Anyone who volunteers to make Thanksgiving Day dinner must juggle a plethora of guests, dishes, temperatures and high expectations. Below, local experts offer advice for hosts who want to keep their cool.
1. Don’t let Pinterest mislead you.
That recipe or tablescape may look flawless online, but recreating it at home may be a different story, notes Jen Bradour, head chef of Lewes-based Plate Catering. “If you want to try something new—either with recipes or décor—then do a trial run a few days or even weeks ahead of time,” she says.
2. Stage your table and determine your layout in advance.
To ensure you have enough, unpack the serving plates and bowls that you plan to use a few days ahead of time, Bradour suggests.
Likewise, assess your stash of serving spoons and forks. Kathy McDonald, director of catering for La Vida Hospitality, recommends labeling serving utensils so that your kitchen helpers know which ones go with which dish. (You can, of course, remove the labels come dinnertime.)
Since Dana Ferreri, owner of Happy Hour Events, is from a large Italian family, she’s accustomed to Thanksgiving feasts for 20-plus people. For her, moving furniture around is not uncommon. If you plan to do the same, she recommends determining your layout prior to the big day. “Figure out how to best utilize the space so that people are comfortable and able to move around,” she says.
Ferreri also suggests assembling an appetizer station away from the kitchen area. “People like to congregate near the food, which will be a hassle when you are trying to finish up the cooking and plating,” she explains. “This way, guests can mingle and snack on something in another area, making those final touches much easier for the host.”
3. Use multipurpose dishes and disposables to make cleanup easier.
Many casserole and baking dishes now come with glass and plastic lids, so you can cook, serve and store leftovers all in the same container.
And by the time you get to dessert, few guests will care if you’ve switched to disposable plates (which can also come in handy if you’re serving veggies or cheese with cocktails).
4. Cook as much as possible ahead of time.
You can make mashed potatoes a day or two in advance, Bradour notes—just store them in the fridge and reheat when you’re ready. Assemble the ingredients for green bean casserole in a baking dish before guests arrive, then pop it in the oven after the turkey is finished. Chop veggies and plate your cranberry sauce ahead of time. Even the turkey can be made in advance, she says.
5. Consider purchasing one or two dishes from a store or vendor.
Many area businesses, including The Fresh Market, The Pantry at Nage and Big Fish Grill’s market, sell full Thanksgiving meals and/or a la carte side dishes. (Remember: You may need to order in advance.) Many Thanksgiving hosts opt to cook dinner but buy dessert.
6. Buy extras of certain items.
Consider buying and roasting turkey thighs and drumsticks for guests who enjoy dark meat. McDonald also recommends having extra stock on hand. “With that and butter, you can fix many [gravy] disasters,” she says.
7. Use tabletop appliances.
Ovens and stovetops often get crowded very quickly. Thankfully, many modern slow cookers and multipurpose pots have functions that can keep stuffing, gravy and side dishes warm, notes Kriz Etze, a personal chef and cooking instructor in the Lewes area. You can also buy or rent chafing dishes or warming trays. And don’t forget that the drawer beneath your oven—the place where many people store their cookie sheets—is likely a warming drawer.
You can also think outside the box when it comes to cooking the turkey. There are now tabletop devices specifically made for roasting your bird. Fryers are another option, though they take time to heat up and require a watchful eye. There are also recipes out there for grilling turkeys.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Most guests will be happy to bring soda, wine, rolls or even a side dish. “Everyone loves to participate,” says McDonald. “Let them.”
“Thanksgiving is a time for family and to give thanks,” Bradour says. “By accepting help, you have more time to relax and enjoy quality time.”