Your Thanksgiving Hostess Cheat Sheet



So you're hosting Thanksgiving! Whether this means putting all the leaves in your dining table for extended family, or if that sentence confuses you and you'll be dragging desk chairs and ottomans around a card table for all your friends who are staying in town for the holiday, it can be fantastic.

Don't feel like you have to pick up a Martha Stewart magazine or follow a prep list that begins in September. In fact, let's stay away from Martha Stewart or unless you need a specific recipe. This leads to our first tip.

Don't overplan

The more prone you are to making elaborate plans you never follow through with, the more likely you are to be overwhelmed and frazzled on the big day. Let us not forget the Friends where Monica agrees to make everyone's favorite kind of potatoes and the whole meal ends up ruined. (If you do forget this, check out our list of our favorite TV Thanksgiving episodes.) Make a simple menu of dishes you're comfortable with. This isn't the time to try feta walnut date cigars if you've never worked with philo dough. Garlic and cheese crostini you could probably handle.

If you want a good guide for how much to have, here is the classic list of dishes for a dinner party and a sort of sample menu.

  • Appetizer/Salad — Make it easy on yourself and get a cheese platter.
  • Main dish — Um, turkey.
  • Green/Yellow Veggie — Don't discount green bean casserole, a lot of people find it to be a comforting staple. These Brussels sprouts for people who think they hate Brussels sprouts are an elegant alternative.
  • Starch — Potatoes: Mashed, scalloped or sweet and whipped with marshmallows, people expect potatoes on Thanksgiving.
  • Bread — Dinner rolls. Done.
  • Dessert — A lot of people who don't consider themselves "cooks" have fun with dessert. This could be your dish with which to get creative. Or if baking isn't your thing, you can get a decent pumpkin pie almost anywhere. Seriously, I've had an awesome pumpkin pie from a convenience store before. If you're sensitive about appearances, slip the pie out of the tin and into a glass pie plate.
  • Lastly, I'm not sure if this falls under overplanning or underplanning, but don't put a dish on the menu you've never tried before. Practice anything new once to make sure you know how long it takes and that there are no unpredictably complex steps to preparation.

Turkey tips

So simple, so important, yet so tricky. My mother has been "helpfully reminding" me for weeks to put the turkey in the fridge to defrost the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Apparently there was an early holiday in her marriage when she was in tears because the inside of her turkey was still frozen on Thanksgiving day. (Hi Mom! Hahaha, yeah right, my parents don't have the Internet.)

A roasting pan isn't something everyone uses with frequency, or for something as large as a turkey. Make sure you're on top of this step before the big day. Though, apparently you can fashion a DIY roasting pan out of a wire rack and tinfoil. This looks far from foolproof, however.

Remember to leave your turkey 10 minutes to rest after it comes out of the oven, or else the juices will all run out when you carve it. (A good time to mash your potatoes.) Speaking of carving, if some experienced matriarch or patriarch isn't going to be available, watching a YouTube demo isn't a bad idea.