13 Rules to Live By When Hosting Thanksgiving

It can be a little daunting hosting Thanksgiving at your home. Will the turkey explode into a dried mess when you cut into it? Will your drunk uncle go off on a tangent about those Starbucks cups? Will people like the new chef-y recipe you came up with for stuffing stuffed artichokes? I have now hosted Thanksgiving in my home for the last three years. Here are a few rules to live by to make sure you end the day with your sanity and everything turns out beautifully.

Determine Your Menu Well in Advance

First, brainstorm your menu. If you love to cook, (I hope you do! You’re hosting!) Thanksgiving is your Super Bowl. Many of us plan the menu months in advance, and more than likely, change the menu several times. With that being said, be flexible with changing it, if need be. Oh, your cousin who doesn’t eat meat is now coming? No problem! Add another veggie side dish. Always plan on extra, last-minute guests.

Have a Plan of Action for the Week of Thanksgiving

Have your grocery list ready to go the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. Get your groceries on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. Cut and prep veggies on Tuesday. Make your side dishes and pies on Wednesday. I make my dishes up until the point of needing baked. Then I refrigerate until Thursday.

Have a Written Plan of Action for the Day of Thanksgiving

I try to work backwards from the time I’d like to have dinner served. So, if I’m planning on serving dinner at 2pm, I need to work backwards to determine what time to get up, prepare the turkey and cook it. In a 325°F oven cooking times varies based on the weight of your bird.

  • An 8-12 pound turkey takes about 3-4 hours
  • 12 to 16 pound turkey takes about 4 hours
  • A 16-20 pound turkey takes about 5 hours
  • A 20 to 26 pound turkey takes 6 hours or more


Remember, you should let your turkey rest for an hour at room temperature before roasting. Roast at 475°F for 30 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350°F for the remaining time. If the skin is browning too quickly, simply cover it in foil. Should also let your turkey rest for 15 minutes before carving. The temperature of the turkey should be around 155°F, and no higher than 165°F. To take the temperature, place a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.

Invest in Space Saving Gadgets

I am lucky enough to have a double oven. With that being said, the turkey takes up one all on it’s own. I buy a 24 pound turkey, and yes, I’m crazy. So, there is no way all the side dishes can fit in the other oven without a little maneuvering. I found these handy dandy gadgets at Williams-Sonoma, and they are a life saver. They create vertical racks so that all your dishes fit.

Use Post-It Notes to Organize Cookware

If you want to use your favorite Rachel Ray dish for the green bean casserole, stick a Post-It Note in it that says green bean casserole. It just helps to visualize and keep you on track while cooking.

Have a Space for Guests to Hang Out

I know everyone loves to hang out in the kitchen. It’s the gathering place, and I get why. However, on Thanksgiving day, put your apps and snacks in a different room—the dining room, the living room, anywhere but your kitchen where you’re working. There is nothing worse than being stressed about the dinner, and having too many people in the kitchen seeing you cry into your lumpy gravy with your glass of Pinot Noir.

Create a Signature Cocktail

If you’re worried about your uncle getting too drunk before dinner, simply create a signature cocktail where you control the amount of alcohol guests consume. I usually create a sangria with a little wine, a little orange liqueur and club soda. This keeps guests out of the mixed drinks and straight up wine. It doesn’t keep me out of the Pinot Noir, but I’m hosting. I make the rules.


Stick to What You Know

In my opinion, Thanksgiving isn’t the time to get crazy creative with your food. Risk taking is great. Just do it on a weeknight or well in advance of the big day. Don’t try to get too chef-y with your food. On Thanksgiving, most people are big on tradition. Stick to the basics. This will help alleviate stress when something new doesn’t turn out.

Always Have Snacks for Guests to Munch On

I always put out a veggie tray and a protein of some sort. Shrimp are a great option. The veggies will help fill them up with fiber and the protein will help keep hunger at bay. Stay away from serving bread. This fills the stomach, and you want them eating your perfectly cooked turkey and sumptuous side dishes.


Don’t Focus too Much on Decor

If you’re hosting, the food is the star of your Super Thanksgiving Bowl—not the decor. Focus on the food. If you have a particularly creative or craft friend or spouse enlist their help. After all, most people care about the 3 F’s on Thanksgiving—food, family and football.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cheat Where You Can

Go ahead and use pre-made pie crust. It’s a time saver, and most of the time people only notice what is inside the crust anyway. I often buy frozen rolls. Again, it’s a time saver and no one really notices the difference.

Keep Track of Your Menu from Year-to-Year

Write down your full menu in a journal each year along with notes touching on what worked and what didn’t. I noticed after the first year, no one ate the sweet potatoes or pecan pie. So, not I don’t make a sweet potato side dish, and only serve pumpkin pie. This cuts down on waste, and helps with your planning.


Enjoy the Moment

Remember, this is your Super Bowl. You’ve prepared for the big day months in advance. Take a minute to step back, look at your surroundings, listen to your screaming fans (your family) and just enjoy the moment. You did it! You hosted Thanksgiving without any major issues, and you deserve to find happiness in it.

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