Holidays in America tend to revolve around food, and for good reason: food brings family and friends together and tying specific dishes to special occasions creates a sense of tradition. There’s no better example of this than Thanksgiving, a centuries-old holiday that has a unique expression at every table. Though you’re likely to find a similar progression from hors d’oeuvres to appetizers to turkey and side dishes to dessert in every household, how the dishes are made and what flavor combinations they feature varies. But, how do you get started? How many dishes are right? Should you make turkey? Asking yourself these questions and more when thinking about building your Thanksgiving dinner are totally normal. The tips below will help you plan a meal that showcases the best of the season and provides something for everyone.
Here’s how to build the perfect Thanksgiving menu
- Answer the turkey question: If you’re going to serve a roast turkey (or a deep-fried turkey or any large bird), you’ll want to figure out where you’re getting it from and place an order for the right size. Assume about 1.25 pounds per person attending (and if you want leftovers, increase that accordingly). Check out this helpful graphic from Delish to figure out what size bird you need. If you’re ordering a frozen bird, mark on your calendar when to start defrosting (which can take a few days), when to marinate or add the dry rub, and what time on Thanksgiving day to start cooking the bird. If you’re cooking for a small group, consider substituting a boneless turkey breast or a smaller bird like chicken, duck, or quail.
- Don’t assume you need to make hors d'oeuvres: A few wedges of cheese and some crackers is more than enough to get the party started. If you want to make some finger food to put out before the meal, stuffed mushrooms go over well, as does baked brie or devils on horseback (blue cheese-stuffed dates that are wrapped with bacon and baked).
- Add a little intrigue: You don’t need to stray too far from the iconic dishes, but adding a dash of exciting flavors, textures, and colors keep things from being too bland. Consider adding a chutney to the table alongside the cranberry sauce or setting out a bottle of hot sauce.)
- Assume most people will go for seconds: Once you’ve figured out the meal, make sure the recipes serve enough for people to go back for more. The key to a great Thanksgiving meal is bounty—no one wants to hold back so the guests can enjoy.
- Delegate early: If you’re hoping that friends and/or family will contribute to the meal, figure out who you’ll ask for which dish. Give them options, and confirm a week in advance, so you have time to triage if they back out.
The great news about Thanksgiving recipes is that many do well when made ahead. The goal of hosting shouldn’t be perfection, but about delicious food that you enjoy.