Hosting your very first Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be stressful. Thanks to a few tricks, a little planning and a game-day strategy, you’ll be able to keep your cool on the big day. Here are nine essential tips for hosting a holiday party without ever breaking a sweat.
1. Have a Pre-Party Shopping Spree
Don’t save your Thanksgiving shopping list for the day of the party. Whether it’s groceries, wine, flowers, a new tablecloth or a few ornamental gourds, these are the party items that can be ticked off your to-do list well ahead of Turkey Day so that you’re not rushing around snipping stems and washing vases when you should be basting your bird.
2. Make Ahead
From gravy to potatoes to homemade croutons, there are many dishes that will hold up and, in some cases, will actually taste better if you make them in advance! Try: Jamie Oliver’s make-ahead gravy and creamy scalloped potatoes.
3. Get Chopping
Never underestimate the power of a pre-party prep to ensure smooth sailing come game day. Professional chefs call this mise en place, the technique of ‘putting in place’ certain foods to ensure maximum efficiency. By chopping, measuring and washing ingredients for your side dishes the day before, you’ll save valuable time.
4. Hit the Bakery
It would be nice to wow guests with a stunning dessert for this special family occasion, however, sometimes big events aren’t the time to stretch limitations — particularly if you’re a novice baker. When you’re shouldering the entire dinner, cut yourself some slack and buy a few pies or desserts instead and shift your attention to displaying it on your best serving platters.
5. Enlist Help
Attention Thanksgiving newbies: there is no shame in calling on family members to help out with easy tasks, such as making the salad dressing, setting the table and serving drinks. Or take away the pressure of preparing a full menu entirely and get family members to participate in a good old fashioned potluck.
6. Clean Strategically
You wouldn’t dream of hosting Thanksgiving without a sufficient house cleaning, but don’t stress too much about giving the entire place a deep clean. Instead, focus on areas your guests are most likely to take notice like the front entrance and bathroom. Polish the glasses, iron the tablecloth and track down all your best-matching cutlery the night before. And if you have extra time, add those special details such as handwritten place cards, clusters of candles and flower arrangements which will really make your dinner party pop.
7. Stock the Bar Lightly
Don’t bother dusting off that bottle of gin from last Christmas or stocking up on pricey mixers. Keep it simple by serving red and white wine, sparkling grape juice, some local craft beer and have slices of lemon or lime to jazz up chilled water.
8. Make a Cooking Schedule
Most of us only have one stove, so you have to be strategic about what goes in the oven and when. A good rule of thumb is to cook the turkey first and tent it with aluminum foil to rest while you prep the gravy, pop the vegetables in for a roast or reheat mashed potatoes.
9. Don’t Go Rogue
Your fist Thanksgiving hosting gig isn’t the time to test out that new recipe you screen-grabbed on Instagram. The key to pulling off a successful holiday dinner is to stick with what you know. So whether it’s an out-of-this-world salad dressing, a dreamy mac and cheese, or your secret to mashed potato bliss, Thanksgiving is where you want to let your best dishes shine.