Three weeks ahead:
- Prepare your guest list; confirm how many people will be there.
- Find out if your guests have any special dietary needs.
- Place a rental order, if necessary, for tables, chairs, glasses, plates and flatware.
Two weeks ahead:
- Decide on your final menu and collect the recipes you'll need. Select some dishes that taste good at room temperature, so you won't have to worry about your hot entree getting cold, or your cold dessert melting.
- Assign cooking projects to family members who offer to help.
- Order your fresh turkey, or buy your frozen turkey and put it in the freezer. If buying a whole turkey, plan on one pound per person. If you're buying just the bone-in breast, plan on 3/4 pound per person.
- Order or pick up alcohol and other beverages, or delegate this to your non-cooking guests. Keep in mind that a bottle of wine contains about five glasses and always have non-alcoholic drink choices on hand.
- Shop for non-perishable goods now. You can buy flour, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, canned pumpkin, packaged stuffing and cornbread mixes, rice, and fresh or frozen cranberries, all before the crowds descend.
One week ahead:
- Shop for heartier vegetables like butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and turnips.
- Buy heavy cream now; it's hard to find right before Thanksgiving.
- If necessary, wash and iron linen or polish silver. Dig out your turkey roaster and platter and any serving dishes hidden away in closets or high shelves.
Three days ahead:
- If you have a frozen turkey, clear a space in your fridge and put the bird in now to defrost.
- Clean the house, or put non-cooking household members in charge.
- If you're having a lot of guests, you may want to set up the table(s) and make sure you have enough space and chairs.
Two days ahead:
- Make pumpkin pies or pumpkin cheesecake, rolls, breads and cornbread for stuffing. Refrigerate pies; you can always warm things up again before serving. Apple or pecan pies don't do well in advance, though; the crust doesn't stay flaky and crisp.
- Make things that can sit for two days in the fridge, like soups and cranberry sauce.
- Assemble casseroles (like sweet potato or green bean); they can be stored uncooked in the fridge and baked on Thanksgiving.
One day ahead:
- Set the table now so you won't have to worry about it later.
- Set up a coat rack with extra hangers.
- Do any remaining baking, including apple or pecan pies.
- Buy your salad greens and perishable vegetables. Wash lettuce leaves now, dry well, and store by packing them in paper towels in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- If you ordered a fresh turkey, pick it up from the butcher.
- Calculate your cooking time (and cooking order) for tomorrow.
- Figure out what can't be cooked along with the turkey in the oven, either in terms of temperature or space. Plan to cook those things before or after the turkey is done, or on the stovetop while it's cooking; better still, make them today.
- Prepare stuffing for the turkey (if you're stuffing the turkey) and/or the dressing to cook on the side.
- Prepare your vegetables for cooking-clean, peel and chop. Cover the ready-to-go vegetables and put them in the refrigerator. Boil potatoes and mash them; they can be reheated just before serving.
- Stuff the turkey and get it in the oven according to the schedule you calculated yesterday.
- After the turkey is in the oven, you should have a little time to relax away from the kitchen.
- Just before the turkey's done, begin cooking fresh vegetables, and get anything else that needs to go into the oven ready (stuffing, storebought rolls, etc.)
While the cooked turkey is resting:
- Put a foil tent over the turkey. You now have about an hour to do the remaining cooking.
- If you have a pan of stuffing/dressing on the side to bake, put it in now.
- Warm whatever needs to be warmed, including mashed potatoes, rolls, soups and casseroles.
- Cook frozen vegetables.
- Make the gravy.
- Put all the food on the table or buffet. Don't hesitate to press guests into service to put food in bowls, open wine bottles, fill glasses and dish up the cranberry sauce.
- Get a plate and eat! Don't spend the meal running back and forth to the kitchen and end up missing out on the Thanksgiving feast you've created.