A 10-Day Thanksgiving Timeline

published Nov 14, 2014
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(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner, especially if you’ve never done it before, can be a bit stressful. Making sure the house is presentable and the food is warm and tasty is no small feat, so to make sure everything gets done in time, planning is key.

Even if you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of person, this is the one time of year that you might want to consider mapping out a good game plan so you can actually enjoy the big holiday! Here is your 10-day Thanksgiving countdown — a timeline of what to do from next week until the big day!

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

10 Days Before Thanksgiving: The Plan

  • Plan your turkey method: A turkey doesn’t have to be roasted in the oven; you can deep-fry or grill it to free up oven space, but figure out what you want to do and make sure you order the turkey. Make sure your roasting pan is big enough and that it will fit in the oven!
  • Think through oven and stove space: Make sure not all your side dishes need last-minute oven or stove time, and consider swapping in a few dishes that can be served at room temperature. Don’t forget that you can keep foods warm in lots of unexpected places too!
  • Match your menu to your serving dishes: A good classic piece of advice is to pull out all your serving platters and dishes and label what dish goes in them with sticky notes. This not only ensures you have enough serveware, but makes it easy to delegate the transferring of food into these dishes. Don’t forget trays for appetizers and desserts, too.
  • Check kitchen equipment: Check for a meat thermometer, pie and casserole dishes, trussing string, enough pots and pans, a potato masher, and anything else you might need to pull off cooking Thanksgiving dinner. If you haven’t used your oven in a while and it tends to be finicky, make sure it still works!
  • Delegate dishes: This is the time to finalize who’s bringing what. And even if you’re not doing a potluck-style Thanksgiving, if guests offer to bring something, don’t turn them down. An extra dessert, wine, cheese and cured meats for appetizers, and of course, ice, are all welcome things at Thanksgiving. Avoid assigning dishes that need to be cooked at the last minute or reheated, if at all possible.
(Image credit: Cambria Bold)

8 Days Before Thanksgiving: Make Your Lists

  • Make two shopping lists: The first list is for things you can buy now. Pick up all the ingredients that will last the week before Thanksgiving. Make a second list of everything you’ll need on your second (and final) shopping trip. Figure out what dishes you’ll be making ahead and make sure it’s on the shopping list for this week.
  • Check for ingredients: Now that you have a shopping list, look through your fridge, pantry, and freezer to make sure you have any other ingredients that you assume are on hand — salt, pepper, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and all those other staples. Don’t forget to check expiration dates!
  • Clean out your fridge: Your fridge is going to house Thanksgiving central, so clean all unnecessary things out, or plan to eat them up soon!

7 Days Before Thanksgiving: 1st Shopping Trip

  • Shopping trip #1: Grab your first shopping list and hop to it! It’s also a great time to hit up the liquor store to stock up on wine and drink essentials.

6 Days Before Thanksgiving: Thaw the Turkey!

  • Turkey: If you bought a frozen turkey, start defrosting it in the refrigerator now!
(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

The Weekend Before Thanksgiving: Start Cooking

  • Make-ahead is your friend: So many parts of Thanksgiving dinner can be made ahead. If you want to use turkey stock in your gravy and Thanksgiving dishes, make this now.

Read Our Comprehensive List of Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Dishes: Here’s What You Can Prep Now for Thanksgiving Dinner

(Image credit: Emily Han)

Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving Week: Shop!

  • Shopping Trip #2: Grab everything else you’ll need for the big day!
  • Turkey: If you just bought the frozen turkey, defrost it ASAP. Start brining it if that’s part of the plan.
  • Defrost: Start defrosting anything else you’ve made ahead and frozen.
  • Dishes to make now: Cranberry sauce, gravy, compound butters, and pie crust are good items to tackle now.
  • Things to prep: Chop up vegetables and bread for stuffing, toast nuts, and measure out spices.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

The Day Before Thanksgiving

  • Make your desserts: Make your pies and desserts.
  • Clean and trim your vegetables: Wash salad greens, trim green beans and mushrooms, and generally take care of as much vegetable prep as you can. Make your salad dressing now, too.
  • Start your bread or roll dough: Start your doughs now and stash in the fridge to proof overnight.
  • Things to consider making ahead: If you have the time, make your stuffing and other casseroles today.

The Night Before Thanksgiving

  • Set the table: Get everything all set up so you can shift your focus towards cooking the next day.
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Thanksgiving Morning

  • Prep your potatoes: Peel them and put them in a pot with enough water to cover. They can sit that way at room temperature until you’re ready to cook them.
  • Bake your bread and any other desserts.
  • Chill your drinks: Also check to make sure there’s enough ice in the freezer.
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

4 Hours Before Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Turkey: Get it into the oven now and this will give you about three hours of roasting time for a 15-pound turkey (start the turkey earlier if it is larger). Remember that turkey can rest and stay warm for quite a long time, and a warm bird is easier to carve than a hot one.
  • Blanch vegetables and make mashed potatoes: Blanch or precook any vegetables so they’re ready to be finished at the last minute. Make your mashed potatoes and keep them warm in a slow cooker.
  • Prep your stuffing and other casseroles: If you haven’t already done so, prep stuffings and casseroles so they’re ready to go in the oven.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

2 Hours Before Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Take the chill off premade foods: Take any premade stuffings or other dishes that need to be reheated out of the fridge so they start to come to room temperature. Also take out any pies (unless they’re made of custard or cream) and compound butters so they come to room temperature.
  • Plate up appetizers: Assuming guests are arriving soon, get those appetizers — especially cheese, which should be served at room temperature — onto platters so they are ready to go when the first guest arrives.
  • Set up cocktails: Get ice into a bucket, juice citrus fruits, and prepare anything else you need for cocktail hour.
  • Make whipped cream: If you’re using whipped cream to top pies or drinks, make a batch now and throw it in the fridge.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

1 Hour Before Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Turkey: Your turkey should be done by now, so move it to a serving platter or carving platter and let it rest. If you’re serving it carved, do it about 30 minutes before dinner and cover it with foil to keep warm.
  • Gravy: If you are making gravy from the drippings, do it now. If you have make-ahead gravy, get it into the saucepan.
  • Reheat: Start reheating dishes in the oven.
  • Finish vegetables: Finish sautéing or grilling the vegetables.
  • Fill water glasses and pitchers: Designate someone to fill up water glasses and pitchers.
  • Clean up the kitchen: If you have the luxury of time or a helpful guest, get the sink cleared and the dishwasher running.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Right Before Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Heat up gravy: Heat up your gravy and transfer it into the gravy boat.
  • Plate everything up: Get some help transferring everything into their designated serving platters and place them on the buffet or dining table.
  • Heat up pies: Place pies in a turned-off but warm oven right before you sit down for dinner and they’ll be the perfect temperature for dessert.
  • Get ready for tea and coffee: Fill tea kettles and coffee pots with water and get everything set up for dessert time.
  • Empty the dishwasher: If your dishwasher is done running, empty it so it’s ready for the post-dinner load!

And then it’s time to eat! Happy Thanksgiving!