How to Host Thanksgiving Without Turning Your Kitchen Into a Total Mess

Here are 12 helpful tips to contain the mess and ease the stress.

September 12, 2022

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Photo by: Mother Image/Rana Faure/Getty Images

Mother Image/Rana Faure/Getty Images

By Amanda Neal for Food Network Kitchen

Whether it’s your first experience hosting Thanksgiving or you’re a seasoned pro, throwing a large dinner party can be daunting, especially when it comes to containing messes and minimizing cleanup. It’s seems that no matter the menu and number of guests, messes are inevitable. So we’ve put together a list of actionable ideas for containing unneeded mess before, during and after your big Thanksgiving meal.

Before the Big Day

Make a Plan

Decide on a menu plan, including details like whether the dishes will be served family-style or as individual courses, what time you’ll sit down to eat and how many guests plan to join. Next, write down the equipment you’ll need (yep, down to the whisks and spatulas), a prep list of tasks you can complete ahead of time, as well as a schedule for when and how long each dish will take to make (working backwards from when you’ll serve dinner is helpful when planning). Having a well thought out plan means you can be more intentional with what you’ll need and not use an excess of equipment that ultimately need to be cleaned. Remember, the more organized you are, the less mess you’ll create. Check out our Thanksgiving Countdown Planner for a week-by-week guide on how to get ahead.

Get Your Shopping Done Early

Waiting until the day before (or even worse, the day-of) will most likely lead you to overbuying and creating more waste, as well as unneeded stress. Plus, early shopping means you’ll have more time to organize your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

Prepare Food Ahead of Time

Prep as much food ahead of time as you can to eliminate unneeded mess on the day-of Thanksgiving. For example, make the turkey stock, toast the bread for the stuffing and chop the herbs for garnishing. You can even prepare casseroles and pies the day before, then rewarm on the day-of.

Prepare Your House for the Big Day

Clean the house and set the table the day before. This will ease up your overall workload for Thanksgiving Day and ensure that you only use (and ultimately wash) dinnerware that’s needed.


Photo by: Peter Dazeley/Getty Image

Peter Dazeley/Getty Image

On Thanksgiving Day

Work Cleanly

Keeping a clean workspace is key to a successful and mess-free Thanksgiving meal. Here are some key steps to take.

  • Empty the dishwasher at the start of the day. This way it’ll be ready to load when the time comes.
  • Empty the trash, recycling and compost.
  • Set up a hyper-organized workspace. Next to your cutting board, line up all the tools you’re going to use for a recipe before you start – you can even corral them in a small sheet tray to keep them in one place.
  • Regularly clean dishes and equipment that accumulate in the sink. Taking a few minutes between tasks to clean up will reduce the amount of mess at the end of the day. Or better yet, enlist a helper to assist with cleaning the kitchen as you’re preparing the meal.

Use Tools and Equipment that Pull Double Duty

It’s inevitable that you’ll use a lot of equipment when preparing a large dinner party, especially for Thanksgiving. And some pieces of equipment, like a meat thermometer, are crucial to having a successful meal. However, there are some tools that work double duty and should be used to reduce clean-up.

  • Use a whisk for mashed potatoes. Use a whisk to mash potatoes instead of a potato masher and whip cream instead of a hand-held blender.
  • Use a slow-cooker to free up stove-top space. You can cook directly in the pot, keep the food warm while you wait for other dishes to finish cooking, and keep clean-up to a minimum.
  • Make your gravy in the roasting pan with drippings. Do this instead of a separate skillet.

Only Cook for the Number of Guests Attending

It’s great to have Thanksgiving leftovers to enjoy the next day (who doesn’t love a turkey sandwich after Black Friday shopping?), but making enough food for leftovers means more of a mess. When you’re cooking day-of, stick to your original game-plan and menu to eliminate unneeded mess.

Remember, Store-Bought Is Fine

There’s no shame in picking up a couple store-bought packaged food items to ease your overall workload and clean-up. Cranberry sauce and dinner rolls are two items you can easily purchase from almost any grocery store. If you do want to cook, spend your time on the main meal and consider buying appetizers, like mixed nuts or a couple nice cheeses for serving with crackers. Alternatively, you can throw a potluck Thanksgiving, where guests bring various dishes, desserts and even drinks. Either way, this will help ease up your time spent cleaning messes in the kitchen.

Provide Opportunities for Guests to Cleanup

Have trash cans and recycling bins easily accessible to guests, which will encourage them to help with clean-up throughout the day, leaving you with less clutter and mess once the party has ended.

After the Celebration

How to Properly Store Leftovers (and for How Long)

Besides salads with tender greens, most Thanksgiving leftovers will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. You can also store leftovers in the freezer for 4 to 6 months. It’s best to place leftovers in resealable bags or airtight containers, then label the food with the date (this is especially true for items left for an extended period in the freezer). For more info on how to properly store leftovers, check out our story How to Store Thanksgiving Leftovers.

Organize and Put Away Dishes

There’s a good chance you pulled out special china, serving dishes and equipment to use for your Thanksgiving meal. Once they’ve been thoroughly washed and dried, re-organize platters and serve-ware neatly so you’re ready for the next celebration or dinner party.

Consider Renting

If you had a large Thanksgiving gathering and found yourself completely overwhelmed with dishes, consider renting dinnerware for future Thanksgiving meals. A lot of companies that provide glassware, plates and silverware are not only affordable, but also they even allow you to return these items dirty and in the crate they arrived in. Who doesn’t love the idea of someone else washing dishes for you?

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