There’s the same advice that circulates around Thanksgiving: set your menu early, assess the pantry, do the shopping, make ahead what you can, and make a game plan for the day-of. The internet is crowded with tips for the best recipes—classic versions and modern riffs alike. The reality is, the advice you need is often not the advice you can find. Thinking through unexpected to dos and strategies can make Thanksgiving so much easier.
Make sure you have the right equipment ahead of time
Taking stock of your tools is just as important as checking our your pantry before the big day. If you’re short a skillet, now’s the time to order one. Or, perhaps you’re in need of a knife that can make quick work of onions, turkey, and pumpkin. And, while it’s not 100 percent necessary to use a dedicated carving board for the turkey, the depression in the wood makes it much easier to manage the piping hot bird. One thing that isn’t really optional: food storage containers. They’re good for more than just leftovers. High-quality storage containers that can go in the freezer will help you get ahead of turkey day prep. Make sure they’re empty, clean, and ready to be filled with leftovers. (If you’re planning to send leftovers home with guests, ask them to bring their own containers.)
If you’d rather not buy new equipment for Thanksgiving, check with any in-town guests who’ll be attending the big meal. That way, you can return their equipment at the end of the meal.
Think through carving the turkey before the big day
A few tips will make carving the turkey easier. First, make sure your knives are sharp, whether you’re using a chef’s knife and a large fork or a proper carving set. If you don’t have time to get your knives sharpened or do it at home, run the blades over a honing steel. Make sure you have a board that’s big enough to fit the entire bird. Our own carving board has engraved hexagons to make the bird sturdier so it’s not sliding around. And, don’t forget to plan for a 30-minute rest before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute. Follow The Kitchn’s How To Carve a Turkey: The Simplest, Easiest Method if you’re in need of a guide.
Your guests are good for more than just side dishes
There are many reasons why you might want to enlist your guests to do things more than just bring the pecan pie. Perhaps you want to make all the food yourself (fair enough) or the people invited aren’t really cooks. That doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful at all. If you need extra chairs, see if anyone can bring folding ones. If you don’t have a dishwasher, consider having someone bring disposable plates and cutlery. It’s totally fair to delegate certain tasks to guests, too. Just because you’re hosting doesn’t mean you have to cook, serve, clear, etc. If you have a particularly helpful friend or family member who doesn’t mind wrangling the food comatose, ask them to motivate the other guests to help serve, clear, and clean.
Buy the ingredients to supplement leftovers in advance
Turkey sandwiches aren’t really possible when you don’t have bread for layering or mustard for spreading. Plan ahead so that no one has to schlep to the store on Black Friday. Add the ingredients to your main shopping list, or ask a family member to take on the task.
Consider the small Thanksgiving
Most Thanksgiving tips center around big gatherings, but a Thanksgiving for two or four is a celebration enough! If you’re planning to keep the holiday small this year, think about which dishes are must-haves versus those that you can skip. Perhaps a Cornish game hend can stand in for turkey, or pumpkin ice cream sundaes rather than an entire pie. Or, check out the cornucopia of small-scale Thanksgiving recipes now available (thanks, Internet). For inspiration, check out The New York Times’ menu of Thanksgiving recipes for two. That being said, if you want to make a big batch of stuffing and eat it for a week, we salute you.