So you’ve committed yourself to hosting Thanksgiving dinner. How cool, how scary! Am I right?! I mean, this is the dinner party of dinner parties. How can you possibly pull off this monumental dinner with so many dishes, for so many people? Ok, so if you weren’t scared before, I’m sure the opening lines of this post did it for ya! No worries. You will be fine. In many ways, it is just like other dinner party you have hosted, with a few more moving pieces.
There are lots of tips that I have shared with you, to help you have a successful Thanksgiving, but these are specific to those who are hosting for the first time.
Decide on whether it will be potluck style or you will make everything.
I prefer to serve everything out of my kitchen because through careful planning and time management, it causes me less stress than waiting for my guests to bring side dishes and wondering if they made enough. Also, one of the things that can cause a traffic jam in the kitchen, is someone bringing something cold or that needs re-heating. Oven space is premium real estate on Thanksgiving day and having to constantly place and remove things from the oven can cause you more stress than what you originally saved by not making the dish yourself.
Should you choose to do it potluck style, you can avoid that madness by politely asking guests to bring things already hot or in an insulated bag. Also, who you decide to assign dishes to is really important. Don’t assign the appetizers to your favorite aunt who is usually late – let her bring dessert. One more tip, don’t serve too many appetizers since this is such a big and filling meal.
Which brings me to a third option and it’s usually what I opt for. I make all the main and side dishes and I delegate the desserts. I will usually make one or two pies and my guests bring the rest. I only make pies because there a few that I enjoy making, otherwise I would skip making any dessert and delegate it entirely. I usually set up my buffet table, allowing for the size serving dishes that I will use, but the dessert table isn’t as orderly, it’s just an empty table with a few decorations and some serving utensils. As the guests arrive they can place their dessert on that table.
2. Choose dishes that you can make ahead of time.
When choosing your dishes, keep in mind how much oven space you have. Also, look at their cooking temperature, as they will have to be in the same oven. Something that cooks at 375 deg and something that cooks at 350 deg, can usually be in the same oven if you set it somewhere in between. However, something that has to cook at 425 deg. cannot be in an oven with something that cooks at 325 deg – keep that in mind when choosing your dishes. Another thing to consider is avoiding too many dishes that have to be made at the last-minute. There is always a bit of a frenzy on Thanksgiving, no matter how much you plan, so last-minute sautéing and bruleing is not going to help.
Most of the dishes that I make are completely prepped the night before and will just heat them up in the oven the following day. Lastly, dont experiment with new recipes as there are too many variables to control on such a busy cooking day.
3. Order another rack for your oven.
This one didn’t occur to me until last year. Considering that so many Thanksgiving dishes are casseroles that are baked in standard 9×13, you can usually fit another rack into your oven. Admittedly, after using it for Thanksgiving and my Christmas brunch, I have not had a need for it and had to store it, but it was helpful enough during the holidays to justify buying it. I purchased this one through my Amazon store but you will have to search for one specific to your oven dimensions. It will allow you to place an additional 2 casseroles in the oven. Note that adding more dishes to your oven may mean that things cook slower, as the heat distribution is altered. I don’t actually cook 6 casseroles at once anyway but I will re-heat and keep 6 casseroles in there until it’s time to serve.
4. Don’t set up any food stations inside the kitchen.
You will thank me for this one. The kitchen is always the hub of the action during dinner parties but it can be the eye of the storm during Thanksgiving. If possible, avoid setting up tables right next to areas that you will need to be doing all your last-minute prep and cooking. Setting a buffet table in another room, can make it more comfortable for you to work and for your guests to have ample room to move. Also, after dinner, the kitchen will inevitably look pretty messy, so it is best to have the fun in another room anyway. It’s more relaxing to be in a room separate from stacked dishes.
5. Have a schedule.
This should be number 1 and it’s my favorite tip for people hosting Thanksgiving for the first or fifteenth time. I write down a schedule, counting backwards on when I want to serve dinner, that has a ridiculous amount of detail as to when to put things in the oven, when to remove them, when to serve water in the water glasses, when to set the coffee maker, turn on the candles, everything. This timeline will take you a while to put together but it will keep you so calm that it will become indispensable. Also, you can use the same timeline year after year. No more stressing wondering if you are forgetting something important. There are just too many things to juggle on that day and winging it won’t
carve cut it.
Above all, know that are these tips are geared towards one goal – you having fun! Yes, it’s also about your guests, but they won’t have fun if you look stressed out. When you are the host/hostess, you set the pace. If you are relaxed, they will be relaxed and have fun, too!