I was so delighted when my son and his wife offered to host Thanksgiving dinner at their new home this year. As a chef, restaurateur, and father, I couldn’t help but offer some advice and tips for hosting a Thanksgiving dinner.
The truth is, hosting a holiday meal can get hectic and stressful—especially for the cook. But Thanksgiving should be a joyful day of togetherness and wonderful food for everyone. And that’s exactly why, over my many years of experience, I’ve refined a set of steps to follow to elevate both the food and everyone’s spirits; even the hosts!
These are the steps I shared with my son, and I hope you can use them at your Thanksgiving dinner this year.
First: Make a list of what you might want to serve
This is the fun part. Don’t be afraid to dream big here—we’ll narrow down the list to a manageable menu in a moment.
At our house, we start with:
- Mashed Potatoes
- Potatoes Au Gratin
- Cranberry Sauce
- Mashed Sweet Potatoes
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- Winter Squash
- Green Beans/casserole
- Brussels Sprouts
- Corn Pudding
- Dinner Rolls
Second: Reduce the list to a Reasonable size
Remember, you don’t need to serve every Thanksgiving recipe you’ve ever seen. If you’ve offered to host Thanksgiving, I’m willing to bet you’re a home cook who’s excited about all the delicious dishes you could prepare. But don’t fall into that trap or you’ll end up exhausted and disappointed by the end of the day if everything doesn’t go perfectly (it rarely does!)
Think about the traditional staples that your guests look forward to. If you’re hosting family, include the favorites that everyone goes back to for seconds. When in doubt, it’s usually a safe bet to have traditional Thanksgiving fare.
Here’s how I narrow it down for my family, who generally prefers the classics:
- Stuffing (an heirloom family recipe)
- Mashed Potatoes (with European butter and sour cream)
- Cranberry Sauce
- Brussels Sprouts (a favorite of my wife)
- Caramelized Carrots with Rosemary
- Dinner Rolls
Third: Decide what to buy, cook, pre-make, or delegate
What will you, the host, be responsible for? Ask yourself what you enjoy making. Then think about what your guests would be comfortable making. Once you know what you’ll be cooking and what the guests can provide, then look to pre-made goods.
In a perfect world, everything would be lovingly made from scratch, but we live busy lives! And that’s OK. However, for me, cooking a turkey in the house where dinner is being served is non-negotiable. A roasting turkey’s intoxicating aroma fills the home and it’s a major part of the Thanksgiving experience!
My rule of thumb is to delegate out at least the cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, and pies:
- Cranberry sauce is needed for the tart acidity that cuts through the richness of other dishes, and it’s generally easy to make. Let a guest bring it, whether they cook it or buy it.
- Dinner rolls, like all baked goods, can be deceptively time-consuming. You need rolls (slathered in butter, of course) to wipe up all that delicious gravy, but you’ll have enough in your oven between the turkey and stuffing.
- Pies can be made ahead of time…but your guests can make them ahead of time too! Then again, you could make a semi-homemade version with a high-quality jarred pie filling.
Fourth: Make a plan
Certain dishes can be made ahead and refrigerated without losing quality. From experience, my preparation and cooking schedule looks something like this:
- Make the stuffing and the mashed potatoes. These tend to make a huge mess and take up a lot of space on the stove and countertop during cooking. They also hold up well in the fridge, so I like to get them out of the way first.
- Do prep work for veggies dishes like chopping all your brussels sprouts and carrots. With that out of the way, I can throw these together and finish them quickly on Thanksgiving.
- Make the gravy by roasting three large turkey thighs and two legs (or a breast if you want extra leftover white meat) and using the drippings like you would from a full bird.
- If you really want to take the gravy from good to great, stir in some worcestershire sauce, miso paste, or my favorite, soy sauce. Any sauce sauce works great, but I personally use this tamari in my gravy. If you want even more richness and silkiness, stir in some homemade demi-glace or just grab some Glace Du Poulet.
- With the turkey leftovers, you can make even more turkey sandwiches, turkey and dumplings, turkey hash with eggs, or one of my favorites: turkey & wild boar sausage with French white beans.
- Dry brine your turkey, at least with salt. Salting the turkey a day or two before roasting will help the seasoning penetrate deeper into the meat and help keep it juicy. Plus, salt pulls moisture out of the surface of the meat, helping create more flavorful, browned crispy skin. If you’re looking for more flavor than just salt, try a brine blend like Lane’s BBQ Signature Brine.
- Roast the turkey!
- Warm everything up while finishing the veggie dishes like Brussels sprouts and carrots. Having the Turkey roasting in the oven will make your entire home smell and feel like Thanksgiving!
I think you’ll find these steps are a great way to make hosting Thanksgiving dinner much easier with a lot less stress. Most importantly, it’ll give you more quality time to eat, drink, and be merry.
And that’s the whole point!
From our kitchen to yours, I hope you have a happy and delicious Thanksgiving!