwiches, casseroles, or potpies, think about roasting a turkey breast the day before.

Dress It Up

Use whatever fresh herbs you have on hand -- parsley and rosemary, say -- to set off the bird. What makes a simple garnish like this so effective is its abundance. Orange slices provide an aromatic touch.


Gravy Train

Great gravy begins with the turkey's juices and the flavorful brown bits you scrape from the bottom of the pan.

A Pan Plan

A heavy metal pan is flameproof, so you can put it across two burners. A pale interior lets you see what you're doing.

Flour Power

For the deepest, richest flavor, cook flour and fat together until the flour no longer tastes raw.

Finish It Off

Cider vinegar, with its fresh, fruity tang, is a key ingredient. It brings all the other flavor components into balance.



You can't go wrong with our Basic Bread Stuffing, especially if you add our favorite mix-ins: Walnuts and Herbs, Chorizo and Almond, Cherries and Pecans, Tomatoes and Olives, or Smoked Oysters and Bacon. Bake it while the turkey is resting.

Loaf Lowdown

Large pieces of bread allow a perfect ratio of moistness underneath to toasty crunch on top.

Cranberry Sauce:

A Twofer

The spices in this tangy sauce also go well with ham. Make a double batch and freeze half for Christmas.

Tart Smarts

Cranberries contain lots of pectin, which is released in cooking. When sugar is added, the tart juices thicken and give the sauce body.

The Sides:

So Simple

Cooking carrots in a bit of water, butter, and sugar brings out their delicate flavor and coats them with a thin glaze. Instead of baby carrots, you can substitute medium carrots, cut into thin slices.

Try This

Fresh thyme is wonderful with carrots, but dill or parsley would be delicious, too.

Ready ...

Choose at least 2 side dishes you can serve at room temperature.

Set ...

A food processor shreds brussels sprouts fast; a knife gives the texture you see in the recipe.


No pancetta? No worries. Swap in bacon and still get lots of smoky savor.

Good ...

Cooking onions until they are golden brown, or caramelized, both deepens and amplifies their flavor.


They're delicious on green beans, but also on pizza, baked potatoes, or grilled cheese sandwiches.


You may want to make a double batch, in fact, since they’re an easy way to dress up any meal.

Pare Down

Peeling is easier and faster with large potatoes. Don't rinse the starch off; it will help to thicken the sauce.

On the Level

Balance out a rich, creamy side with green-vegetable dishes that are lighter and crisp-tender.


Nut Note

Substitute walnuts or blanched hazelnuts for half the pecans in the pie. This pie is wonderful on its own or with a satisfying dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla.

Be Sweet

Why not have a dessert buffet? Our brown betty and maple-walnut cake would work well.

Be Innovative

Pumpkin cupcakes and whoopie pies prove that festive doesn't have to mean fancy.

Be Thankful

If guests offer to bring dessert, take them up on it -- and check it off your to-do list.

The Strategy

2 Weeks Ahead

If using a fresh turkey, order for pickup.

1 Week Ahead

Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate.

3 to 4 Days Ahead

If using a frozen turkey, place on a rimmed baking sheet in refrigerator to thaw (allow 1 day for every 4 to 5 pounds).

2 Days Ahead

Make pie dough and refrigerate.

Toast bread for stuffing and pecans for pie; store separately in airtight containers at room temperature.

1 Day Ahead

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 pie and let cool completely. Wrap well in plastic and keep at room temperature.

Morning Of

Prepare potatoes, cover, and refrigerate.

3 1/2 Hours Before

Bring turkey to room temperature; start roasting. Make glaze.

2 Hours Before

Once oven is at 350 degrees, bake potatoes. Bring caramelized onions and cranberry sauce to room temperature. Cook green beans. Assemble stuffing.

30 Minutes Before

While turkey and potatoes rest, put stuffing in oven. Cook carrots. Make gravy.

Finish brussels sprouts and assemble green beans. Invite all to the table and serve. Happy Thanksgiving!

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