If you have ever made the entire Thanksgiving Day feast at home, you know how much preparation is required. The turkey must be bought on a certain day so it can thaw in time for you to stuff it and put it in the oven; your ingredients must be purchased in advance, otherwise you'll be fighting over the last can of pumpkin with customers at the grocery store; and you must have a game plan to ensure the day runs smoothly.
That's why we have created the Ultimate Thanksgiving Prep Guide. After scouring the Internet for Turkey Day preparation advice and consulting with my mother, who has cooked Thanksgiving dinner every single year since I was born, here is a detailed timeline of what you should be doing this week, next week, the day before Thanksgiving and the day of.
The Week Before
First and foremost, determine the size of bird you need from the number of mouths you will have to feed. A pound of turkey per person is a good rule of thumb.
Once you know how large the turkey must be, either reserve it at a restaurant if you don't want to cook it on Thanksgiving Day, or call ahead at a local grocery store or specialty market and verify they have the bird you need.
Prepare your menu and purchase any canned or non-perishable items from the grocery store, such as pecans, garlic, pumpkin, cranberry sauce, corn, yams and *chicken broth.
*Keep a can of chicken granules or chicken bouillon in your pantry in case you run out of chicken broth. You can make chicken broth with the chicken bouillon.
Purchase any produce and dairy items that won't expire by the time Thanksgiving comes around, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, heavy cream, butter, apples and onions.
Monday (at the latest)
Purchase your frozen turkey and place it in the refrigerator to thaw.
Tuesday (at the earliest)
Purchase your fresh turkey and place it in the refrigerator.
Purchase any perishable items from the grocery store, such as leafy greens, celery, carrots and fresh herbs.
If you want to save time on Thursday, saute vegetables for the stuffing, but place in a plastic container to refrigerate after cooled. You will reheat this on Thursday and incorporate into the bread to make the stuffing.
Bake the bread or cornbread for the stuffing/dressing, and slice into chunks or crumble to enhance the drying process.
*If you forget to dry out the bread, crumble it onto a sheet tray in the oven and bake on low until it dries.
Bake any and all pies, then refrigerate.
Prepare any refrigerated items such as homemade cranberry sauce, Jell-O salad (bleh!), or anything that requires "setting."
Begin brining the turkey in the evening.
Thursday, aka THE BIG DAY
Number one duty: start the stuffing and get the turkey in the oven. Determine when you want to eat and place the turkey in the oven so that it finishes cooking an hour before you want to eat; the turkey needs to rest for an hour outside of the oven. The difference in the flavor of your main course will be remarkable.*
*Remember: 20 minutes of cook time per pound of stuffed turkey. An unstuffed turkey may require less time.
The turkey breast must be 170 degrees and the upper thigh must be 180 degrees. The internal temperature of the stuffing must be 165 degrees.
Once the turkey is in the oven, prepare casseroles, vegetables and any other side dishes. Thaw frozen rolls, or prepare dough for biscuits/rolls.
Place baked items in the oven for the allotted time, allowing no more than ten minutes of rest before dinner. Obviously, start with dishes that take longer, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and root vegetables, before you cook other dishes such as green beans, corn, softer vegetables and rolls, which should be the final dish you prepare.
Set the table while you have time in between cooking. Make sure the wines are at the appropriate temperature(s). Prepare other drinks such as tea, and prepare the coffee to brew after dinner for dessert, if desired.
Make an often overlooked item -- fresh whipped cream. Whip the cream with powdered sugar and vanilla extract, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed for dessert. (Whip in a clean metal container.)
While the turkey is resting, remove the pan drippings from the roasting pan, prepare your gravy and keep it warm. You can also use prepared gravy; add some flour to make "lumps" and no one will know the difference.
Serve your dinner whenthe sides are done and the turkey has rested the appropriate amount of time. Pour some wine, relax and give thanks. Then, let someone else clean. Above all, have fun.
Check the next page for printable day-by-day guides to use this Thanksgiving and every Thanksgiving to come.
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