I love Thanksgiving. I love cooking, I love eating, I love family, and I love gratitude. I’ve cooked the full Thanksgiving spread several times now – sometimes just for our small immediate family, while other times it’s been a larger affair.
But no matter the scale of the dinner, what I’ve learned it that organization is key. Cooking for 2 can be just as stressful as cooking for 20 if you don’t have a plan. So today I’m sharing my personal tried-and-true Thanksgiving menu, grocery list, and day-by-day cooking schedule to make sure that, if you’re hosting this year, everything runs as smooth as possible.
Caveat: This is not to imply that if you’re hosting you need to cook everything yourself. You absolutely don’t. By all means, have your guests help you out by bringing a dish. But if you are planning to cook the whole thing yourself, this plan will help you do it well.
Five months after I got married, I hosted my first Thanksgiving. I incessantly researched how to cook a turkey, but once I saw how simple Alton Brown made it look on the Food Network (and that it didn’t take hours and hours like I’d heard), that was the recipe I chose. It worked like a champ – and I haven’t tried anything else since. I stick with what works.
Stuffing: Traditional Turkey Stuffing Recipe
This is the closest recipe I can find to the one I use. The only difference is that I don’t use all the spices listed and instead sprinkle poultry seasoning directly on the bread crumbs before adding the liquid ingredients. Then, I stuff the bird with half of it. I put the un-stuffed stuffing in the oven an hour before dinner time. Then, when I pull out the bird to rest before dinner, I remove the stuffing and mix it with the stuffing that wasn’t in the bird. Then it returns to the oven for another 30 minutes. This gives you the best of both worlds – the rich stuffing that’s full of turkey drippings without the food safety risk that can come with stuffing a bird that doesn’t quite come up to the proper temperature.
Potatoes: Duo Tater Bake from Taste of Home
This dish is not only amazingly delicious, but it does double duty AND you can make it a couple of days in advance to shorten your day-of to-do list. I was never a big fan of the sweet, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes anyway so this satisfyingly savory dish that layers cheesy sweet and russet potatoes is a super simple, super tasty replacement for both.
Green Beans: Bacon-Wrapped Green Bean Bundles
If it’s not Thanksgiving in your house without the traditional green bean casserole, then use the recipe on the back of the fried onions container. But if you want to try something a little more elegant, try this. How cute will they look sitting on each plate?
Salad: Broccoli Salad
This is the closest to the recipe I usually make, except I omit the cheddar cheese and the dressing is much simpler (1 cup mayo, ¼ cup sugar, 2 Tb apple cider vinegar).
You can buy dinner rolls at the store, but this is where I choose to splurge with my time. There’s nothing like a hard, crusty roll that’s fluffy and hot inside – and as you pull these from the oven right before you sit down to dinner, you’ll be glad you opted to make them yourself. Honestly they’re the best rolls I’ve ever had.
Gravy: Canned Gravy
This is where I let myself cut corners. Gravy can be difficult to make, and you’ve got enough going on in the moments before dinner that you don’t need another thing to do. Make the rolls, but buy the gravy.
Cranberry Sauce: Cranberry Relish with Pear and Orange
You can serve a cylinder of cranberry jelly. Or you could make this, which literally takes two minutes and can be made three full days ahead of time. Your choice – the amount of effort is the same! I make it without the pecans.
I know that pumpkin pie is the traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but I love me an apple pie. And I love it with sweet apples even though I know it’s “supposed” to be made with tart ones. And since it’s Thanksgiving, make it extra special with your own whipped cream – because you want to finish your meal strong, and it takes about 30 seconds.
Thanksgiving Prep & Cooking Schedule
- If frozen, move turkey to refrigerator to thaw
- Make dough for pie crust
- Chop celery and onions for stuffing
- Chop and combine veggies for Broccoli Salad
- Prepare filling for Apple Pie
- Make Cranberry Relish (omit pecans)
- Mix simple dressing for Broccoli Salad (1 C. mayo, ¼ C. sugar, and 2 Tb. apple cider vinegar)
- Cook and crumble bacon for Broccoli Salad (keep all components separate)
- Assemble Duo Tater Bake (do not cook); assemble and store topping separately
- Prep and assemble Bacon-Wrapped Green Bean Bundles
- Assemble and bake Apple Pie
- Prep & brine turkey
- Set the table
- Tear bread for stuffing and leave it out in a bowl to dry overnight (mix occasionally so it will dry evenly)
Thursday (Thanksgiving Day)*
*This is based on a 2 pm dinner time and a 14-16 lb turkey. Adjust the timeline based on your own dinner schedule and turkey size.
7:00 am – Start dinner roll recipe.
7:50 am – Complete 2nd step of dinner roll recipe per the instructions (2nd knead).
8:50 am – Fold dinner roll dough per recipe instructions.
9:20 am – Fold dinner roll dough per recipe instructions.
9:30 am – Make stuffing (use poultry seasoning in lieu of all the spices included in the recipe).
9:50 am – Complete the next step of the roll recipe (form the rolls). Cover lightly with tea towel and set aside to rise.
10:15 am – Remove turkey from brine, rinse, and pat dry. Rub with canola oil.
10:30 am – Preheat oven to 500 degrees and stuff the turkey with half the stuffing. Place the other half of the stuffing in a greased casserole in the fridge.
10:50 am – Put turkey in the oven. Also lightly brush the tops of the rolls with water and put them in the oven.
11:00 am – Remove rolls from oven. Invert them onto a pan, pull apart, and turn them right-side up again. Set aside.
11:20 am – Reduce oven temp to 350; cover turkey breast with aluminum foil if it starts to brown too much. Get dressed and ready – you get a break!!!
12:50 pm – Put un-stuffed stuffing in oven. Also put in Duo Tater Bake.
1:20 pm – Remove the bird (should be 155 degrees in the thickest part of the breast) and stuffing.
1:20 pm – Remove stuffing from turkey and mix it with the stuffing in the casserole dish.
1:30 pm – Place stuffing back in oven.
1:30 pm – Put rolls back in oven.
1:30 pm – Put bacon-wrapped green beans in oven.
1:45 pm – Mix together veggies, dried cranberries, bacon, sunflower seeds, and dressing for Broccoli Salad.
1:45/1:50 pm – Remove rolls from the oven. Put topping on Duo Tater Bake.
1:50 pm – Carve your turkey (or enlist someone to do it for you).
1:55 pm – Heat your gravy.
2:00 pm – Remove stuffing, Duo Tater Bake, and green beans from oven. Grab the cranberry relish from the fridge.
2:00 pm – Dinner time!
4:00 pm (or whenever you plan to have dessert) – Make whipped cream.