It’s that time, modern housewives. Time to plan the great feast of the year while juggling a full-time workload packed with print deadlines and preparing for house guests. I know it’s not just me, so let’s do this thing together! Check out the first post in this series, here and the second one here.
**This post has been updated. Edits are notated with a double-asterisk.
Now that we’ve got our menus squared away, we’ve got to talk about time. I know it sounds tedious and may even stress you out, but I promise that writing out a schedule will in fact alleviate any pressure or anxiety you have at the thought of the Thanksgiving meal.
I like to create a general prep schedule, beginning with the turkey:
What time do you want the main course on the table? Now back it up 30 minutes to allow for the meat to rest and then to carve. That’s the time you need to finish your turkey.
Now add cooking time, seasoning time as well as brining if you’re doing that. If you’re buying a frozen turkey, this is the time by which it needs to be thawed (add the appropriate amount of time to defrost properly in the refrigerator).
**Make sure you schedule a time to clean out your fridge before you pick up the turkey! This is especially important if you’re going to brine.
Once I figure out my turkey timeline, I fill in the rest. Some things to consider:
List your sides and appetizers by cooking temperature. Figure out what items can be in the oven at the same time, and take your timeline from there.
Next, back up each dish to include preparation. When do these items need to be complete? Can they cook ahead of time (perhaps before you start roasting the turkey) and be reheated later? Items that require a crisp or crunchy topping should be as close to last as possible, while many desserts can be completed in the morning and served at room temperature.
Any items that do not need to go in the oven should be prepared in between the above dishes. This includes fresh salad, charcuterie platters (prep and cover in the refrigerator until service) and mashed potatoes.
Take a look at the recipes you’re using. How many onions or garlic cloves or tablespoons of lemon zest do you need total? You can chop, dice, grate and juice each ingredient once, and use plastic containers, jars or prep bowls to divide them up. Most of this can and should be done early in the day (or the night before).
And while we’re thinking about prep, consider how many days in advance you can begin. Homemade caramel sauce lasts for 7-10 days in the refrigerator. Same with cranberry or BBQ sauce. Lemon curd can actually be made and then frozen. Apples, on the other hand, should be peeled, sliced and diced on the morning of the meal, as you don’t want them to brown or become mushy. Desserts with custard or pudding elements should begin by Tuesday so they have enough time to get firm, but something like pastry cream should be made no sooner than 3 days ahead of serving.
Oh, and here’s a bonus nugget that sounds obvious, but it should be talked about so we actually do it. For each dish that includes butter, notate at what temperature you’ll need it. Cookies and cake often call for room temperature (set on the counter for at least 30 minutes), while pie dough require ice cold chunks (chop into cubes then freeze for 15 minutes), and other things might call for melted.
Think about these details now, write it out and make a master plan. I urge schedule-making because it provides flexibility. I know that may not make much sense to you now, but as soon as you start prepping, you’ll see that you might be faster at some tasks than others, and you’ll be grateful for the general timeline. Remember to give yourself grace and jot down “have a sense of humor” on your list of ingredients.
**I use my Google Calendar (which syncs onto my iCal) to keep myself on track.
Now, I’m going to go work on mine (and practice what I preach!). I’ll meet you back here soon to talk about dishes and platters, oh my.
TALK BACK: Do you have any Thanksgiving prep schedule-making tips? Or tricks you’ve learned over the years? Please share! Any other Thanksgiving prep questions? Leave a comment or use #xoturkey on social media. You might inspire one of my upcoming posts.