How to Host Your First Thanksgiving

It’s only the biggest meal of the season. The one people have waited all year for. A meal wrapped up in tradition and family and tied with a rosemary bow. No pressure, right?Whether you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving or your thirtieth, here are some guidelines, tips and resources that can take the pressure off.

Draft Your Dream Meal

Page through your favorite cooking magazines, browse our Favorite Recipes opens in a new tab, take a look at all those Thanksgiving boards on Pinterest, or pick one of our start-to-finish Thanksgiving Menus opens in a new tab.

First dream big and then get realistic: consider your oven space, how many guests you’ll have and their preferences. Take a close look at cooking times, number and type of ingredients, and any unfamiliar techniques. If you’re a novice, this might not be the best time to make demi-glace from scratch. Even the pros have a few “in the bag” recipes waiting in the wings for emergencies, too.

We love to encourage creativity in the kitchen, but keep in mind that family members may expect certain traditional foods on their Thanksgiving table.  Make at least one family recipe, like the classic green bean casserole opens in a new tab.  Then throw in a couple traditional dishes with a twist like these Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pumpkin Seeds opens in a new tab, and maybe a dish that’s new and a little different, like Smoky Mushroom Gratin opens in a new tab or Thanksgiving “Risotto” opens in a new tab.

 Green Bean Casserole

Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pumpkin Seeds
 Smoky Mushroom Gratin

 Thanksgiving “Risotto”

Make Enough for Everyone

Our online servings calculator opens in a new tab can help you figure out how much you’ll need of the main dish and popular sides.

Also, consider folks at the table who might have special dietary needs and plan some celebration-worthy recipes for vegetarian opens in a new tab, vegan opens in a new tab and gluten-free opens in a new tab dishes.

Buy Some, Make Some, Have Them Bring Some

Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Crust and Cinnamon-Spiced Whipped Cream

One common newbie mistake: making everything from scratch. You can still impress by tricking out quality store-bought options with these twists:

  • Dress up ready-made pies by topping with fresh whipped cream and a pinch of ground cinnamon.

  • Frozen rolls get a tasty facelift by brushing with melted butter, minced shallots and herbs before baking.

  • Add candied ginger, orange zest or a drizzle of maple syrup to spice up canned cranberry sauce.

Consider asking guests to bring a dish, and don’t be afraid to be specific!
If you’re just not ready to put your turkey skills to the test, consider ordering a pre-roasted heat and serve turkey opens in a new tab. That leaves room in the oven room for lots of homemade goodies.

Or focus all your efforts on the bird and let our chefs cook all the amazing extras opens in a new tab.

Turkey Time

Turkey with Extra-Crispy Skin

The bird can be serious business, but don’t let it scare you. Take a tour of Turkey 101 opens in a new tab. It’s our online guide to buying, brining, cooking and carving – everything you need to do it right. Beau, our meat guy, also shared his tips on picking the best one opens in a new tab.Reserve your turkey early through our online ordering site opens in a new tab, or with the help of a team member at the in-store holiday tables.

Finally, pick your favorite turkey recipe. This year we’re loving Turkey with Extra-Crispy Skin opens in a new tab. But we have more roasted turkey recipes opens in a new tab to choose from on our holiday site.

Give your turkey adequate time (and refrigerator space) to prep. Even our fresh birds develop a thin layer of soft ice (due to USDA-recommended safe shipping temperatures) that needs to melt before cooking.

Details, Details, Details

Shop for as much as you can in advance to avoid the day-before madness in stores. Here’s how to Stock your pantry for success. opens in a new tab

Write a day-of timeline to plan what happens when, with built in wiggle room. This step helps ensure everything is ready at the same time and will help keep you on track. (You can also pull it out and point when people ask what they can do to help!)

Check to see you have enough serving utensils, and consider labeling serving dishes to ease the mad rush of getting everything to the table. If you have the space, set the table a few days in advance.

Wake up a little earlier on the big day. Things always take longer than expected, and you’ll want time to put out any fires (hopefully not literal fires). Build in a few minutes to get freshened up and relax with a well-deserved glass of wine. Have easy snacks on hand for guests who arrive early, too.

Got-Your-Back Plan

You may find it helpful to have an experienced helper in the kitchen – someone  who can let you lead (and even make a few mistakes) but knows when to politely step in. Think of someone who can help alleviate stress, not add to it, and above all someone you can laugh with and learn from.

Since things don’t always go as planned (oven break-downs do happen), have a backup plan at the ready. Put pizza delivery on speed dial or a have a few fixins’ for a cold-cut sandwich buffet. Most of our stores are open the first half of Thanksgiving Day, and our hot bars are brimming with holiday offerings. Just make sure to call your local store in advance, so you know when they’ll be open. 

Will you be hosting your first Thanksgiving this year? What are you most excited or nervous about? Any experienced hosts have tips for the newbies? 

From carving with confidence to pouring with pride, our online Holiday Cheat Sheet opens in a new tab means more of your best for less stress. Order holiday meals online opens in a new tab too; we'll do the work, you'll take the credit.

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