Turkey Timeline: Your Thanksgiving Dinner Planner

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It’s just about three weeks until the “other” Big Bird makes its appearance in our homes, and it’s not too early to start preparing for what is, for many, the most elaborate and time-consuming meal on their holiday calendar.

A little planning can really go a long way toward helping you avoid all the stress and anxiety you may have had in years past, such as realizing on Thanksgiving day that you don’t have enough place settings, cream for the coffee or ice for the drinks.
Because most home kitchens were never designed to accommodate the volume of food they’ll be preparing on this one special day, it’s especially difficult.
And the pressure is really on if you’re cooking for a crowd. It’s the one meal of the year you want to get right.
That’s why pre-planning is SO important. As an old chef mentor of mine would always say, “Plan your work, and work your plan.”
So having said that, below is my 3-Week Turkey Dinner Timeline to keep you organized and on track all the way through Thanksgiving.

It’s something you might want to print off and tape to the inside of your kitchen cupboard.

3 Weeks Out

  • The guest list is created and finalized.
    • Likes and dislikes
    • Food allergies
  • Write down your menu with ALL the fixins.
  • Mark which dishes you KNOW you’re personally going to prepare and items your guests may be asked to or want to contribute.
  • Locate those Thanksgiving recipes NOW.
  • When you know your guest count is finalized, check the cupboards to be sure you have enough:
    • Place settings
    • Silverware
    • Stemware and goblets
    • Napkins, tablecloths and decorations

If you intend to rent, place your order immediately! If you plan to buy additional pieces, shop for them this week.

2 Weeks Out

  • If you’re going to order a fresh/Amish or special turkey from Nino’s, do it NOW!
  • Review your menu and check to see that you have all the appropriate platters and service wares for the turkey and all the sides. In addition, be sure you have all the cookware, casserole dishes, and roasting pans.
  • Place your order for any fresh flowers or arrangements for your Thanksgiving Day table.

1 Week Out

  • If your menu includes homemade cranberry sauce, marmalade, chutneys or marinades, go ahead and make them this week. They’ll last WELL past Thanksgiving!
  • 1 week out will be your 1st food shopping for Thanksgiving. Buy any beverages this week (coffee, ultra-pasteurized coffee cream, beer, wine, liquor, mixers and all soft drinks). Most can hang out well in the garage or storage space. Also, snacks, chips, nuts and dips can be purchased this early and stored in some out-of-the-way place. Additionally, purchase fuel for the grill, fat for the deep fryer (if you prepare your bird that way) and logs for the fireplace (if you have one, of course).
  • 1 week out is also the time to start “banking” (saving) your cubed ice from your freezer, unless you intend to buy a large bag the day before Thanksgiving.

* SEE ADDITIONAL 2-WEEK-OUT TIPS BELOW

3 Days Out

  • If possible, do all your major shopping today to avoid the Tuesday and Wednesday rush. If you purchase a frozen turkey, leave it in its sealed package, immerse it in cold water, remove it from the water before you go to bed and place it in the refrigerator until Wednesday evening. Your produce (onions, celery, sweet potatoes, Idaho Potatoes and dairy products will all be fine for Thanksgiving if purchased today).

Don’t forget the foil, plastic wrap, extra trash liners and paper towels, and be sure the knives are sharp!

The Day Before

  • Last-minute purchases:
    • Bake or buy your pumpkin pies and all other desserts
    • Get rolls and breads
  • Chill the beer and buy your additional ice (unless you’ve “banked some” and pick up rentals and any floral pieces for your table.
  • Set the table, turn the “wares” upside down (glasses too).
  • Peel your whole potatoes, place them in cold water and refrigerate them until the morning (or take it one step further and finish them today for re-heating tomorrow–see below).
  • If you don’t intend to stuff your bird, prepare your stuffing today with strong turkey or chicken stock, just the way you like it, and place in a buttered casserole dish for baking tomorrow.
  • If you make a green bean and mushroom casserole, you can fully assemble it today (minus the crispy onion) and place it in the refrigerator overnight.
  • If you are making a relish or vegetable tray, make it today; cover it with a clean, damp towel and mummy-wrap with plastic film.
  • Check to see if your turkey is fully thawed. If not, completely immerse it in cold water and allow it to stand overnight in your sink.
  • If you are brining your turkey, brine one hour per pound and begin sometime this afternoon or tonight for tomorrow’s roasting (Nino’s has a GREAT brining kit!).

Thanksgiving Morning

  • Prep your turkey and get it into the oven (See Nino’s Turkey Roasting Tips).
  • Your microwave is your friend today. Use if to reheat/cook stuffing before finishing it in your oven. Do the same with the green bean casserole, whipped potatoes and sweet potatoes.
  • Timing is critical today. Start preparing sides that are not yet COOKED (whipped potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams). Move on later to re-heating items that are already cooked (green bean casserole, canned corn).
  • Rolls are ABSOLUTELY the last item to be baked (15 minutes before service–don’t forget to take them out of the oven before you sit down to eat!)

OTHER TIME-SAVING TIPS

  • Buy a small turkey 2 weeks out. Roast the bird, pull the meat and make a nice, rich stock/broth from the carcass, neck, wings and drumsticks. Make all your Thanksgiving gravy right now, from this stock, and use some of the giblets and turkey meat in it. Place it in one-quart freezer containers and freeze until thawing it the day before Thanksgiving. Dice up some of the remaining meat and save it (with perhaps some of the stock) for your turkey stuffing, which you will ALSO make the day before Thanksgiving.
  • Make your mashed potatoes the day before, place them in a ceramic casserole dish and reheat them in the microwave oven (covered with plastic wrap), or top with shredded cheese and serve as a mashed potato Au gratin by re-heating in the oven.
  • If you intend to serve a colorful vegetable medley, consider cutting all the vegetables today, and to save space on the range tomorrow, place them in a perforated grilling skillet and grill them on your outdoor grill. A little olive oil with dried herbs (thyme, oregano and basil) tossed in can also make a nice flavor addition.
  • Sweet potatoes can be roasted in their skins the day before, chilled, and then peeled on Thanksgiving Day, and topped with a bubbly mixture of butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. Pop into a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, and you’re good to go.

If you want to pre-portion part of your meal for easier service, consider portioning prepared, cooked stuffing on a buttered casserole dish, thinly carving both dark and white meat turkey and molding it over the stuffing, basting it with broth, covering it, and then re-heating it in an oven or microwave oven.

Nino’s will be closed on Thanksgiving Day to allow our extended family of employees to be at home with their own families.

We wish you and your family a VERY Happy Thanksgiving!