Thanksgiving for Beginners: 10 Hacks for First-Time Hosts
Thanksgiving for Beginners: 10 Hacks for First-Time Hosts
Hosting your first Thanksgiving can be daunting. If you grew up in a family where Thanksgiving was an enormous meal with a million different dishes, you may dread the idea of tackling it yourself. We’ve assembled a planning guide for hosting thanksgiving for beginners to make your first Thanksgiving affordable, stress-free, and fun.
1. Start Preparing Early
The key to enjoying Thanksgiving Day is preparing well ahead of time. Doing a little work each day will avoid stressful trips to the grocery store the night before, and will help your dishes come out perfectly. This Thanksgiving planning guide will help you stay on top of your holiday to-do list.
Finalize Your Guest List
The first order of business is finalizing your guest list. This will guide not only how much food you need to purchase, but also what kinds of foods you will buy. Make sure to check with your guests about any food allergies or dietary restrictions, and also find out how many kids will be coming. For children under 12, plan a half-portion each.
Do a Deep Clean
A few weeks before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to deep clean your fridge and assess any pots, pans, or kitchen gadgets you may need to purchase. You’ll definitely need a roasting pan large enough for your turkey and a meat thermometer to check that it’s done. Before you spend money on any other gadgets, make sure to read hack #7 below!
Plan Your Table
Whether you choose a simple Thanksgiving layout with just plates and utensils, or a massive tablescape with fall foliage and placecards, now is the time to plan. Have all of your decor planned out long before you start on the food. One last Thanksgiving hack — set your table the night before. It will be out of the way and even the earliest guests won’t catch you unprepared.
Check Oven and Dish Space
With so many different dishes to juggle, you’ll need to make sure you have enough room in your oven, and enough time to get everything done. Write down each dish, what it will be cooked in, how long it takes, and what temperature it cooks at. This will help you plan the most efficient order to cook your dishes.
Set Yourself Up For Success
The ultimate Thanksgiving hack revolves around the dishwasher. Try your best to get a load of dishes washed and emptied before you even sit down to eat. This way, when you’re done eating, you can load plates directly into the dishwasher and then sit down and relax with your family and friends.
2. Make the Perfect Turkey
The centerpiece of any simple Thanksgiving meal is the turkey. You want to have your turkey picked out well ahead of time to get a good deal and avoid the crowds. You can keep your turkey frozen until a few days before Thanksgiving, so make sure you carve out some room in your freezer.
Not sure how big of a turkey you need? Rule of thumb is 1 – 1.5 lbs per person. Check out how much turkey you need below — don’t forget to accomodate for leftovers!
How Much Turkey Do You Need?
6 People: 10 lbs.
8 People: 12 lbs.
10 People: 15 lbs.
12 People: 18 lbs.
14 People: 20 lbs.
The turkey and gravy can be the most daunting part of Thanksgiving for beginner cooks, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are two simple recipes to start with:
3. Keep it Simple
Thanksgiving is not the time to learn how to deep fry or make your first pie crust. It can be tempting to go all-out for the holidays, but you can never go wrong with a simple meal and a table full of loved ones.
If you don’t cook often, now is the time to practice your recipes. Thanksgiving for beginners is all about keeping it simple and getting out of your comfort zone — but not so far that your dinner becomes a disaster.
Here are a handful of basic recipes for Thanksgiving for beginners:
- Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
- Sausage Stuffing for Turkey
- Green Bean Casserole
- Watermelon Cranberry Sauce
- Pumpkin Pie Trifle
4. Greet Your Guests with Snacks and Drinks
Since it’s your first time hosting, there’s a good chance that dinner might be a little late. If your guests are greeted with a snack and a pre-made batch drink, they won’t even notice what time the food hits the table. If there are kids in attendance, make sure it’s something non-messy like a charcuterie board that they will enjoy as well.
Remember your goal is a simple Thanksgiving, so just stick with one easy-to-prepare snack. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Crispy Green Bean Fries
- Sparkling Red Cherry Punch
- Fresh Chunky Salsa
- Fluffy Fruit Dip
- Holiday Cheese Log
5. Take All the Help You Can Get
There is zero shame in accepting help with cooking your first Thanksgiving meal. Whether a guest offers to bring an entire dish or asks to help load the dishwasher, always say yes! Allowing people to bring side dishes will also ensure that picky eaters and those with food allergies have plenty to eat.
If there will be kids present, consider leaving a few easy jobs, like snapping green beans, for them. They will enjoy helping, and it will be one last thing on your to-do list.
6. Don’t Waste Time on Potatoes
It may sound silly, but making mashed potatoes the traditional way can take the better half of a day. When you have tons of other dishes to prepare and cook, these mashed potato Thanksgiving hacks will make the rest of your day run smoothly.
Rather than wasting half an hour scrubbing potatoes, run them through the dishwasher on the rinse cycle with no soap. They’ll be cleaner than if you brushed them clean, and you can even do it a day or two before if you prefer.
If you don’t have a burner available or simply don’t have the patience to boil potatoes, consider cooking them in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl or dish. Check your recipe for exact instructions, but 8 to 11 minutes should do the trick. Your guests will never know!
After boiling or microwaving your potatoes, drop them immediately in ice water. The sudden temperature change will make the peels slide right off, saving you time and energy!
Check out some of our simple Thanksgiving mashed potato recipes:
- Easy Mashed Potatoes
- Delicious Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Wisconsin Romano and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
7. Don’t Waste Money on Thanksgiving Gadgets
You may be looking at your list of recipes and realizing you not only need a fridge full of groceries, but also a slew of equipment and gadgets. While there are a few essentials you’ll need like a roasting pan and meat thermometer, there are a number of Thanksgiving hacks to keep your shopping list short.
For a perfectly roasted turkey, you need heat to circulate around all sides of the bird. Rather than buying a bulky rack that you’ll only use once or twice a year, make one with aluminum foil. Tear a long sheet and scrunch it into a rope lengthwise, then coil the rope into a spiral in the bottom of the pan. Sit your turkey on top and enjoy a perfectly roasted bird.
If you’ve ever seen a parent or grandparent make a pie, you may have seen them use ceramic pie weights. Pie weights are used when blind-baking pie crusts without their fillings to prevent the crust from puffing up. A recipe may suggest blind-baking for pies that have a chilled, un-cooked filling, as well as for pies with wet fillings to prevent the crust from getting too soggy.
Instead of spending money on pie weights, you can use uncooked rice, beans, or even pennies to weigh down your pie crust. Just be sure to include a layer of parchment paper or aluminum foil between your crust and your make-shift pie weights.
Heating and Cooling Appliances
If you’re running low on refrigerator, freezer, or warming drawer space, there are a number of solutions already sitting around your house. Use thermoses and insulated coffee cups to keep gravy and broth warm before serving. Coolers with ice can extend your fridge and freezer space until you’re ready to serve.
If you’re really running out of space in your refrigerator and freezer, check the temperature outside. While it may seem a bit old school, any temperature under 40ºF will keep food just as cold as a refrigerator.
If you’re not a baker, you probably don’t have a rolling pin lying around. Luckily, there are many alternatives to help roll out pie crusts, sugar cookies, and more.
A wine bottle is a perfect makeshift rolling pin, and is heavy enough to get smooth, evenly-rolled out dough. You can either remove the labels and wash it thoroughly, or simply wrap it in a layer of parchment paper. The parchment paper will also prevent your dough from sticking.
8. Pick Your Battles
You may want to serve a 100% home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, but that can be an enormous undertaking. Whether you dread cutting onions or have never made a pie crust before, don’t be afraid to utilize your local grocery store for a dish or two.
Utilize the Salad Bar
If you don’t have the greatest knife skills, the salad bar is your best friend. You can get a variety of perfectly chopped, shredded, and diced vegetables right in the grocery store. Pick these up the day before and then toss them in the refrigerator until you need them.
Try a Store-Bought Pie Crust
There is no shame in taking the easy route with one of the oldest Thanksgiving hacks in the book. A store-bought pie crust will save you time and oven space and will allow you to focus on making the rest of the meal delicious.
Buy an Entire Pre-Made Dish
If you’re really running short on time or have some last minute RSVPs, don’t be afraid to purchase some pre-made dishes. There are tons of delicious dishes you can get fresh from your local store.
9. Avoid Last-Minute Grocery Trips
Having to run out at the last minute for groceries is always a pain, especially when you have dishes in the oven or are preparing for guests. If you’re particularly worried about ruining a specific dish, like burning a pie crust, consider buying an extra. If you don’t end up needing it, you can use your new skills to make an extra to go with your leftovers.
10. Enjoy Yourself (and Your Leftovers)!
Remember that above all else, the point of a simple Thanksgiving meal is to spend time with loved ones. If the meal isn’t perfect, the world will keep turning, and you’ll have another opportunity next year!
Since you’ve planned your dishes for leftovers, consider grabbing a few to-go boxes to hand out to your guests. If you have leftovers yourself, consider trying our Leftover Turkey and Gravy Sliders to mix things up.