T minus 3: A laid-back guide to Thanksgiving
November 22nd, 2010
12:05 AM ET
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Over the next four days – including yes, the very day of – we'll be sharing our time-tested hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities (that's always fun, right?), hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact.

Charts! Facts! Figures!

These things won't assure that the dog will refrain from jumping up and switching off the oven or that Cousin Jimmy isn't going to show up with a gaggle of brand new friends he woke up with this morning but they surely can't hurt.

Today - buying, borrowing and battening down the hatches.

HOUSEKEEPING

Got space? Before you bring a single potato or stick of butter into your home, make sure you've got somewhere to put it. Now's the time to give the fridge, freezer and cabinets a deep-down cleaning, tossing out past-prime food so you'll have ample room for the bird (if you're serving one - and by this point, it'll need to be in the refrigerator to thaw in time) produce, dairy and dry goods.

While you're at it, give all potential prep surfaces a sanitizing scrub-down, and put away countertop appliances you don't think you'll use. Starting with a blank slate may be the thing that keeps you calm in the face of chaos.

Once you've got a workable area, assess if you'll be able to fit everyone and everything into it. Perhaps a friend or neighbor who isn't cooking might be willing to lend a little fridge or oven space, or maybe even a roasting pan or a few extra chairs in exchange for an invitation or some slices of pie.

It also wouldn't hurt to do a load of laundry and ensure that you have plenty of dishtowels, aprons (no one likes to have their holiday finery all gravy-slopped), napkins, hand towels, potholders, oven mitts, place mats and tablecloths on hand. If a guest should happen to offer to come bearing any of these (that don't wreak havoc on your decorating scheme), and to cart them away after, thus saving you a re-laundering - smile, nod, and say YES. Yes, please, even.

Now would also be a great time to clean the bathroom and divest it of any items into which you'd not care for guests to snoop. "Not my friends and family!" you protest. Yes, even them. Nice soap, fresh hand towels and a candle make it a happier place for everyone to spend some time.

SHOPPING

The Bird

Got your turkey already? Nope? We're gonna go with the assumption that if you don't, you're either 1. not serving it, 2. armed with a hatchet and a plan, 3. buying it pre-cooked or 4. going with frozen (like 80% of Americans) rather than fresh. If indeed, it's option #4 and you're just reading this now, you might need a wee bit of help. No judgment - that's why we're here.

If you've got a rough idea of how many meat-eating guests will be on hand, go with around one pound per person - one and a half if you'd like to ensure a stash of leftovers. A huge bird can be comically unwieldy, so consider sacrificing the Big Platter Presentation for the sake of sanity and back strain. Opt for two (or three or more if you have the oven space) smaller birds - and just remember to make sure you've got enough roasting pans, foil and other poultry paraphernalia on hand.

If even the teeniest turkey is too big for your crowd, consider paring down to parts - just a breast or a mess of drumsticks. That way, each person gets the meat style they prefer, it cooks more quickly and you're not stuck on a search for a six-legged Tom.

Stock Up

No matter if you're serving a mega-bird, a couple of capons or even a tiny Tofurky, we cannot possibly overstate the importance of having stock on hand. Whether you opt for chicken or vegetable, it cannot hurt to have some around to saute sides, stir into stuffing, smooth out gravy or tater lumps and add flavor to just about any dish. It comes in cans or, even better, shelf-stable boxes, and what you don't use for T-Day, you'll burn through before the year is out.

Some Buying Guidelines:

Turkey: 1 lb per person, 1 1/2 lbs if you'd like leftovers (this takes the skin, bones and giblets of a whole bird into account)
Stuffing: 3/4 cup (pre-cooked volume) per person
Mashed potatoes or other starchy vegetables: 1/3-1/2 pound of raw potatoes (or squash) per person, 1 whole sweet potato
Other vegetables: 2-4 ounces or 1/2 cup per person
Salad: 1 cup per person
Beverages: 1-2 8 oz. drinks per hour per guest
Ice: 1 lb per person

Other Essentials:

Non-edible

Roasting / baking dishes
Baster or basting brush
Napkins (paper or linen)
Tablecloths and placements
Serving platters, bowls and utensils
Carving knife
Plates and bowls
Silverware
Glassware
Chairs
Aprons (for additional cooks)
Oven mitts / potholders
Foil
Containers for leftovers*
Kitchen towels
Paper towels
Hand towels
Bathroom tissue
Dish soap / hand soap

Edible

Butter
Oil (olive and canola)
Kosher salt
Flour
Sugar (white and brown)
Cream / milk
Herbs (fresh and dry)
Spices
Pepper
Onions, celery, carrots
Coffee / tea
Mixers (especially club soda in case of spills)
Beer / wine / spirits

Soul Saving

*Butter tubs, plastic take-out containers, baggies, Tupperware and all manner of resealable food-safe containers are a MUST if you don't care to end up swimming in gravy and green bean casserole on into '11. Some leftovers are dandy - perhaps even more appealing than the day-of meal - but if guests are bringing dishes as well, you just might not have the storage space.

Take a tip from the best Thanksgiving hostess we've ever know, the very dear, departed Miss Ellen Robinson (we called her Mama Diva) and assign at least one or more people to container duty. Then do NOT allow guests to leave without taking something delicious with them. It's equal parts generosity and strategy.

PREPPING

Got pie crusts to pre-bake, a turkey to brine or vegetables to peel? Enlist your family or invite over a pal and make a date of it. Put on some great music, pour a glass of wine (careful with the chopping!) and enjoy the bonding time.

A few tasks that can be pre-mastered:

- Bake any pastry shells
– Top crusts can be rolled, sandwiched between layers of waxed paper and rolled into a tube until they're needed
– Cube bread for stuffing so it has time to get a bit stale; fresh bread will be too soggy
– Bake and freeze from-scratch bread and rolls
– Chop and peel vegetables that won't be served raw. Store them in breathable produce bags in your refrigerator's crisper.
– Many casseroles and other sides benefit from a few days of flavor-melding time. Make and stash green bean or squash casserole, dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, mac and cheese, creamed onions, corn pudding, cranberries and plenty of other dishes ahead of time. Leave elements like crunchy toppings and fresh herbs out until the dish is ready to be re-heated and served.

IT'S NOT TOO LATE

Say, you've read through this and it's put you into a tizzy. We apologize - this is meant to empower, rather than incite panic. Still, if you're legitimately freaked out, consider a few alternatives.

1. Join forces with another friend who's hosting. Either combine gatherings or divide and conquer. One of you may excel at side dishes and the other at housecleaning. Play to your strengths and share resources.

2. Accept and any all offers of help. If there's one message we've tried to convey, it's don't be a martyr; be a host. People want to help and ideally, if they're invited, they're totally on your side. Let 'em assist and just thank them profusely in a heartfelt pre-meal toast.

3. Order pies, sides, even the turkey itself from a grocery store or restaurant. If someone has the bad manners to complain, proclaim loudly and gratefully that you heartily accept that as their offer to host the festivities next year.

4. Pull up stakes and move the party to a restaurant. Plenty offer prix fixe meals for Thanksgiving, and you won't be stuck with the clean-up.

5. If you're confident in your cooking skills, but not these particular dishes - just revamp the menu and go all out on your favorites. Perhaps you're known for a killer lasagna or you're exceptionally skilled at grilling. Go with that. People might be momentarily disappointed not to have sweet potato casserole or a great big drumstick, but if you're cooking with love, that'll shine on through.

After all, isn't it the company that counts?

Need kitchen and hosting advice, a supportive shoulder or a laugh? Just leave a note in the comments or reach out on Twitter @eatocracy and we'll do our best to help you keep calm and carry on.

See all our best Thanksgiving recipes and advice

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Filed under: Cooking • Feature • Holiday • Holidays • Make • Recipes • T Minus • Techniques & Tips • Thanksgiving • Thanksgiving


soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. RichardHead

    One more thing to add to your list….Febreze spray or the little small plug in smelly thingy's for…..Grandma or Mother in Law TURKEY FLATULENCE……EWWWWWWW !!!

    November 25, 2013 at 6:09 am | Reply
  2. Thomas

    And most of all remember, you are just cooking a meal. Not curing world hunger nor creating a piece of art that will last the centuries.

    Relax, cook a good meal, laugh at the mistakes, and eat it. All T-Day meals come out the same way after a few hours. Don't sweat perfection. Enjoy yourself.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  3. Tamra

    Wow..after reading your article..I had forgotten..how much work I really do for T-Day....think i will make copies and give them to my guest to read... lol :) great check list thanks

    November 23, 2010 at 4:44 am | Reply
  4. RichardHead

    Don't know. He's been watching too much Oprah and is slowly changing into a Drama Queen. The Dark Side is enticing him.

    November 22, 2010 at 8:03 am | Reply
    • Sir Biddle-Dee-Bobity-Boo

      Out of office part of today, but I'll have to stay tuned via the mobile to hear the fate of Jdizz.

      November 22, 2010 at 8:28 am | Reply
    • Jerv

      Hmm, it's a lousy economy to be looking for a job.

      November 22, 2010 at 8:30 am | Reply
      • RichardHead

        Perhaps we should contact America's Most Wanted and use the above picture-Someone is bound to have seen him?

        November 22, 2010 at 8:39 am | Reply
  5. RichardHead

    Good Morning All-What an excellent picture of Jdizzle! A Hen House Mugshot?

    November 22, 2010 at 7:31 am | Reply
    • Jerv

      Laughs. Yes great pose too.

      Did Jdizz really walk out on his job?

      November 22, 2010 at 7:53 am | Reply
  6. T3chsupport

    We're not. We're into gluttony and debauchery.
    Begone, spammer!

    November 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  7. Jerv

    Agreed. And cheers to you!

    November 22, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Reply

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