The Chef's Guide to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Meal

November 20, 2013
Taking a break from the business of kitchen design for some holiday meal planning tips from our pro

Are you in charge of making the family Thanksgiving meal this year? While we normally stick to matters related to kitchen design on Kitchen Helpings, we can hardly help but share some of our own expert’s advice on preparing a great meal on a day that, more than any other, is all about good food. Whether you’re an expert Thanksgiving host, or new to the turkey prep, our Product and Marketing Chef Brian Rizzo will guide you through planning and preparation with his two-week planning checklist. Staying ahead of the holiday rush is the key to hosting a stress-free Thanksgiving.

Let’s start by what to check off two weeks before turkey day:

  • Finalize your menu and the number of guests. Take into account the number of dishes that need to be cooked, and your kitchen’s ability to handle them.
  • Place an order for a fresh turkey or buy a frozen turkey and place it in your freezer.
  • Contact guests if you can delegate any dishes or desserts.
  • Create two shopping lists: one perishable, other for nonperishable.
  • Clean out your refrigerator to make space for needed items closer to Thanksgiving, and hunt down any additional pans, racks, silverware, linens, etc. that you might need.

Cross those off your list? Now a week ahead, check off the following:

  • Shopping trip for hardy vegetables such as onions, squash, carrots and potatoes. Pick up any heavy cream or dairy products since those go out of stock early.
  • Wash all your platters, dishes, silverware and glasses. Note what each item will be used for to eliminate confusion closer to the date.
  • Determine thawing times. If choosing to brine your turkey, take that into thawing times.  Rule of thumb: An 8 to 12 lb. turkey will take approximately three days to thaw. A 12 to 16 lb. turkey will take approximately four days, and a 16 to 20 lb. turkey will take approximately five days.

To-dos during the week of Thanksgiving:


  • Prepare any deserts that can hold for two days.
  • Prepare dips, soups, cranberry sauces and dressing. Besides the benefit of not having to worry about them on Thanksgiving Day, the flavors are enhanced by resting in the refrigerator for a couple days.
  • Prepare casseroles and place in refrigerator until baking them on Thursday. Pull them out of the refrigerator and let them come up to room temperature for an hour before baking.
  • If brining the turkey, make sure it’s thawed.


  • Set the table with centerpieces, glasses, candles, silverware, napkins and trivets. Consider setting up a separate buffet for extra space.
  • Shopping trip for last of the ingredients: leafy greens, fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers and centerpieces.
  • Wash, trim and cut fresh vegetables and greens; wrap in damp paper towel and place in plastic bags in the refrigerator.
  • Prepare brine.
  • Finish any remaining deserts.
  • Prepare cooking list in order of dishes.

Thanksgiving Day:


  • Prepare and bake stuffing in a casserole dish. Stuffing your turkey is not necessary and will only lead to longer cooking times and drying out your turkey.
  • Blanch and shock the green vegetables for cooking later.
  • Get the mashed potatoes out of the way now. Mashed potatoes reheat beautifully and can be held warm for hours.


  • Start cooking your turkey.
  • Place butter on the table so it has the chance to soften. Slice up a few pats of butter and keep them in the refrigerator for those guests whom like their butter cold.
  • Warm any remaining foods: mashed potatoes, soups, casseroles and dinner rolls.
  • Take out any cold desserts from the refrigerator allowing them to come to room temperature.

As the cooked turkey is resting:

  • Pour off any drippings from the roasting pan and reserve or add to the gravy.
  • Put a foil tent over the turkey and allow the turkey to rest for 20-25 minutes before carving.
  • Clean up any extra cooking utensils, pots and pans.
  • Finish any last dishes, and vegetable sides.
  • Dress and toss the salad.
  • Carve your turkey.

Now, go enjoy your wonderful Thanksgiving meal!

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