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The 5-Day Thanksgiving meal plan

Chris Perrin is part mad scientist, part glutton, and part culinary adventurer who is always ready to hit the kitchen to make something delicious. Cooking, especially for friends, has always been one of his deepest passions and explains ...

Make a plan!

You're hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Take a deep breath. You can do this, especially if you have time to plan ahead and get everything ready well in advance. If you have this luxury, here is your plan to go from zero to dinner in five days with no late nights and no stress.

Family at dinner table

Fantastic Thanksgiving dinners don't happen overnight without a whole lot of stress, running around, and the special delirium that comes with having guests over when you haven't slept in a 48 hours. Why do that to yourself? Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be a mad dash to get everything done. It can be calm, peaceful even. However, to make that happen, you're going to need a plan. Like this one.

4 days out: Sunday before Thanksgiving

Grocery day. By the end of today, you should have bought everything you need for the holiday meal. In particular, make sure you have a still-frozen turkey when you leave the store since after today, the grocery stores are going to be crazy. Also, in addition to whatever is on your shopping list, pick up the following items (even if you have them, pick up more):

  • Butter (the solution to any culinary conundrum)
  • Chicken broth or stock (you'll need more)
  • Cornstarch (gravies don't thicken like they're supposed to… ever)
  • Paper towels (you can never have enough ways to clean up messes)
  • Pie crust (unless you are absolutely sure you're not making dessert)
  • Apples (unless you are absolutely sure you're not making dessert)

3 days out: Monday before Thanksgiving

Depending on your individual menu, this can be a free day. However, it can also be a day where you get a lot of work done. It's a great day to make stock, make pies up to the point where they are baked, etc.

2 days out: Tuesday before Thanksgiving

Now is the time to start thawing the turkey. While there are many methods to do so, you have enough time to simply put the bird in the refrigerator and let it slowly thaw. Also, review your Thanksgiving shopping list. Do you have everything you need? Did you buy extra broth? Have extra broth. Things are going to dry out, and you're going to need broth.

Also, at this point, try to not step foot in a grocery store until the day after Thanksgiving since your local food mart is going to start looking like a war zone. Also, have the number of your local pizza place handy. Seriously, the day before Thanksgiving is one of the most popular days in America to order pizza. Why buck the trend?

1 day out: Wednesday before Thanksgiving

In the morning, prepare the brine. Either use your favorite brine recipe or bring four cups of broth to boil with one cup of salt and black pepper, garlic powder, thyme, and rosemary to taste. When the brine is cool, move the turkey to a large plastic bag or roasting vessel that can hold it and fit back in the fridge. Cover the turkey in the brine.

That evening, flip the turkey so that the other half can brine and get to prep cooking! By the end of tonight, you want to have everything as close to done as possible. How you do this is up to your menu, but generally most food can sit overnight especially if they need to be baked before serving (like dressing.)  In particular, here is advice for some of the more popular Thanksgiving dishes.

  • If you are making mashed potatoes, the potatoes can be cut and put in an airtight container.
  • For dressing, do everything but bake it. You'll find that letting the dressing sit improves its flavor.
  • For sweet potato casserole, you can pretty much just bake it and serve at room temperature or reheat it.
  • Cranberry sauce can be cooked and reheated in the morning.
  • Potatoes au gratin can be cooked until the point where the recipe says to bake and will also improve if let to sit overnight.

Of the more traditional Thanksgiving items, gravy and store-bought rolls are the only thing you can't really work on until tomorrow.

Thanksgiving Day

Put everything into the oven, sit back and relax. If something looks dry, hit it with a little broth, but other than that, you should be all ready to go until it's time to make the potatoes.

About a half-hour before the turkey is done, boil the potatoes that you've already cut and heat the rolls. When the turkey comes out, make a roux by melting two tablespoons of butter and flour together, then adding two cups of broth and a few spoonfuls of drippings from the turkey. Once the gravy is thick, sit down and eat.

More Thanksgiving meal planning

Celebrity chefs share their best Thanksgiving menus
Scrumptious Thanksgiving tablescapes
3 Non-pie Thanksgiving pumpkin desserts

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