How to Prep for a Thanksgiving Potluck

Don't fret over the big feast.

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You're hosting Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean all of the work needs to fall squarely on your shoulders. There's nothing wrong with making Thanksgiving a potluck and having each of your guests pitch in with a different dish. You may establish a new family tradition or learn a twist on an old favorite. Here's a list to help you get organized and make sure your dinner goes off without a hitch.

1. Have an idea of what you want to serve

Make a tentative list of what you want to have at your Thanksgiving dinner. You may learn toward the traditional with turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes, or you may be open to dishes your guests want to make. As Ted Allen told Food Network Magazine, a potluck "allows other people to share in the culinary glory. Best of all, other cooks can introduce you to their specialties, which might then become new traditions in your home."

Know that this is a tentative outline and it might change once you start assigning dishes to your guests, but it will help keep you from ending up with 20 pumpkin pies and no side dishes.

2. Gather RSVPS and note food allergies

Whether you issue invitations by phone, email or snail mail, make sure to collect RSVPs from your guests so you know how many people are coming. This is also a good time to find out if any of your guests have food allergies or follow certain diets. You may decide on a smaller turkey if you have a number of vegan guests, or alter your recipes if you have lots of gluten-free guests.

3. Assign each guest a category or a dish

Once you have an idea of who is coming and how much food you need, assign categories (vegetable, starch, dessert) or specific dishes to each person. If guests need inspiration for creative dishes, here's a good place for them to start. Don't worry if you have friends or family coming who don't like to cook (or aren't very good at it!). Assign them to pick up ice or wine or even a pie from their favorite bakery. Make sure everyone has a job! Give them a deadline to tell you which dish they are making so you can fill in the holes.

4. Make a grocery list

Once you've detailed out what other people are bringing, it's time to get serious about what you'll be preparing. Most likely you will have kept the turkey for yourself, along with the gravy and stuffing. Figure out what kind of turkey you want and how big it should be. You'll need a recipe that isn't overly complicated. If you've never made a turkey before, follow our tips on how to roast a turkey. There are many ways you can go with stuffing and gravy, depending on your taste.

5. Prep as much as you can in advance

The great thing about this dinner is that much of it can be made ahead of time. Figure out what parts of the meal you can do in advance. You can also make place cards, set the table days before, and make a batch cocktail a few hours before your guests arrive (but don't add the seltzer until just before serving, to make sure the bubbles don't go flat).

6. Send a reminder

Send your guests a reminder email a day or two before the dinner. This will let you know about any last-minute dropouts and adjust your plans accordingly.

7. Have friends drop off their dishes earlier in the day

If you can have all the food at your home hours in advance, it will help tremendously with your Thanksgiving Day planning. You can make a timeline of when you need to heat things up, and dash out for any last-minute purchases you need.

8. Relax and enjoy

If something doesn't go according to plan, keep it in perspective. Remind yourself of the reason for the gathering — to give thanks and spend time with family and friends. You can use what you've learned from any mistakes to make next year's dinner even better.

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