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Taking The Stress Out of Thanksgiving Dinner Prep

Photo by Chris Montgomery Photography.

Originally published on TWIGG How To

It's that time of the year again! Can you believe it? Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Matt and I gather up our family and friends each year for a big Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving dinner. Through the years we've gathered a few "staples" - basil & lime sorbet for my brother-in-law Brian, 1 can of cranberry sauce for Matt, garlicky pea vines in lieu of green beans, etc. Last year I experimented with making "Peking" turkey - applying the same process of making Peking Duck but to the the turkey instead and serving the dark meat with little Chinese buns, hoisin, and scallion. I think I may just do that again this year, it was such a hit!

While Thanksgiving is meant for spending quality time with your family, I know for many it can quickly devolve into a stressful day of cooking and cleaning. As a chef who’s manned many a big dinner (for the holidays or for guests), I've organized some tips for those excited to make a big, delicious meal but don't want a headache over it. Hopefully these tips will help make this year’s Thanksgiving easier on everyone so you can focus on the most important thing – each other!

1. Order delivery of your groceries to arrive Tuesday night.

Skip the lines (and frequent stock-outs) at the store by ordering groceries online (I love FreshDirect, I really do). Thanksgiving orders are usually large enough to qualify for free shipping, not to mention receiving everything Tuesday gives you ample time on Wednesday and Thursday to prep. If you do end up forgetting something, you also still have another day to pick it up!

2. Delegate!

You don’t have to do every single thing for Thanksgiving and it's the "little things" that end up costing you more time than necessary. It’s easy to feel too rushed to properly delegate on the day of, so it’s important to let your family and friends know what they are each in charge of before the big day - give them each tasks to do. Then you can focus on what you need to do. Here’s a few of the main things that clear up clutter in your mind and free up your day:

a) Set the table and clean the space.

b) Delegate drinks for the dinner. Think about wine, punch for the kids, aperitifs / digestifs, etc.

c) Check your plateware and silverware. Make sure there’s enough for everyone.

3. Prepare your kitchen.

The last thing you want to do is scramble on Thanksgiving Day to ready your kitchen for some heavy-duty work. Make sure to have some key contributors prepared in advance:

- Buy an oven-safe thermometer for turkey. I mean the kind you can insert into the bird, close the door and leave on the counter to alert you. Never worry about overcooking again!

- Get comfy kitchen mats. You’ll be on your feet most of the day, so rubber mats are important to protect your feet from aching. These are generally a good idea for all kitchens.

- Wear proper kitchen shoes. Cooking all day in slippers or even sneakers is not a good idea. Invest in a nice pair of rubber, anti-slip kitchen clogs and put some insoles in there.

- Sharpen your knives. Dull knives make for ugly cuts of meat and strangely shaped vegetables. Make sure to sharpen your knife beforehand – lots of kitchen stores can do this for a minimal fee if you’d prefer to not do it yourself. Remember steeling and sharpening your knife are two different things and you need to do both beforehand.

- Free up your counter space. You’ll need plenty of counter space for cutting and plating, so put away your coffee pots and other countertop items.

- Haul out the appliances before-hand. Bring out the dusty blender, mixer, potato masher, pyrex and any other tools you’ll need for the meal the night before so you don’t have to break your focus to dig them up.

- Buy stackable leftover containers. What is Thanksgiving without lots of tasty leftovers? Avoid letting them clutter up your whole refrigerator by using the industry standard of pint and quart containers. You can easily label these with some tape and a sharpie, plus they stack on top of each other to maximize space.

- Get ice. You will need ice. Go buy some!

4. Go disposable!

It’s simply not imperative everyone gets served on fine china if the food is tasty! You can purchase plenty of nice, china-esque heavy plastic plates, cups, bowls and silver-esque utensils for an easy-peasy cleanup at the end of the night. Recycle these if possible!

5. Ditch the recipes (or follow them a little more loosely) to save yourself time.

Thanksgiving is a time where everyone loves to dive into “The Ultimate Pie Book” or “Stuffing To Make You Yearn for Centuries” but the truth is, unless ingredients are given in weight (grams) and you intend to also weigh everything, the measurements are approximate anyway – so go ahead and use your best judgment instead of wasting time digging butter out of that ¼ cup measure.

6. Advance prep is key; reheating is your friend!

No one gives restaurants a dirty look for preparing things in advance, so you should take the same approach to your Thanksgiving feast. There are many items you can either prepare or at least process the night before to make your day go much smoother.

a) Desserts like pumpkin and pecan pie can be made the night before and reheated in the oven. Yes, the pie crust will still be flaky!

b) Cut your vegetables the night before, like peeling potatoes, dicing onions or trimming asparagus. This will make the cooking process much easier the day of!

c) If you’re kitchen-savvy, sous-vide is a great way to reheat! Premade mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese and soups are all great options.

7. Make sure you have food for yourself to eat during the day while you’re prepping.

Don’t give yourself a case of the hangries while you’re preparing for Thanksgiving. Buy some premade food and snacks in the fridge for yourself to nibble on throughout the day. Some electrolytes don’t hurt either!

8. Play some music. It’ll make the air much less stiff.

Do this the very first thing or you’ll immediately forget. There’s lots of good playlists for this on Spotify.

9. Have a schedule on a roughly 1-hour basis, but give yourself plenty of “buffer” time.

A schedule is the best way to keep yourself organized and your mind calm. This is also an effective way to effectively cross-utilize appliances (i.e. prepping 2 items to be blended back-to-back) and avoiding changing the oven temperature (i.e. 350F for cookies and roasting some garlic). Things always take longer than anticipated, so instead of being behind give yourself plenty of extra time to sort through the day. That way you can anticipate what you should do the night before and (hopefully) wind up with some breathing time the day of.

10. Set a time for entrees to come to the table.

Set expectations early by letting your guests know when to expect the main courses. To make sure they don’t get hungry, get some pre-made cheese, charcuterie or hummus plates and have your (delegated!) drink guests come early so everyone has something to sip and snack as you put on finishing touches.

So there you have it! Wishing everyone a most wonderful, food-coma and banter-filled Thanksgiving with your loved ones. Remember to save some food for the doggies too :)

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