Ted Allen's 9 Top Tips for Hosting an Easy, Enjoyable Thanksgiving

The Chopped host shares some of his best ideas for hosting a memorable turkey day feast. 

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Chatting with Ted

"Thanksgiving is that unique American holiday when everybody in the country suddenly thinks they have to serve 27 courses to 87 people," Ted Allen told us recently. "And that’s hard to do, especially the cleanup, but also the prep." Get nine of his best tips for hosting a memorable turkey day feast.

Plan Ahead

"Do as much advanced prep as you possibly can. ... There’s so many things you can make ahead of time. Your green bean casserole, your Brussels sprouts, your cranberry sauce. You could make these three or four days before the holiday. Just not the turkey."

Thanksgiving Countdown Planner

Consider the Turkey

"Let me also first suggest that you buy a [fresh] turkey, if you can afford it. Sometimes they cost more and you have to reserve one, but try to get a turkey that’s never been frozen. Try to get a turkey that is free-range, [one] that had a happy life — happy little turkey life."

Get the Recipe: Tuscan Turkey Roulade

Defrost the Turkey

"If you are buying a frozen turkey, be absolutely certain to allow yourself enough time to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, and that takes about four to five days, depending on the size of your bird. You have to have it thawed before cooking it or it’s not going to cook properly."

Top Turkey Tips

Let Dressing Save the Day

"Don’t put stuffing in the bird, first of all — just don’t. The bird isn’t big enough to hold enough stuffing, so you are going to have to have a pan of stuffing anyways. Let’s call it dressing instead."

Get the Recipe: Sage, Sausage and Apple Dressing

Experiment ... a Little

"In things like cranberry sauce and stuffing, you can always mix that up a little bit. Make a different stuffing this year or make real cranberry sauce from the berries. It’s super easy — any child could do it. It’s nothing but cranberries from the bag, a little sugar, a little water, and you can mix it up and make it better by shaving a little orange zest into it or lemon zest, maybe a splash of orange liqueur even. Orange goes great with cranberry."

Get the Recipe: Orange-Cranberry-Pear Relish

Have a "Friend Thanksgiving"

"Another way to make your Thanksgiving meal easier, and also a fun way and I love doing this, I specially love doing this when I’m having what I call an orphan Thanksgiving here in New York City. I have lots of people around me who our friends and our families live elsewhere in the country and we maybe can’t get home for Thanksgiving this year so we all have a Friend Thanksgiving, which is super fun. But even if it’s not that, if it’s not an orphan Thanksgiving, to make your meal easier, have your guests bring a dish. Have each guest bring a dish that reflects a tradition in their family. This will take an enormous load off of your back. It will also give your friends and family members the opportunity to show you the traditions that have evolved on their homes, which I think is beautiful. And it’s also a way to mix things up a bit and not have the exact same meal every Thanksgiving."

Start a New Tradition: How to Host an Amazing Friendsgiving

Opt for Contrasting Flavors

"Pickles are a nice thing to have on the table. Maybe make a platter of pickles because turkey and dressing and gravy are deeply savory and buttery and herby. ... And it’s really nice to have, like, spicy pickles. You could make a quick pickle even if you are not a canner; you could make a quick pickle of almost any vegetable. From cauliflower to carrots to green beans to, of course, Kirby cucumbers, there are innumerable quick pickle recipes online. I like them a little bit spicy, so I put some jalapeno in there. And you put the vegetables in canning jars. Heat up your brine mixture, pour it on top of the vegetables. You can do that a week ahead. It’s better if you do it a week or two weeks ahead so that it absorbs the flavor. And just make a pretty platter of all those basic raw vegetables with a nice pickle flavor. It’s a really great complement to all that savory buttery stuff on the table."

Get the Recipe: Fresh Refrigerator Pickles: Cauliflower, Carrots, Cukes, You Name It

Change Up the Drinks

"If you want to mix things up on Thanksgiving, but ... your family requires the turkey and dressing, try some unusual wines. If your family is not into wines, try making ... interesting fizzy lemonade or unusual iced tea. My family is from the South — except for me, I am the first Yankee in my family — but we still drink iced tea. ... We like it sweetened, but not very sweet. Not super sweet the way they do in Dixie. But you may try a different tea. Buy some Earl Grey. Buy something herbal. Buy an herbal tea. Make a big pitcher of tea that’s a little different than you are used to."

See More Photos: 11 Ways to Flavor Plain Iced Tea

Plan for Leftovers

"Here's another thing to think about when you’re portioning your Thanksgiving dinner is remember your family is probably going to want leftovers for at least a day. And they’re going to want leftover stuffing and gravy in addition to leftover turkey and cranberry sauce and whatever else you’re having."

See More Photos: Best Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

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