4-3 Weeks ahead:
- Invite guests, asking everyone to RSVP at least two weeks before Thanksgiving.
- Find out if your guests have special dietary requirements.
- Make sure you have enough tables, chairs, glassware and dinnerware or make arrangements to borrow or purchase what you need.
2 Weeks ahead:
- Order your fresh or frozen turkey from your grocer. If you have freezer space, purchase your frozen turkey now. For a whole turkey, plan on one pound per person. If purchasing a bone-in turkey breast, plan on 3/4 pound per person. For a boneless turkey breast, calculate 1/2 pound per person. These amounts allow for plenty of leftovers!
- Decide on the menu and collect all recipes. To avoid an overloaded oven or range top, select a few recipes that serve well at room temperature.
- Ask your guests if they would like to bring an appetizer, side dish or dessert. Assign cooking projects to family members who offer to help.
- If you are preparing most of the food yourself, consider a few foods that freeze well such as pastry-type appetizers, pound cake or cookies.
- Prepare three shopping lists: one for food prep safety items, one for perishable food and one for non-perishables. Check the tools and ingredients you have on-hand. Verify that dried herbs and spices are not expired.
- Shop for safety tools and non-perishable products, including ingredients for desserts and side dishes, (non-perishable products such as flour, sugars, corn syrup, dried herbs and spices, canned pumpkin, packaged stuffing, rice, and fresh or frozen cranberries).
- If you plan to deep-fry, smoke or grill the turkey, check the outdoor equipment to make sure it is in working order. Plan an alternative cooking method just in case there is inclement weather on Thanksgiving Day. Purchase the oil, wood chips or charcoal now, before supplies are scarce.
- Plan your type of table centerpieces and other decorations and determine what needs to be purchased.
- If necessary, wash and iron table linens and polish silver.
- Find the turkey roaster and rack.
- Check to make sure your food thermometer is in working order and calibrated.
- Check your inventory for cotton kitchen twine, a turkey baster and a fat separator for making gravy.
1 Week ahead:
- Shop for hardy vegetables such as onions, winter squash, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and turnips.
- Clean the turkey platter and other serving dishes and utensils. Use post-it notes to define the foods to be placed in each serving platter and bowl.
- Calculate how long it will take the turkey to thaw. For each 4-1/2 pounds of frozen turkey, plan on a 24-hour refrigerator thaw time. (ex. if the turkey weighs 16 pounds, the refrigerated thaw time will be 3-1/2 days). Place the frozen turkey, in the original wrapper, in a 2-inch deep roasting pan in the refrigerator. Thaw the turkey, with the breast side down so the juices will flow into the breast. A thawed turkey may remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Plan accordingly. (Turkey Thawing Hints from the National Turkey Federation)
- Start making extra ice for beverages.
Three days ahead:
- Clean the house.
- If you are using fresh flowers or fruits for the table arrangements, they should be purchased today and the table arrangements assembled.
Two days ahead:
- Make pumpkin pies, pumpkin cheesecake, rolls, and breads and cornbread or biscuits for the turkey dressing/stuffing. Refrigerate desserts with custard-like ingredients. (The desserts may be brought to room temperature before serving.) Even if you are serving apple or pecan pies, the pie crust could be made today with assembly and baking late tomorrow.
- Enlist the kids to help with baking, or have the kids make placecards and leftovers labels.
- Prepare menu items such as cranberry sauce, soups, appetizer dips and other items that improve in flavor as they are held in the refrigerator.
- Assemble casseroles (such as sweet potato or green bean); they can be stored uncooked in the refrigerator and baked on Thanksgiving Day.
- If you are making homemade stuffing, cut and cube bread and place it in a single layer on a baking pan to dry.
One Day Ahead:
- If you ordered a fresh turkey, pick it up from the grocery store. Place the turkey, breast side down and in the original wrapper, in a 2-inch deep roasting pan in the refrigerator.
- Remove the giblets and wing tips from your fresh or thawed turkey and cook the giblet turkey broth to use as a flavor enhancer with the stuffing/dressing and gravy.
- Set the tables – both the dining table and the buffet table. Arrange the chairs. When setting the table, be sure to remember the salt and pepper shakers, butter plate and all the serving utensils.
- Set up a coat rack with extra hangers. If rain or snow is forecasted, be sure there is a space for umbrellas.
- Buy the salad greens and perishable vegetables. Wash leafy greens, spin, dry, and store by packing in paper towels in a sealable plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- Wash, trim and cut fresh vegetables on a clean cutting board. Wrap in damp paper towels and place in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator.
- Set up the beverage bar with glasses, napkins and bottle/wine opener.
- Chill beverages. Make sure you have room in your refrigerator for all the food, so if you don’t have enough space, chill the beverages in a cooler filled with ice.
- Complete any remaining baking, such as apple or pecan pies. Cover and store fruit pies at room temperature.
- Calculate the cooking time and temperatures (plus cooking order) for tomorrow.
- Make sure the turkey is thawed completely. If it isn’t, speed thawing using the cold water method.
First tasks of the day:
- Clean and sanitize your countertops and cutting boards.
- Preheat the oven to 325 °F.
- Prepare stuffing for the turkey and/or to cook in a baking dish. If you choose to stuff the turkey, stuff loosely, allowing about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Place all extra stuffing in a baking dish and bake in the oven. As soon as the turkey is stuffed, place it in the preheated oven.
- Prepare the cleaned vegetables for cooking - peel and chop using clean utensils and a clean cutting board. Cover the ready-to-cook vegetables and put them in the refrigerator.
- Boil and mash potatoes; they can be reheated just before serving. Consider holding the warm mashed potatoes in a slow cooker. They will stay warm and creamy up to two hours.
Second tasks of the day:
- An hour before the turkey is done, begin cooking fresh vegetables and get other foods ready to go into the oven (stuffing, rolls, etc.).
- Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and dressing. A whole turkey should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird. Most home cooks enjoy the dark meat at a higher internal temperature of 175 °F to 180 °F. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The stuffing should reach 165 °F, whether cooked inside the bird or in a separate baking dish. (Thermometer Guidelines from the National Turkey Federation)
Take out the turkey, and while the cooked turkey is resting:
- Put a foil tent over the turkey and allow the turkey to rest on a clean cutting board for 20-25 minutes before carving begins.
- Bake casserole dishes of stuffing/dressing in the preheated oven.
- Warm other foods – including mashed potatoes, soups, casseroles and rolls.
- Remove cold desserts from the refrigerator to allow them to come to room temperature.
- Make the gravy and preheat the gravy bowl with hot water so the gravy will stay hot.
- Place all the food on the table or buffet.
After the meal:
- Divide all leftovers into smaller portions and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator within two hours. Let your kids use their leftover labels to mark a “use by” date on the containers. [see chart of leftover use-by]
The non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education saves lives and improves public health through research-based, actionable consumer food safety initiatives that reduce foodborne illness. Sign up to be a BAC Fighter at www.fightbac.org!