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First Thanksgiving Dinner

Hi all!

A quick question on Thanksgiving! I am cooking for the FIRST time this year (for about 10 people)... and need some help!

How do you time things?! I only have one overn, and will the turkey take it up the whole day?! Basic question, I know, but I am sort of baffled. We always ate at my Aunt's who has a double oven, and so I have no clue!


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  1. I will be having my second Thanksgiving this year (and the first was about 8 years ago). We will be having 10 guests, so that is 12 with my husband and I. I too only have one oven and I actually did a "test run" yesterday so that I could finalize my menu and work out any anticipated one-oven kinks.

    I used Alton Brown's turkey recipe and it was fantastic, I highly recommend. I bought a turkey brining bag and started brining the night before. I took it out of the bag, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels about an hour before cooking. My 12 pound turkey (you will want 1 lb/person) took about 2 and a half hours. While the turkey was "resting" and you definitely want it to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes I slid my sides into the oven. So I timed it as this--made the winter squash soup with gruyere croutons earlier that day, reheated on the stove and topped with croutons at the last minute. Turkey was resting, sweet potato soufflé went into the oven as will my wild rice casserole. Mashed potatoes were made about an hour before, kept at room temp and reheated on the stovetop. I made my stuffing in a slow cooker, and while I didn't particularly care for it, I really needed to. Husband and friend really liked the stuffing. I think gravy is the biggest pain in the neck to do at the last minute. I'm not going to lie, yesterday I just heated some Plainville Farms gravy but for the big day I think I would roast some wings/neck/legs or whatever with some onions/carrot/celery and make the gravy ahead that way.

    1. The Turkey cooking time will depend on it's weight; the heavier the bird, the longer the cooking time. You can expect the turkey to take up a fair bit of the oven time the day of the meal so stove-top or make ahead side dishes/desserts are always a good idea. There are oodles of Thanksgiving recipe threads here... Do you have a menu planned?

      The timing of the meal will depend on when the bird is due to come out of the oven and rest(we leave it to "rest" in the pan on the counter at least 20 minutes). To work out the timing: take the end of the rest time ie: 5:00pm and count back .... for instance if mashed potatoes take 20 minutes to boil, 10 minutes to mash and season, then start them at 4:30 (30 minutes before the turkey is ready)... and do the same for the rest of the dishes in your menu.

      So that guests aren't sitting around waiting for a late turkey (in case you miscalculated and the bird isn't done when you think it should be) have some appetizers/nibbles on hand: veggies and dip...other finger foods work well and can be prepared well in advance and set out when guests arrive.

      Hope that's a start... I'm sure other CHrs will have more input :)

      1. The most important thing: the more you can do ahead of time, the lower your stress levels will be. Set the table the night before if you can. Make-ahead, reheat-when-needed dishes are preferable. And remember that it takes a lot longer to peel and chop enough potatoes for 10 people than it does for 2! (And mashed potatoes hold well in a slow cooker if you a bit of add extra dairy.) And if you get volunteers, sub out the snacks and desserts so you can concentrate on the main event. Good luck!!

        1. Do you have a toaster oven or microwave? Those can definitely help you. I find it helpful to keep a detailed list (actually an Excel spreadsheet) of what I'm serving, when it needs to go in the oven (or microwave or toaster oven or stovetop) and even what serving dishes will be used.

          As GretchenS said, do as much ahead of time as possible. Not to scare you, but everything takes longer than you think!

          1. I have some suggestions re gravy and cranberry sauce:
            Whole Foods has a great "Stress Free Gravy" recipe you can make most of it the day ahead.
            3 T unsalted butter
            1/3 c. flour
            4 cups homemade turkey stock or chicken stock, heated to a simmer
            Pan drippings from one turkey, with fat poured off (in the roasting pan) (if you brine, I think the drippings will be too salty for gravy)
            1/2 cup red or white wine
            S & P to taste
            Heat butter in a heavy large saucepan over med-high heat until foaming. Add flour while whisking and cook 1 minute; keep whisking. Pour in hot stock, while whisking.
            Simmer while whisking about 1 minute. Gravy can be made to this point up to two days ahead. Set aside and refrigerate if not using immediately.
            When you are ready to finish, reheat over med heat. When turkey is done, remove it from roasting pan, then tilt the pan and pour the fat off, leaving the drippings. Place the roasting pan on the stove burners over med heat. Pour the wine into the pan with the drippings, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Cook a few minutes then pour this into the warm gravy and cook at a simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with S & P.
            Cranberry-Bourbon Sauce
            1 cup Bourbon
            1/4 cup minced shallots
            grated zest of 1 orange
            1 12-oz pkg fresh cranberries (I prefer the ones from Whole Foods)
            1 cup sugar
            freshly ground pepper
            In a nonreactive saucepan (I use my teflon pot), combine bourbon, shallots and zest. Bring to a boil over med. heat, then simmer until reduced to a syrupy texture, about 10 min.
            Add cranberries and sugar, stirring well. Lower heat slightly and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in pepper. Transfer to a bowl, let cool to room temp, cover and refrigerate. (can be made several days before serving.)
            (I love this stuff!!)

            3 Replies
            1. re: walker

              I'm a big fan of "pre-made" gravy. My wife uses turkey wings that have been baked to achive the drippings, then braised in chicken stock and stuff. Can be made ahead of time and the left over wings, after being cooked in all stuff are to die for! I'll post the receipe if you want.

              1. re: SonyBob

                I would like that recipe, please.

                1. re: danhole

                  It came from Women's Day mag.
                  We add a dash of water in the pan with the wings before baking. Cover the pan or else the onions will burn. Don't add any salt - adjust at the end if needed. It seems best if made 2 days ahead of time. Dried thyme works best. Good luck!

            2. Can I also suggest that prepping vegetables for roasting the day before makes life easier. You can also make cranberry sauce a few days ahead. What keeps me on track is to actually set the dining room table several days ahead.

              1. Also, remember that the bird needs to sit for a good long while after it comes out of the oven. That gives you a little time for whipping up gravy and sticking fast-veggies in the oven. Personally, I like to do brussel sprouts (I know, but they taste great) sliced very thinly, tossed in olive oil and salt, roasted for about 15 minutes in the oven as soon as the turkey comes out. About 2 minutes before the sprouts are done, you can (optionally) throw some grated parmesan over the top (to entice those who believe that they are "allergic" to brussel sprouts). It will all be out of the oven before you're ready to carve.

                  1. Make the stuffing the day before and refrigerate it. DO NOT put it in the bird until you are ready to cook it.

                    Make sure you allow enough time to defrost the bird and do it correctly.

                    If you have a Weber kettle, you can cook up to a 22# bird on it and free up your oven.

                    If you get a Butterball or Honeysuckle bird, they have hot lines to answer questions. Internet or 'phone There are probably other hot lines, too.

                    1. I've been doing Thanksgiving in France for several years, where most non-professional kitchens are too small to have double ovens. I just do some stuff (pies, cranberry sauce, a sweet potato casserole one year) ahead of time. On turkey day, I baste my Dinde with pan juices every quarter hour. Of course, it's not usually a monster - about 16 lbs. is the biggest one I've ever roasted, and they're usually more like 12..
                      What is this brining thing? Doesn't it add too much salt to the meat? Or are you all counting on taking blood-pressure medicine when push comes to shove?

                      1. Have your guests bring desserts. Get up early so you don't feel pressured at the last minute. Have a glass of wine and relax. Cooking a turkey is no big deal--resist the urge to brine, start it upside down and flip it halfway through, or invent some kind of fusion thing. A 12-14 pound bird shouldn't take all day. It can sit for a half hour once you take it out of the oven--a good time to reheat the mashed potatoes and candied yams with marshmallows. Look up that green bean casserole recipe--everybody loves it. Remember to take the giblets out of the cavity--they make a nice gravy.

                        1. Consider deep-frying your turkey! It is SO fast and way more moist than you'll get with an oven roasted turkey. You can also give the guys some beer and have them oversee the turkey frying, getting them out of your way and leaving the oven available for dressing and casseroles. I recommend injecting the turkey with either a garlicky or cajun marinade and frying in peanut oil. You won't regret it!

                          May be obvious, but desserts should be made at least 1 day in advance.
                          And definitely have more than 1 vegetable peeler on hand for the potatoes. These can be peeled and chopped a couple hours ahead of cooking them if you keep them submerged in water (also hold well in a crock pot over low after cooking).
                          Try to assign someone with a little kitchen experience to the gravy - this is the biggest pain in my opinion and always done at the last minute when there are a million other things to do.
                          If you are not adventurous enough for the deep frying, I would absolutely brine the turkey - doesn't make it too salty at all, just very juicy.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: amycakes

                            This made me crack up. We do that too!! My brother, DH and BIL all go outside to "oversee" the turkey. And my sister's single-oven gets a real workout with all the sides. It's terrific. Actually, the best part is watching them clutching their beers trying to stay warm near the deep fryer! :) Only caveat is that if you are wedded to having stuffing inside the bird. You can't do that with deep frying -- it has to be dressing (on the stove or from the oven).

                          2. Thanks, everyone!!! These are some great tips! I really appreciate it...

                            1. Managing Thanksgiving with one oven, for 10 guests really should not be a problem. If you are baking any desserts, such as pie, make them the night before. The only thing you really need your oven for on Thanksgiving Day is the turkey & dressing (and as others have noted, not even that, if you make your turkey on the grill). The turkey should rest for about 1 hour before you slice it, so the oven should be free in that time for any sides you wanted to make then -- such as an auxiliary pan of dressing, or a sweet potato or green bean casserole, or rolls.

                              Except for the dressing, we always do our sides stove-top -- mashed potatoes, a steamed green vegetable (typically asparagus or green beans), and rutabagas. We make the cranberry sauce from scratch, but that gets done at least several hours in advance so that it sets in the fridge.

                              We start the potatoes and rutabagas at about the time the Turkey comes out of the oven, as they need to be mashed once they are cooked, and will hold their heat for quite awhile. Then start on making the gravy, as that takes at least 15 minutes, and also will stay warm in the pan for quite some time. Bring the water to a boil for the steamed vegetables with about 1/2 hour to go, and then turn off. Reheat water to boil, and place green vegetables in the pan only when just about everything else is within 5 minutes of being served. Vegetables should cook for no more than 7 minutes, and should be served immediately.

                              1. My best piece of advice, which is not orginal to me, is NOT to stuff the turkey. Assemble your stuffing and bake it in a casserole or bajing pans. Benefits: the turkey takes much less time to raost when it is unstuffed and it is easier to roast the meat to the proper safe temperatures withoutout drying it out, the stuffing top gets nice and crispy so you have both moist and and cript textures in it, and the stuffing can be made vegetarian so that everone can enjoy it. After all, how humiliating is it for the poor turkey to have someone shove bread and sausage into him.
                                Timing; roast the turkey in the oven (about 3 hours for a 12-lb bird if you do a hot over), when you take the bird out, put it on a paltter and tent it with foil. Pop the stuffing into the hot oven. By the time you have made the gravy in the roasting pan and the turkey has "rested", the stuffing will be done.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: FeelingALittleBreadish

                                  Absolutely agree with above. We like crunchy topping on stuffing. Strongly advise BBQing turkey with only 1 oven. You can let it rest covered with alumn foil for 60 min and will still be warm, in fact rest will aid turkey in being juicy. Don't do what I did first time made turkey, forgot to check ALL the cavities (front & back). Do a dry run of the dishes you will be putting in oven to ensure they all fit. If not, you can utilize toaster oven or MW to reheat. If you substitue cream cheese for some of butter/cream in mashed potatoes, they actually reheat very well, or make a potato gratin in advance instead, that will also reheat well. Don't be afraid to hand out assignments to your guests, so you don't get stuck doing it all. But, ask them NOT to bring appetizers or things that need to be placed in your limited-space oven.

                                2. First of all-- have fun! Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday to cook. I've been doing it for about 10 years, for an average of 12 (usually a 16 lb turkey) people, and never with more than 1 stove. As everyone has said, do as much as possible ahead of time. Soup can be made now and frozen. Pies were always made Tuesday night or Wednesday afternoon (I worked a half day on Wednesday). Don't stuff the bird, don't brine the bird (buy a kosher one, if available in your area). Stuffing can be gently warmed while the turkey rests. Mashed potatoes keep well in a crock pot with extra liquid. Make sure your veggie sides can be made in the microwave or on top of the stove (or can be done quickly in the oven while the turkey rests). Salad is overrated-- nobody ever eats it on Thanksgiving-- there are too many other special foods to waste valuable stomach space on something so everyday like salad! Cranberry sauce (and there are so truly fabulous ones out there) taste better the next day. Try looking (maybe on epicurious?) for the one with cranberries, figs and port. Decadent!

                                  I'm excited for you!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: GrillNextDoor

                                    unless it is something like layer salad...yum...but only on holiday!

                                  2. I think it is great that you are taking on Thanksgiving for the first time. To this day, I write out a one page schedule that allows me to pace cooking throught the day (and even the day before since I brine the turkey and make sweets the day before). I print out the page with three columns-the time, task, and any note or reminder I might need. The reason I do this is because there are always at least a dozen people around the house that arrive at different times. I want to greet them, socialize with them, serve them a drink and some appetizers while at the same time continuing to cook. My lists also helps me organize guests that want to join in the cooking by understanding what is coming next and making use of the help that is being offered appropriately. When I first started cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I would tend to forget a dish or the timing and it would be too late to finish the dish, so I would leave it out; While I might not need it anymore, I have become accustomed to using a schedule when cooking for a large group--it organizes and allows me to enjoy cooking.

                                    The second thing I do is look at a variety of cooking methods so Im not cooking everything at the same time before dinner is served while the bird is resting. This includes looking and considering things like broiling, braising and stir frying vegetables.

                                    Like others, I cook some of the stuff ahead of time and save the last half hour before serving for reheating, finishing and presenting the various dishes.

                                    1. http://www.marthastewart.com/article/...

                                      Thought this page might be helpful. She outlines a manageable Thanksgiving schedule so that you don't end up with too much going on at the last minute.

                                      Good luck and have a wonderful time!

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: fern

                                        Best advice I can give is to take out the little bag of "turkey parts" before you roast the turkey.

                                        1. re: State St.

                                          Yes!! It's always good to state the seemingly obvious things. How about "Don't deep fry the turkey in the house."

                                          1. re: State St.

                                            Yes, I was going to say the same thing. My first turkey smelled great until we started smelling a strong plastic smell. You guessed it!

                                            Make sure you check both the large cavity and the flap on skin in the back. And remember to have fun!

                                        2. A few thoughts:

                                          1. In my opinion, deep-fried turkey is overrated. It doesn't really taste different enough from a regular roast turkey to justify the mess it makes. Ditto for all kinds of fancy seasonings and rubs and stuff. I did one once with sage butter under the skin. Tasted just like every other turkey I'd ever eaten, even though it took a lot more time and effort. Roast the turkey in one of those cheap aluminum pans you get at the store, even in one of those plastic roasting bags if you want (although foil is fine, too). Salt and pepper it well inside and out, and pour a bottle of beer in the bottom of the pan if you want (just adds some depth to the flavor--but my grandma didn't do it that way, so it's not essential).

                                          2. My grandma made Thanksgiving dinner for a small army with one oven for years. What she did was put the turkey in the night before and set the timer on the oven to start it cooking at like 3 a.m. It was done just about the time she got up and around in the morning, and could be carved and put in a roaster pan on the back of the stove with some broth, to be reheated right before it was needed. That way her oven was free all day for bread and the dressing. Plus she had the broth and drippings to make dressing and gravy with. If your oven has the capability of being set to start automatically like this, it might be a worthwhile thing to do.

                                          3. Don't make everything yourself. Have someone bring the bread, a couple people bring dessert, someone else bring a salad or a vegetable, that sort of thing.

                                          4. I agree with all those who say don't put the dressing in the bird. It isn't necessary, and brings up all sorts of complications you don't need at a time when there's already enough to do and think about. Make your dressing and put it in a casserole pan that can go straight from the oven to the table.

                                          1. What has saved me over the years is: lists! The menu, the shop-for, but most of all, the what-to-make-first. As others have noted, do as much advance prep as you can. Then figure out what you can put together while the bird is roasting and reheat at the last minute, and make a list.

                                            Sounds stupid, I know, but those lists have saved me many times, especially in terms of having everything ready simultaneously.

                                            1. Lots of great advice here... My number one addition would be to invest in a really good thermometer - the kind where you stick a probe in the bird and it sends a temp reading to a remote you can wear on your apron/belt/hairclip or wherever you choose. Turkeys are all different and you can't follow a xx minutes a pound and expect to achieve a moist result.

                                              I personally find the smaller birds to be a huge % of bone to meat. Even when serving only 10, I buy about an 18 pound bird to get more bang for my buck. Then I have leftovers and send guest home with them as well.

                                              With an 18 lb. bird I swear by a method I saw on Martha Steward years ago. I cook it (breast up) for the first 30 minutes at a very high heat of 450 degrees, then turn in down to 325 for the rest of cooking. This initial high heat literally seals the juices in the bird. I have even had the experience where we were without gravy, due to absolutely no drippings from the bird! This has always worked for me and results in a very, very moist bird.

                                              Whatever you choose, enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ThisNThat

                                                Turkey Guide

                                                What size to buy:

                                                Allow ¾ to 1 pound per serving when choosing a turkey under 12 pounds. For larger birds, allow ½ to ¾ pound per serving.

                                                Thawing a Turkey:

                                                Leave turkey in its original moisture-proof wrap and place in refrigerator.

                                                Ready to cook weight Days in refrigerator
                                                4 - 12 pounds 1 - 2 days
                                                12 - 20 pounds 2 - 3 days
                                                20 - 24 pounds 3 - 4 days

                                                Roasting Method:

                                                1. MAKE SURE TO REMOVE THE PLASTIC GIBLET PPOUCH FROM THE INSIDE THE BIRD.
                                                2. Rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the cavity with Frank’s Famous Creole Seasoning or a little salt and pepper. (1/2 teaspoon per pound).
                                                3. Fold the wings back to secure the neck flap (use a skewer or a toothpick if the flap isn't long enough).
                                                4. Rub softened butter or olive oil all over the surface of the turkey to get a beautifully browned, crisp skin.
                                                5. Sprinkle the outside of the turkey with ample Frank’s Famous Creole Seasoning or a little salt and pepper.
                                                6. Position the rack in the lowest part of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.
                                                7. Put the bird in the oven with the legs pointing toward the back of the oven, since it's usually the hottest spot
                                                8. Pour two cups plain water into the bottom of the pan. The water is to prevent smoking from the bird's drippings, and will turn to steam during the cooking process.
                                                9. Roast the turkey until it's done.

                                                Note: The only reliable test for doneness is to check the internal temperature. Stick an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, without touching the bone. It should read 175° to 180°F, and the juices should run clear when you remove the thermometer.

                                                10. During roasting, baste the bird every 30 to 45 minutes with the pan drippings.
                                                11. Cover with loose tent of aluminum foil, or a fat-moistened cloth over legs and breast to prevent excessive browning.
                                                12. When turkey is ⅔ done, cut the cord or band of skin at tail to release the legs and permit the heat to reach the heavy-meated part.
                                                13. When the turkey is done, transfer it to a platter or a cutting board, tent it with foil, and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes while you prepare the gravy.

                                                Roasting Time Unstuffed Turkey at 325°F:

                                                Ready to cook weight Cooking Time
                                                6 - 8 pounds 2½ - 3 hours
                                                8 - 12 pounds 3 – 4 hours
                                                12 - 16 pounds 4 – 5 hours
                                                16 - 20 pounds 5 – 6 hours
                                                20 - 24 pounds 6 – 6½ hours