Game Plan for Hosting Your First Thanksgiving 🦃

Maybe you’re living far away and you want to cook a little taste of home this Thanksgiving. Maybe you and a group of friends are planning a Friendsgiving and you have been put in charge the cooking. Or maybe the Thanksgiving turkey torch has finally been passed from your Great Aunt Eunice to you. Whatever the case, do not panic. This is your plan.
  1. 1.
    First, pour yourself a glass of wine and watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foA0MGUbYH0
    Mary Risley gets it right. Even if you don’t share her feelings about turkey (it doesn’t ALWAYS taste like cardboard…), her basic message about not worrying too much about perfection and focusing instead on having fun is a very good one.
  2. 2.
    There is one trick that will make your Thanksgiving vastly less stressful and much more enjoyable: don't cook everything. Take on cooking the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Outsource the rest to guests. Do not feel guilty about this.
    A few days before your meal, ask guests to bring an appetizer (cheeses, crackers, meatballs, nuts, etc), side dish (green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.) or dessert (pie, cookies, ice cream) to share (assign specific courses so you don't end up with seven pumpkin pies). This will lighten your load significantly. Because the truth is that cooking the bare minimum Thanksgiving basics (turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce) is an awful lot of work on its own.
  3. 3.
    As @InaGarten suggests, set the table a few days in advance.
    You will have way too much going on the day of to bother with this.
  4. 4.
    Buy the beverages.
    Champagne or sparkling wine/prosecco (the latter two are typically cheaper). Serve this to start. People usually drink less of this, so figure 1 bottle for every 4 people. If you have any non-drinkers, get sparkling apple cider or sparkling lemonade for them. Also, some Pinot Noir (it goes well with turkey). Figure 1 bottle for every two people. I know this seems like a lot, but Thanksgiving is one of those holidays when people tend to drink a little more than usual.
  5. 5.
    Buy the turkey, stuffing ingredients, gravy ingredients, and cranberry sauce ingredients.
  6. 6.
    Other things to buy
    Dinner rolls (1-2 per person), salted butter (for the rolls), heavy cream (to whip), coffee (regular and decaf) and tea (if you think people will want it with dessert ). Also, consider buying some recyclable aluminum baking trays/roasting pans, even if you think you have enough regular pans. You never know when you'll have to heat something extra up, and that's hard to do when all your other pans are in use.
  7. 7.
    Cook the turkey.
    The general rule for cooking turkeys is 13 minutes per pound, so if you are cooking a 20 pound bird, plan for a little over 4 hours of roasting. You’ll want to have the turkey out of the oven about an hour before your guests arrive.
  8. 8.
    While the turkey is roasting, make the cranberry sauce and prep the stuffing (do not bother stuffing the bird--it's messy and you can't get that crispy crust that you do when you bake it in a baking dish). Whip the cream and refrigerate until ready to use.
    Don't try to bake the stuffing while the turkey is in the oven. You'll do that after the turkey comes out, a little bit before your guests arrive.
  9. 9.
    When the turkey is finished, let it rest on a carving board for at least 20 minutes before you carve into it. Use this time to bake the stuffing.
    At this point, your guests are likely showing up. Have them set out their appetizers and stick any side dishes they brought that need to be warmed up, along with the rolls (on an ungreased cookie sheet) into the oven with the stuffing until everything is nice and hot, about 20 minutes. Transfer the hot rolls into a basket lined with a clean dishtowel or napkin.
  10. 10.
    Just before you carve the turkey (http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/cooking-tips-techniques/carve-turkey), make the gravy and transfer it to a bowl or gravy boat.
  11. 11.
    Carve the turkey and transfer it to a serving platter.
  12. 12.
    Gather a small crew to help you bring everything to the table, invite everyone to be seated.
    Raise a glass and give thanks!