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Nov 14, 2007 06:53 AM

Thanksgiving Day Timing - Tips?


I'm cooking my first real thanksgiving dinner in my own house and I'm getting a little nervous about timing everything. I'm only having 7 people, but would like to try to make as much as possible the day of and not ahead of time, but I'm thinking that might be too dificult in terms of oven space.

What is everyone planning on serving and do you have any tips on how to best time everything? I have one regular size oven and plan to roast a turkey and bake stuffing seperately. Not sure yet what other sides I'm doing besides mashed potatos and some veggies, maybe squash and green beens.

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  1. Every year, what I do is type a list of every dish I'm making and count back from my target serving time and to figure out when every dish needs to be started. For example, a spinach casserole can be made ahead on Wednesday, but on my list I'm noting to put it in the oven half an hour before dinner. I know my rolls take three hours, so I put on my list to start them around 2 pm. Organizing every thing like this really helps me see my work clearly and its also a great time to list all the ingredients and things I have to buy. Once you list everything and how long it will take to prep and cook, it should become clear to you how to manage your oven space. Have fun and enjoy it!

    1 Reply
    1. re: glorypea

      Another nice thing about making a list, is you can save it and reuse it with modifications year after year.

    2. I too make a list and am cooking for a small group like yours. We figured out our menu last week and made a separate shopping list for the items we will need, which we will pick up this weekend (FYI the grocery stores will be CRAZY this weekend).

      We start with the bird and what time we want to serve the meal to figure out when we will start the bird, and everything eles is figured out around that. We do as many things in advance or separately as we can - obviously mashed potatoes are on top of the stove, we do dressing in a crock pot and our cranberries can be done in advance and reheated. Desserts should and can usually be done in advance as well unless they need to be served at a particular temp.

      Whatever you are doing in the oven besides the bird, check IN ADVANCE if the requisite pan can fit in there with the bird by putting the bird pan in and then other pans as needed. Remember that the bird can sit quite awhile and it will stay hot, so things that might take a short time can be done after he comes out. Things that are baked with a topping can be partially done and then just finished in the oven, etc.

      Get your lists together, start with the bird and time for meal, and work everything else around it. It's good to be TOO anal; with each dish listed and the time to start it, then if you have a helper they can say, it's 2pm, time to start the potatoes. Etc.

      1. Besides the timing list you should also get all prep work done before hand - chopping, washing, pre-measure spices/liquids, etc

        1. One thing you can get out of the way now is setting the table. Lists are very nice - but they never really seem to actually fit on the table until you've done it a million times.
          This guarantees that you have everything you need - plates, flatware, napkins, glasses, etc. Also you can decide on the size of a centerpiece and candles if you plan to use them. No last minute rushing around for placemats or a tablecloth. Then figure out what bowls and platters you will use for EVERY dish you plan on serving. Down to the salt and pepper shakers, cranberry sauce, gravy boat, wine bottles, water pitcher, etc. The table gets crowded with things really quickly on T'giving and you may decide to serve buffet style.
          I actually put all the stuff on the table with a serving spoon or fork in the bowl or on the platter to make sure I have one that works and put a Post-It Note on the bowl or platter saying what I'm going to use it for so I don't mix them up on Turkey Day. Keeps my helpers from putting stuff in the wrong bowls too. Whoever invented Post-Its deserves a Nobel Prize.
          Do NOT forget trivets for dishes that will be hot and remember that some things can't be passed easily if they are right out of the oven.
          Since this is your first T'giving, you may find out you don't have quite enough nice bowls or serving spoons, so you'll have time to borrow some or run out and purchase a few.

          3 Replies
          1. re: MakingSense

            The best tip I have for Thanksgiving dinner is to make your gravy ahead of time. This can be done 2-3 days in advance. I start out with a couple turkey wings which are roasted or sauteed until browned, then slowly simmered to produce the liquid base for the gravy.

            You can find more details on this here:

            1. re: Sam D.

              My gravy is already done and in the freezer along with some extra stock. I cooked a small 12-pound turkey last weekend and had friends over for fresh turkey sandwiches. Used the carcass to make the stock, the drippings and fond in the roasting pan for the gravy and I was good to go! On Turkey Day, we'll skim the dripping, use the new goodies in the pan to enrich this gravy, add some stock, and we'll have the gravy on the table within minutes with no fuss and bother.
              We've been doing it for years and it saves so much hassle on T'giving! I've had several other friends over for lunch and casual suppers of Turkey Tetrazzini.

            2. re: MakingSense

              This is a good idea and I wouldn't have thought to suggest it to someone. I *do* it, I just never thought about suggesting it! Good thinking, making sense. On a similar note, be sure you have enough pots and pans to prepare everything you have planned. It is a huge pain to keep waiting on something so you can have the pan, washing the pan out and then using it for something else.

            3. Excellent post by MakingSense above.....I also go the Post-It Note route with serving dishes and utensils prepared in advance. I've been the designated Thanksgiving cook in our family for years and I'd love to share some tips....

              1. Prepare your shopping list according to supermarket aisle order....with a separate column for the produce aisle....and a separate section for the liquor store if necessary. Don't forget garnish, i.e. curly parsley, cherry tomatoes, lemon, etc.

              2. Prepare a cooking guide according to course, i.e. appetizers before sitting down at the table, drinks (I prepare a cranberry punch and a sparking white sangria), main menu, dessert menu. Highlight the items that actually need preparing as opposed to things you just have to open and serve (nuts, cranberry jelly, etc.). If any of your guests are bringing a prepared contribution, put that on the list too and make sure to have a serving utensil for it.

              3. Prepare a written grid/table according to day as to when you will shop, what you will prepare, what you will clean (don't forget to scrub the bathroom your guests will use). For example, on Wednesday (I always take that day off) I paln to cut veggies, make an onion dip, make stuffing, make brownies (Thanksgiving special...they expect them!), make a cake for my nephew's birthday, set the table with serving pieces and candles, buy bread and flowers, go to the carwash, pick up daughter at airport (or send someone else).

              4. Make sure you have lots of ice, and try to have the dishwasher empty when dinner is over if possible. Wash the coffee pot beforehand and make sure it's loaded and ready to go as soon as you start after dinner clean-up.

              5. Leftovers: Prepare a few "prepared meals" on plastic-wrapped plates with a little bit of all of the dinner menu items. That way, you can just whip the plastic wrap off the following day and have a nice lunch without going overboard on the portion size.

              6. Recipes: Go simple and delicious if you feel overwhelmed. I'm a great home chef but I choose to make simple roast and glazed turkey (carved BEFORE it hits the table), cranberry and orange relish, Southern style candied yams and a bunch of other things some of which are a little tricky. If there's something you'd really like to make, do a recipe search on You can print them out and shop and cook accordingly, but don't forget to taste while you cook to make sure it's really good enough for you and your guests.

              7. Mood music? Prepare and load some CDs in advance...or just put some some smooth jazz (or whatever you enjoy) on the radio.

              You can never plan too much....but remember to enjoy your family, your food, your day off...and to give thanks!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Suzyummy

                Lots of wonderful tips from everyone - one thing that I find very helpful is to photocopy all my recipes and tape them up on the kitchen cupboards with masking tape - no flipping through cookbooks etc.