It’s the final countdown: We have exactly one week before Thanksgiving, and it’s totally on. I’ve got a house to clean and a meal to plan. The tasks are already starting to pile up, but I’m not gonna get stressed out this year – after all, Thanksgiving is just a big dinner party, and parties are all about having fun.
I get it. Executing a large meal so everything comes together at exactly the same time is hard. The stakes are high for Thanksgiving, and things can get a little tense if you let that turkey gobble up all your time (sorry/not sorry). The good news – if you’re prepared, all that anxiety is absolutely avoidable. So don’t worry, we got this!
1. Get stuff out of the way this weekend. Don’t wait. Get the house cleaned this weekend and find all the stuff you only use once a year (you know, like that huge roasting pan and your fancy serving ware). Shop for anything you’re missing and make sure you have enough containers, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil to store leftovers. Call Bread and order a pie so you don’t have to bake one. Compile your recipes and knock out the grocery shopping. Most food items will last at least a week in the fridge, so snag ’em early while the pickings are still good.
2. Pick up some local boozeI love having stuff around that my family can’t find outside the state. Swing by a local brewery and grab a growler or crowler of your local-only favorites, or grab a six-pack for longer-lasting bubbles. There are plenty of Colorado wines and liquor, too, if the fam isn’t into beer. Some of the country’s best whiskeys and bourbons are coming out of the Front Range, so stock up! Mocktails featuring local apples or Zuberfizz sodas are good choices for the non-drinkers in your party.
3. The waiting is the hardest part ... said Tom Petty to the frozen birdFrozen turkeys take forever to thaw. Don’t even think about trying to fast track it by thawing it on the counter (unless you want to get everyone sick, of course). It takes one day in the fridge for every four pounds, so that means four days to thaw a 16-pound turkey. Either plan ahead or buy a fresh turkey; either way, make sure it’s thawed by Wednesday so you can brine it (a step you really don’t want to skip).
4. Dry brine your way to moist turkeyThe best turkey of my life was dry brined. It sounds counterintuitive, but there’s a whole science I won’t get into about denatured proteins and the physics of moisture absorption. Just trust me – a dry brine tastes better. The master recipe: Combine 6 tablespoons kosher salt with 2 tablespoons baking powder. Use just enough of the mixture to adequately season the turkey (you want it covered but not caked on, and you probably won’t use all the salt). Let it sit, uncovered, in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Two days is really the sweet spot for the best turkey ever (cover it loosely in plastic wrap if brining for more than 24 hours). Bonus: You don’t have to worry about finding a large container to hold all that brining liquid!
5. Consider the spatchcockThis is not only the best way to create an entire turkey’s worth of crispy skin, but you get to say the word “spatchcock” all day long. Spatchcock. There’s quite literally nothing better than repeating “spatchcock” to your mother-in-law, over and over. It also cooks the bird much more quickly, and you won’t have to buy an expensive roasting pan. Google “Serious Eats Spatchcock Turkey” for the lowdown on this amazing cooking method.
6. Think outside the ovenUnless you’re lucky enough to have a double-decker oven, your turkey is going to gobble up all the oven space (there, I did it again ... this time I actually am sorry). You can make everything else ahead of time and reheat side dishes in the oven while the turkey is resting (about 45 minutes for most turkeys). Or, you can consider using your smoker, grill, or setting up an outdoor deep-fryer. No matter the cooking method, you’ll still have to rest the bird before slicing, but freeing up the oven could make your Thanksgiving that much easier.
7. Prep your way to successProfessional chefs write extensive prep lists to keep everything organized, and you should, too. Write down everything you need to cook and how long it’ll take. Consider anything you can do ahead of time (like baking casseroles, soups, and pies) and knock them out a day or two before. Prep the ingredients for dishes that require last-minute attention (like dressing the salad or mashing the potatoes) so all you have to do is throw them together to finish the meal.
That’s it. Easy! If you make a plan and stick to it, you might actually get to have fun hosting Thanksgiving this year.
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to ChapStick. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.