A Bunch of Last-Minute Tips for Nailing Thanksgiving Dinner

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is both thrilling and slightly nerve-racking, no matter how many times you’ve played hostess. You’ve planned and prepped, and want your holiday celebration to be just right. So, with that in mind, here are a bunch of last minute tips and reminders to help you nail Thanksgiving dinner.

1. The rule of thumb for buying turkey is one to two pounds per person.

There are two things to consider when deciding what size turkey to buy: the number of guests and your stance on leftovers.

  • Not into leftovers: Plan on 1 pound person
  • When you want some leftovers: Plan on 1 1/2 pounds per person
  • When you want a lot of leftovers: Plan on 2 pounds per person
How To Brine a Turkey (Image credit: Emma Christensen)

2. You should start brining the turkey two days before Thanksgiving.

While brining is totally optional, I think this step is always worth it. Consider is your insurance plan for a juicy, well-seasoned turkey. It’s particularly useful if it’s your first time roasting a turkey, and you’re not feeling totally confident. During brining, when the turkey soaks in a saltwater bath, it absorbs extra moisture, which keeps it juicy during and after cooking.

Here’s how: How To Brine a Turkey

3. The best way to deal with a still-frozen bird is to cook it as is.

If your turkey is in any way still frozen come Thanksgiving morning, do not fear — because yes, you really can cook a frozen turkey. In fact, roasting a partially frozen or completely frozen turkey is also a lot safer than trying to thaw the turkey with warm water.

4. There are a few kitchen basics that can work in place of a roasting rack.

In addition to a roasting pan you’ll also need a roasting rack to cook the turkey. The roasting rack lifts the bird away from the direct heat of the pan and allows hot air to circulate underneath, which means it cooks more evenly and develops a crispier skin.

If you just realized you don’t have one, don’t skip it entirely — instead, use crumpled foil, a wire cooling rack, or roughly chopped potatoes and onions in its place.

Try these alternatives: What to Do If You Don’t Have a Roasting Rack on Thanksgiving

5. Turkey takes about 13 minutes per pound to cook.

With this in mind, plan to roast the turkey for three to five hours, depending on its size. Also keep in mind that you’ll want to let it rest for about 20 minutes before carving and serving.

6. Basting is a matter of personal preference.

To baste, or not to baste? That seems to be the standing question when roasting the turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s really a matter of personal preference, and entirely optional.

Read more: Is Basting the Turkey Really Necessary?

7. The turkey cooks faster without stuffing and trussing.

If you fall behind schedule with getting your turkey in the oven this Thanksgiving, do not panic. There are a few smart tactics that can help your turkey cook faster, so you can get it on the table in time. For starters, prepare the stuffing separately rather than in the bird and skip trussing the turkey.

8. The silkiest mashed potatoes start with warm butter.

When making mashed potatoes, the little details are what will take this essential side from good to great. Not only should the butter be warmed and melted before mixing it into the potatoes, but it should also be added before the milk or half-and-half, to get the silkiest results.

The water in half-and-half (or milk) combines with the starch molecules, which makes the potatoes gluey. But when you add the butter first, it coats the starch, preventing additional liquid absorption, and results in silkier potatoes.

(Image credit: Gabriela Herman)

9. There are some good items in your kitchen that can be used in place of serving platters.

Fancy platters are the pretty, magazine-approved way to serve your turkey and dessert on Thanksgiving. They aren’t the only serving option, though. Everything from cheese boards and baking sheets to cast iron skillets and cake stands can be used to serve your holiday meal.

10. A slow cooker, toaster oven, thermos, or insulated cooler can help keep food warm.

Part of the juggling act of preparing Thanksgiving dinner is keeping all the food warm until it hits the table. And while the stovetop and oven are the most ideal locations, well, that is prime real estate and they might not be available. There are plenty of other solutions, including your slow cooker (or Instant Pot), toaster oven, insulated thermos or cooler, and more.