Holiday Cooking | November 16, 2019

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Hosting  Thanksgiving dinner is manageable if you use ABK’s  guide to plan and carry out this otherwise overwhelming task! How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner  is an easy to follow, step-by-step recipe guide that will make you look like a pro in the kitchen!

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

WHAT.
It’s your turn to host Thanksgiving dinner?
And you’ve never cooked Thanksgiving dinner? Ever? If you’re 25 or 55, you’ve come to the right place. ABK’s planning, recipes and step-by-step timeline will help you get Thanksgiving dinner on the table- without a meltdown!
New in 2019 – ABK’s Free Ebook, with printable timeline checklist, grocery list, more recipe links for ABK Thanksgiving favorites and additional Thanksgiving tips to help you keep everything running smoothly! 

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner: 101

My first piece of advice is stick with traditional. Trust me. Traditional is best for Thanksgiving. That means turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, salad and of course, pie.

A couple of suggestions before we start:

  1. Take a deep breath. This is just a meal. Sure, it’s the most anticipated meal of the year, but in the end it’s only a meal. Meat, potatoes, gravy. You can do this!
  2. Take any help offered. If you’re hosting, and others want to help, LET THEM HELP. It’s okay if you don’t have total control. If Aunt Betty’s pie is a runny mess, no big deal. Remember, although I’m a bit of a food freak, it’s okay if everything doesn’t taste exactly as you planned or if every dish doesn’t turn out to look like it could be photographed for the next issue of Martha Stewart Living. This holiday is about family and friends and blessings.  I’ve found the best way to end up with the tastiest  dishes at your feast is to let guests bring what they love to cook. Every year my sister in law Sheri makes Southern specialties, because her husband is from the South, and she learned how to make broccoli casserole and cornbread dressing and Southern specialty pies while they lived in Alabama. Those are always her assignments. She makes them better than anyone else. Period.
  3. Interested in step-by-step videos for your holiday dinner? Check out our ABK Essential Holiday Dinner videos! I’ll help take the stress out of planning, preparing and serving your holiday meal so everything is hot and ready to go at the same time!  We will address FAQs and give you all the visual and mental tools you need to produce a delicious and memorable holiday dinner.

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Now that those two important items are out of the way, I’m going to point you toward our favorite Thanksgiving recipes on A Bountiful Kitchen! All of the recipes are delicious and simple for first time cooks or hosts to use on Thanksgiving. I’m an every year Thanksgiving cook and have been for 35+ years. I use each of these tried and true recipes.

After I list the recipe, I’ll break down the timing as for when to cook what, so it all ends up on the table hot, at the same time. Also included are updated items (2017)  on this post, Thanksgiving dishes that are on our family dinner table every year, without fail. The original post included beginner recipes, which I stand by if you are truly a beginner and want homemade and simple!

Here we go.

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Typical Thanksgiving eve scene in A Bountiful Kitchen…

Turkey

Roasted Turkey in a Bag

If you can get a fresh turkey and you like fresh better than frozen, great. Order one. Don’t plan on running to the store on Wednesday to pick up a fresh turkey up without ordering in advance! Remember, “fresh” is a relative term. Most fresh turkeys have been flash frozen and in fact are not without being frozen at some point. The flavor difference  between fresh and frozen is not drastic and you will usually spend a significant amount more per pound for a fresh turkey. I think you are better off to carefully look at the ingredients and check to see if the turkey has a lot of added ingredients.
If frozen, make sure to start thawing it about 3-4 days before cooking. If I purchase a 24 lb turkey, I start thawing it (at least) Saturday or Sunday before Thanksgiving. Place it in the fridge in a large pan. You can leave it in the wrapping. Don’t ever thaw a turkey on the counter. Unless you want to chance ending up in the bathroom or the ER for a very long time after Thanksgiving dinner…
Here’s my tried and true most simple way to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. It involves a roasting bag, a few seasonings, butter and a roasting pan. A few minutes of prep and a few hours in the oven. That’s it. No basting, just slide in the oven and bake. Are we best friends yet?
And yes, it really does brown up nicely inside of a bag. Isn’t that a thing of beauty?

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Gravy

Use the drippings from the turkey for the best gravy. If you have a roasting pan, you’ll be able to roast the turkey in the pan and then make the gravy right in the same pan. You’ll need a few cans (2-3) of chicken broth, butter, flour, salt, pepper and chicken flavor booster (I like Swanson brand or Knorr).

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Mashed Potatoes (If turkey is king, mashed potatoes are queen)

 After you’ve made these, you’ll never, ever go back to boiling on the stove.
Plug in the slow cooker early in the day, mash up your potatoes right in the slow cooker and keep your prepared dish on the warm setting until showtime!
How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner
No need to make your mashed potatoes ahead of time this year. Instant Pot mashed potatoes to the rescue! Cook them in minutes and keep them warm until you’re ready to serve.
Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes

Cranberry Sauce

Look on ABK’s index for a few variations of cranberry sauce.

One of those- never, ever, EVER buy in a can items. This is the most simple recipe of all. The difference in taste? Not even comparable.
You can make this up to a week (or two) in advance.
Takes about ten minutes total to make. Let cool, refrigerate and take out a few minutes before serving dinner.

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Start drying your bread now. Here’s a few tips on preparing the bread for your stuffing. If you don’t have time or just can’t face cutting up and drying your own bread, grab a couple of boxes of bread cubes at the grocery. This is my mom’s tried and true crowd favorite stuffing. You can make it a few days ahead and refrigerate until ready to heat up. Also, cooking tip- I stopped cooking stuffing in the bird a few years ago. It slowed the cooking time of the turkey considerably and made predicting the cooking time more tricky.
Mom's Apple, Sausage and Herb Stuffing

Sweet Potatoes

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without at least one sweet potato or yam dish. We have two favorites, Chunky Yams and Apples and Southern Sweet Potato Casserole with Brown Sugared Pecans.

The Southern Sweet Potato dish is mashed, the other recipe, is made with chunks of yams and apples. Both are perfect for make ahead! If you have an Instant Pot, this recipe for Instant Pot Sweet Potatoes  (below) is amazing and has become a reader favorite!

Green Salad

Every Thanksgiving dinner needs a green salad. I love this one. It’s simple and fresh. Cut the fruit the day (or two) before. Use a Spring Mix or Spinach leaves for the greens. Make the dressing up to a week ahead. All you have to do the day of the meal is place the greens on salad plates on the table, top with fruits and drizzle with dressing. So simple. I also love this Apple, Feta and Spiced Pecan Salad (in photo below) which is perfect for make ahead too!

Jello or fruit salad

What’s Thanksgiving without J-E-L-L-O ?
You’ll love this recipe. Make it on Tuesday. Let it sit until the big day. You can make it in a 9×13 or individual custard cups.
So good, it will turn a Jello hater into a fan.

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Rolls

I like this recipe for beginners because there’s no rolling out and shaping. Just let rise once, scoop into pan, raise again and bake. You can make these the night before. If you feel confident about your roll making ability, give this recipe for Lion House Rolls a try, it’s our favorite and I make a batch, or two or three every holiday season!

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

And finally, Pie

Really now. Who can have Thanksgiving without pie? Can you fully trust a person who says they don’t like pie? Maybe, but my inner voice tells me they really do like pie, they’ve just never eaten good pie.  I chose two simple recipes, classics, which most people will love. Both recipes are beginner recipes. Pecan pie is probably the easiest pie for beginners!  Make the crust, shape and place in pan. Follow my  tutorial on crust making here. The second recipe is for classic pumpkin pie. My recipe takes the classic Libby’s recipe and adjusts the spices and milk so you don’t end up with runny filling. Perfect pumpkin pie. Every time.

Best Basic Flaky Pie Crust

Fudge Brownie Pie

How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner
**Update 2019**
On the menu every year at our Thanksgiving table in addition to, or in place of similar recipes listed above… for example, I don’t make Maddox rolls for Thanksgiving, but listed them on the menu above because it is a simple beginner recipe.
Lion House Rolls(below) I make the dough anywhere from two to three weeks ahead, form and freeze before the rolls have risen on the pan. On Thanksgiving day, remove from freezer about 4 hours before serving dinner, let thaw and raise loosely covered with a clean kitchen towel. After raised, bake as directed.
Another amazing roll recipe-  perfect for make ahead and your Thanksgiving table are ABK’s Overnight Refrigerator Rolls.
other recipes we make every year…
How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner
-TIMELINE- (printable version available on free ebook)
5-6 days ahead
-Thaw the turkey in refrigerator if you are cooking over a 20 lb turkey. Remember, the insides need to be completely thawed before cooking.
-Print out recipes, gather in one folder or binder and make grocery lists.
-Buy all non-perishable groceries (and some fresh, depending on how early you are preparing dishes). Don’t forget items like spices, jam, drinks, ice.
-Make cranberry sauce.
-Cut up bread, dry in oven.
-Make dressing for the green salad.
3-4 days ahead
-Cook the yams or sweet potatoes for the sweet potato casserole dish. Let cool, mash in bowl. Refrigerate until ready to complete recipe.
-If you are making ice cream, mix, follow directions and keep frozen until Thanksgiving.
-For the stuffing, cook the sausage and all of the veggies. Refrigerate until ready to add to the rest of the stuffing ingredients.
2 days ahead
-Shop for any remaining perishable items- greens, dairy (don’t forget the sour cream and whipping cream), flowers, if you like fresh flowers on your table.
-Make the jello.
-Complete the stuffing, mix together, place in fridge.
-Cut up fruit for the green salad, place in separate bags and refrigerate.
1 day ahead
-Make pies. Set in a cool dry place. If you make pumpkin pie, refrigerate after completely cooled. Pecan pie may be left on the counter. I highly recommend leaving apple pie on the counter top, uncovered. If the crust is covered with foil or plastic wrap, it will trap the moisture from the pie next to the crust and the crust will become soft.
-Wash potatoes.
-Make rolls, let cool and place in a plastic bag so they don’t dry out after they are completely cooled. If you undertake the rolls a bit, meaning not until they are completely golden, you can pop back into the oven on Thanksgiving to warm up for about 5-8 minutes at 350, and they won’t dry out!
-Gather ingredients for roasting turkey, place in one spot in kitchen.
-Set out all serving platters, bowls, and utensils. I like to set the serving utensil right in the dish, so I don’t have to look for (or direct someone to look for) serving utensils while I’m in the final stages of preparing the meal.  It is also helpful to use small Post-It notes and label each dish for example “mashed potatoes”.
-If you can, set the table for dinner. Decorate the table. Don’t forget the salt and pepper.
Thanksgiving Day
-Put on your apron and some comfy shoes. I highly recommend listening to Michael Buble  while cooking.
-Prepare turkey for cooking. Do this about 4-5 hours before serving dinner.
-Cut up potatoes and place in slow cooker about 5 hours before dinner is served. OR use the Instant Pot method and make a couple of hours before and leave on warm setting after completely finished.
-Cook Turkey according to chart on recipe notice how many pounds your turkey weighs BEFORE tossing the weight tag on the turkey.
-About 2 hours before turkey is done, remove the sweet potatoes and stuffing from refrigerator.
Let sit on counter for one hour.
If you have a second oven, place these dishes in oven to warm at 325 for about one hour, loosely covered with foil. If the stuffing is too dry, add a few tablespoons of chicken broth and gently fold the stuffing a bit to loosen the bread and allow the broth to moisten the stuffing.
If you have one oven, Place these dishes on another rack in oven with turkey if possible for about an hour. If you have to wait until the turkey is done, cook both side dishes at 375 for about 30 minutes on middle rack, uncovered. Check to see if they are warmed in the middle of dish before serving. They can go into the oven immediately after the turkey is removed, adjust the heat and start cooking right away.
-After the mashed potatoes are cooked (about 4 hours), complete recipe and keep slow cooker on warm setting.
-Place any frozen veggies (corn, green beans, etc) in pans on stove with water and butter in pan. Do not cook yet.
-Place the rolls on table in basket.
-Place butter, jam, cranberry sauce etc on table.
-Plate and dress salad, set on table.
-Place jello on table.
-Remove turkey from oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Follow directions for removing bag.
-Transfer turkey to platter to serve. Cover loosely with foil while making gravy.
-Have someone fill drink glasses.
-Make gravy according to recipe. While making gravy, cook corn.
-Transfer turkey to table.
-Remove stuffing and sweet potatoes from oven and corn from stove pour into serving dish, place on table. Place mashed potatoes in serving bowl on table.
-Place gravy in bowl with ladle and place on table.
-Take off your apron, gather with your loved ones at the table, and thank the Lord for all you have!
 Happy Thanksgiving!
How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner




19 thoughts on “How to Host Thanksgiving Dinner

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  1. Thank you so much for every detail. 1st thanksgiving dinner was a success. Also did the potatoes in slow cooker and sweet potato recipe. Both were excellent.

  2. Thank you & Question.
    Hi I’m a beginner @ making mashed potatoes. I volunteered to make them after seeing your crockpot recipe. I remember you saying you preferred russets. Can I use russets the same way you used reds in this recipe? Meaning can I also leave the skins on?
    In the pic it looks like russets were used as well.
    Lastly you don’t know how much having your recipes saves me peace of mind knowing the testing that has gone into these recipes. Thank you sincerely for all of your time & heart you put into sharing. You have blessed so many.

    1. Dd,
      I use both Russets and red potatoes. Mostly, I leave the peel on when using reds, but remove them when using Russets. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. And thank you for reading ABK!
      Sincerely,
      Si

  3. This is awesome, Si! Bob and I will personalize this a bit and make a game plan. Thank you for putting this together!

    1. You’re very welcome, Kimi. I’m glad you’re personalizing it, I’m sure it will turn out wonderful. Thanks for sharing!
      xo
      Si

  4. My in-laws are coming to Thanksgiving and this will be my first Thanksgiving where I am cooking it all on my own. I was totally dreading it, and already telling them to not expect anything super fancy or even delicious (ha!) but now I am totally stoked and excited. I got this! thank you for your help!!!! Your timeline is suuuuper helpful and you’ve thought of everything. Thank you!!!!!!

  5. This is wonderful! Thank you for the prep guidance and recipes. To make the rolls in advance, you mentioned forming them and freezing them. Can you provide more details? Do you form them and freeze them on the pan you will be baking them on? Or do you freeze them on the pan, and then store them in a ziploc bag? Thanks!

    1. Hi Tamara,
      You’re welcome! I let the rolls raise the first time, and then roll out and shape and place on the pan I’m using for baking. Then I immediately cover with Saran wrap and freeze. You can take them off the pan and place in a Ziplock once they are completely frozen, and then place back on a pan the day you are baking. Make sure to allow plenty of time for the rolls to rise the day you are baking. I usually let them sit on the pan for about 3 hours to thaw and then have time to rise. Thanks for reading ABK,
      xo
      Si

  6. I just wanted to let you know that all of this information has been very helpful. I am living out of the USA on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bosnia right now and am excited to figure out if I will be able to put most of these recipes on our table this Thanksgiving. Many of us have not seen or tasted these traditional foods in quite awhile so this is going to be quite the treat. May God bless you and your family this Holiday Season.

    1. Hi Jennifer, I hope you are able to make some of these recipes. That’s what makes this holiday so special, sharing it with others and expressing gratitude. Thank you for serving for the church and for sharing your comment. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
      xo
      Si

  7. I’m excited to host Thanksgiving this year and I’m wondering if there is something equivalent to dusting the turkey bag with flour. My son is allergic to wheat and dairy. There is a lot of substitutes for butter but do you think I could use cornstarch instead of flour? And for the gravy too?
    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Rachel, yes I believe you can use cornstarch instead in the bag and certainly in the gravy. With the gravy, mix 2-3 of tablespoons cornstarch with cold water in a cup and then add to the drippings and broth. Hope this helps and thanks for asking!
      xo
      Si

  8. THIS is happening TODAY! THank you for all these tips and tricks to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. EVERYthing on this site is so yummy and so easy. This is one of my “go-to’s” for everything I cook/bake. THANK YOU Si!