I remember when I made my first Thanksgiving dinner. I was nervous as all get-out and didn’t calm down until about a week after the holiday. I burned the rolls, ruined the gravy, and discovered that crying over spilled milk is a real thing. What I did wrong was putting myself in the mindset that creating a full Thanksgiving meal needed to be difficult in order to be delicious. I treated it like childbirth: no one could do it but me, and I would go through lots of pain and anguish in order to get a beautiful end result. Here are a 10 first Thanksgiving dinner hacks to keep you sane, so you won’t have to go through the drama I encountered.
1. Don’t cut the turkey at the table
Norman Rockwell had it wrong. Cutting the turkey at the table might seem like a cool idea until you end up inadvertently tossing a slice of turkey skin into Aunt Betty’s lap. Slice up the turkey in the kitchen where you have more surface space and your cutlery skills won’t be on display.
2. Blend the gravy
I am a gravy murderer. No matter how many times I make it, it always has a few lumps in the mix. I remedy this by placing my gravy in the blender once I’m done making it from the drippings. Just a few pulses will ensure that you’ll have smooth, delicious, homemade gravy.
3. Roast 2 small turkeys instead of a big one
We ended up waiting way too long for our large turkey to cook during the first meal I made. I remember hearing a Food Network star suggesting that you roast 2 smaller birds instead. The cook time will decrease (and so will the resting time) and you’ll have more than enough meat for your whole crew.
4. Use up residual oven heat with dessert
It’s essential that you let the turkey rest for 20 to 40 minutes before carving. Use that time to bake a dessert in the oven. It will be nice to have one just-made dessert on the menu, even if it’s a simple as a few batches of cookies. You can even make the cookie dough ahead of time!
5. Make your side dishes ahead of time
This is key to stopping the insanity. Most side dishes (and desserts) can be made days in advance. Get them cooked all the way, and just re-heat the day of. Or you can be really on top of things, and have them cooking or warming in a slow cooker or two. Mashed potatoes are especially delicious in the slow cooker.
Just because it’s your first thanksgiving dinner doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own. Ask friends and family to bring drinks, great bread from the local bakery, or a side dish. Oh, and don’t feel ashamed for asking!
7. Create a welcoming aroma
If you do end up burning the day lights out of an item before your family arrives, you don’t want any odious evidence when they show up. Here’s a tip: place water, a cinnamon stick and orange rind in a slow cooker. Turn on “keep warm” and the aroma will fill your house all afternoon and night.
8. Buy a meat thermometer…and use it
Yes, you need it, and yes it’s important. You want to bring the turkey as close to a safe temperature as possible, without going over. Keep in mind that when you take your bird out of the oven, it will continue to cook for a bit. So, the temperature may be a few degrees under what’s suggested, but while it’s resting, it will reach the proper number.
9. Bake your turkey upside down
It sounds weird right? But baking the turkey with the breast on the bottom pretty much ensures a moist, flavorful bird. I also find that the turkey tends to cook a bit faster, since the dark meat is now at the top.
10. Make you most famous dish
By making a dish you know you can rock, you’ll not only boost your ego, but you’ll have a really kick-butt dish to fall back on if everything else goes haywire. Whether it’s baked ziti or chicken chow mein, serve it up with pride.
Bonus Tip: Create a meal plan for the week before
You will already be stressed about your first thanksgiving dinner on the big day. There is no need to think about what to make for the week prior. A great way to do this effortlessly is to sign up for a meal planning site like eMeals.com. They release a new meal plan every Wednesday, so you will be totally covered for those 7 days prior to the big show.
Are you planning your first Thanksgiving dinner this year? Which tip was the most helpful to you?