How to be a Hit in the Kitchen with these Thanksgiving Day Tips from the Best Cooks I Know

Thanksgiving Day

As much as I love Thanksgiving (it’s my favorite holiday), it can be a rather stressful day; especially if you’re cooking. There’s just so much to keep in mind, even as you prepare a small feast for your immediate family. From rethinking a scaled-down menu, planning the best way to shop at the grocery store to cooking a meal that everyone loves, and making this cherished family holiday a success, there’s a lot to do. Luckily, there are ways to enjoy the day, avoid a melt-down, and be a hit in the kitchen this Thanksgiving day!

Recommended Reading: An Almost Happy Thanksgiving (A Baby Boomer’s Guide to Entertaining)

Although Thanksgiving this year will be a bit different, you’ll probably still want to prepare a meal for your family. The gathering may be more intimate in 2020 and that’s okay. It gives you more time and space to learn and implement some kitchen tips that will make every Thanksgiving day a breeze.

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23 Thanksgiving Day Tips for the Kitchen

To help you win in the kitchen this and every Thanksgiving day, I’ve collected some advice from the experts. I asked my friends and colleagues, who are some of the best cooks I know, to share their secrets. These women offer insightful tips and clever hacks that you’ll love. Use these kitchen tips to spend less time in the kitchen and more quality time with the family this Thanksgiving day.

Kara asks, “Do you have a convection oven?”  “The first year we were in our house, I had everyone over for dinner. I had all the ingredients and planned everything out. But I just wasn’t familiar enough with my two ovens. The turkey went into one oven which I set with a probe so it would be cooked just right. I calculated that it would take close to 4.5 hours. Imagine my surprise when the turkey was done after two hours and the guests weren’t expected for another 3 hours! The oven had been on the convection setting. I then had to figure out how to reheat the turkey without drying it out. But if you have a convection oven and know how to use it, it can be a huge timesaver when roasting a large bird.”

The following 3 helpful tips are from my colleague, Janet Schiesl of basicorganization.com

  • Use foil whenever possible to speed up cleaning afterward.
  • If you use plastic containers for leftovers, consider having only one size to eliminate having to match tops with bottoms.
  • Arrange all the prep tools and ingredients on the counter before beginning to cook to save time.

Maddy suggests having a helper for clean-up whenever you have a large gathering. (Perhaps next year!) If you’re having a small group though, everyone should lend a helping hand.

Hayley recommends cleaning as you go.

Diana says to throw away trash ASAP – don’t leave it around the counters or on the floor.

Lauren cleverly suggests finding suitable distractions for kids while you’re busy in the kitchen.

Alison says get a good night’s sleep the night before.

Robin recommends always keeping a file from each year, of the menu and tablescape (pictures, recipes from magazines, and newspaper).

Thanksgiving Day

Prepare in Advance

Natalie always makes sure that her linens are freshly laundered in advance.

Samantha makes sure that all plates, silverware, and serving pieces are clean and taken out a few days ahead. If possible, set up in a place away from the kitchen.

Lisa says, if you want to be super organized, set the table the Monday of or at the very least, the night before. (Toss a clean sheet over the table to keep it dust-free.)

Jocelyn suggests cooking as many side dishes as you can a few days ahead.

Sharon recommends cleaning the guest bathroom the day before.

Heather opts for seasoning the turkey the night before.

Audrey says, to plan what you’re wearing ahead of time.

Recommended Reading: How to Get a Sparkling Clean Bathroom the Easy Way

Wow Your Family

Jenna always plans on one new dish each Thanksgiving (it could even be a variation of a favorite dish).

Lindsay similarly, always has one WOW dish.

Carolyn suggests having a great music playlist while cooking.

Susan wows with a centerpiece. “I always do (did) a buffet and down the middle made a ‘living sculpture’ of all the raw, natural ingredients (bounty) used in the meal (obviously with the exception of the meat). Sprigs of all the different herbs and vegetables and fruits and spices… with tucked small votive candles around.”

Go Easy on Yourself

Liz says to go easy on yourself. “Take some of the pressure off by using ready-made ingredients where you can. For example, no one is going to care or notice if you didn’t use homemade chicken stock… So don’t aim for perfection and try to not put so much pressure on yourself, just enjoy the day and the family you have around you.”

Michele recommends getting the turkey from a caterer and making some homemade sides! That’s her plan 🙂

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day 2020

Thanksgiving day 2020 is definitely going to look different from other Thanksgiving days and extra precautions will need to be taken if you’re gathering together. Even if you’re planning an intimate event, keep at-risk family members or friends in mind and invite them to join you virtually. However, there are steps you can take to ensure the safety of everyone involved at in-person events. Here are the CDC guidelines for having a safe Thanksgiving day when gathering with family or friends:

Thanksgiving Day

What’s your favorite kitchen tip for a smooth Thanksgiving day?


Comments 14

  1. Thanksgiving will be different this year. But what is true is that we can still find ways to make it memorable. We can go as simple as cooking a few traditional or favorite dishes to going all-in with a complete feast. But safety is vital. Steve and I will have a small virtual Thanksgiving this year with our kids and their partners. We’ve each exchanged a recipe and will all cook those. We’ll add anything else to our meal that we want. And then over Zoom, we’ll be together, enjoy our “shared” recipes along with eating and being together. It won’t be the same as our usual 20-25 person Thanksgiving gathering, but that’s OK.

    I’m looking forward to how we are going to be together in a different way this year.

    1. Linda,
      The pandemic and the current surge is out of our control. Yet, how we manage it and what we choose to do, is completely within our control. By thinking this way, I don’t feel so passive, rather I’m doing something that does make a difference.
      This year will be a little more relaxing and safe, which is peace of mind. That alone is something to be thankful for.

      Wishing you and your family a lovely Thanksgiving and one surely to be remembered.

  2. These are all great tips. Mine is to set the table several days in advance. This way you have time to play with the flowers, get the right color candles, and create festive party favors.

    1. Diane,
      I always try to do as much as I can in advance, because there’s a lot to get done on the big day. One of my favorite tips is to put a Post-it on each serving platter and write which dish it’s going to hold and then keep the serving utensils for that dish right along side. Then, if anyone wants to help, it’s already written out.
      Happy Thanksgiving and please let us know what kind of party favors you’re creating!

  3. Well, this year will definitely be different! Not as many people gathering around my table for safety reasons. Nevertheless, we will carry on and do the best we can to have a wonderful day, focusing on being grateful for the many blessings we have received. As far as making the day easier, using foil and preparing in advance are absolute musts for me:)

    1. Seana,
      “Different” is the word of the day. There’s nothing wrong with different, as long as we can find a way to make it work. A friend of mine always says, “it is what it is.”
      I love that about her because she just rolls with whatever is going on.
      Funny, I was looking in my pantry today to see if I was missing anything. My eyes went right to the aluminum foil. I think I have a bit of foil on my mind and I’m going out to get the heavy duty kind tomorrow.
      Have the happiest Thanksgiving. I think you’ve already made up your mind that you will.

  4. Great tips, Ronni! Most years, Thanksgiving is a big event for my husband and me. He cooks, and I decorate and help him cook. This year, it will be quite different. We will do very little decorating on tables, and we will be doing a lot of smoking in the smoker and grilling. And sides that can be placed in the slow cooker and finish up on their own. It is more about safety this year than making things look pretty. Hopefully, next year will be different.

    1. Sabrina,
      Thanksgiving is very different this year for all of us. Without my big crew here, I’ll just have to enjoy an uninterrupted Thanksgiving Day Parade, which I love!
      We will all be in our own homes this year. I felt so badly, that I sent my daughters meals to be delivered on Thanksgiving day. Also, my family is planning a Zoom cook off. That should be fun and different!
      Wishing you a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

  5. This is such a thoroughly written post! We hosted Thanksgiving brunch AND dinner last year because both my husband and I love to cook. I’m glad we did it l, but man… it was stressful, hahaha. I’m sort of glad Thanksgiving for us will be small this year and we ordered a meal delivery from one of our favorite catering companies! I’ll be saving this one for next year. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Melanie!
      I certainly know what you mean by stressful! Celebrations, like Thanksgiving, can be as there are so many moving pieces, even if you’re organized.
      My Thanksgiving post last year was about an almost happy Thanksgiving from the year before. It’s quite a funny story. It was centered on the stress and all the things that went wrong, but nobody knew except me.
      Cheers for being so smart that you ordered your Thanksgiving meal to be delivered. That way you can spend a beautiful day without the angst and just enjoy your pod!!
      I hope you have the best Thanksgiving!

  6. Thanks for including my tips for Thanksgiving prep. One year my SIL did all the cooking and had the most elaborate timeline I’ve even seen. She was very organized and the whole meal was great.

    1. Hi Janet, I loved your tips so I borrowed them, as they really save time and they are clever!
      I’ve done timelines before. Especially when there’s a large gathering and a lot of dishes going in and out of the oven. It also comes in handy when people are helping. It also makes the celebration run more smoothly. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and I know you’ll be organized!

  7. What a superb round-up of tips!

    I don’t cook; my mother and sister do all the Thanksgiving prep. My job is to lift heavy things from the car to the kitchen or the table to the cooking space. My mother, however, has it all down to a science. I’ve noticed one of the niftiest things that she does. It our family’s tradition to carve the turkey in the kitchen and bring it, plated, to the table. To that end, my mother puts an old beach towel on the kitchen counter, under the carving surface. She carves enough for everyone to eat, and then after dinner, carves the rest and packages up servings of leftovers in foil. All of the stray bits of turkey from the electric carving knife and any drips go straight onto the beach towel. When all is done, it gets rolled up, carried off to the washing machine for its solo tumble, and the kitchen cleanup is much easier than it might have been.

  8. Thank you, Julie. It just goes to show that everyone has their own spin on entertaining. From my friends and colleagues’ myriad of tips, to your mother’s ingenious beach towel system ( Does she toss the turkey bits before she tosses in the machine?) to all the necessary helpers.
    In my home, my tallest daughter is the reacher for anything I can’t put my hands on, my son is the one who brings it, my other daughter is the baby whisperer and my husband is the television watcher.
    Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving! Even if you’re going solo, you’re still important!

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