How to Host Your First Thanksgiving (And Love It)

Stressful. Overwhelming. Visions of flour everywhere and turkey served frozen. If you’ve never hosted Thanksgiving before there’s an implicit amount of stress that can come with this food centered gathering. We’ve put together this post to show you the essentials for all things turkey day and share tips for making it the best thanksgiving yet! Because you’re gathering some amazing people around you and it should be fun. Below you’ll find a sample menu, (Find our 2015 and 2016 Friendsgiving celebrations here.) week of prep list, and tips and tricks for making the day simple and enjoyable as you gather friends and family members around the table.

Keep reading for the full post after the jump!

Talk Turkey to Me. (Turkey Cooking 101.)

As you prep for the big day, it’s time to do the math. Estimate that each guest at your Thanksgiving table will eat around 1/2 lb of turkey (as most Thanksgiving dinners are somewhat side heavy.) Depending on the weight of your turkey, you can estimate that each pound of turkey will take 10 minutes to cook at 325 degrees roasting in the oven. When a turkey is fully cooked, the poultry should read 180 degrees F in the thigh or 165 in the breast. For a smaller crowd, a turkey breast is perfect, particularly if those in attendance prefer white meat over dark meat. You can even get a turkey broken down into pieces making cooking easier and more efficient. Based on your cooking method of choice, the way you prepare a turkey will differ. Most turkeys are sold in the frozen section and take days of being in the refrigerator to thaw. For a 10-18 lb turkey, estimate 3 days to thaw. Our preferred method of seasoning a turkey is with a simple brine and then roast. In order for a brine to work, a cooking liquid is created and the turkey remains in this juice overnight prior to roasting or smoking the meat. Factor this into your week of prep, leading up to the big day. Most Whole Foods or organic groceries will carry fresh organic turkeys. Based on the size needed, you might need to place an order for the size of your turkey. (They usually handle smaller sizes in stock, so it’s always wise to call ahead.)

If you’re roasting your turkey, make sure to have it in a roasting pan with a rack elevating the turkey allowing air to circulate beneath the cavity of the bird. If this feels like too much of a splurge you can buy an aluminum disposable roasting pan. Place on a cookie sheet to reinforce the weight of the bird and fill the bottom of the pan with root veggies and fresh herbs to compliment the flavors in your recipe. We love this one for brining and roasting the perfect bird.

Give us all the Sides.

As the host for Thanksgiving, don’t hesitate to have others bring their favorite thanksgiving side to contribute to the meal. This is a modern take on a potluck and the perfect way to allow ownership from others. If you want to handle the full meal, ask a friend to bring dinner rolls, pies, or drinks. If cocktails are your jam, just let them know the alcohol needed and they can bring this as a great addition. For early arrivals, we love having a charcuterie tray available for people to snack on throughout the day.

Know thyself.

Know your comfort level and what you’re able to take on. Use recipes you love and know rather than tackling ones for the first time. Maybe hosting is your thing but everything else feels overwhelming. Designate and delegate to others, making the process fun and less pressure to create an amazing day. Maybe you have a friend who has amazing style and loves to decorate. Let her own decorating the table. Maybe you have a friend who is a brilliant chef. Give them the ability to help you cook and learn from them in the kitchen throughout the day.

The Table.

Thanksgiving is a dish heavy meal. Decide whether or not you like dishes to be passed around the table or have the counter space to offer buffet style service. This will largely determine how much you are able to add to the table. Choose a simple and cohesive palette. We love using neutrals and white dishes to allow the food presentation to steal the show. (We only think it’s appropriate for Thanksgiving.) Make it personal by including place cards that are also notecards, sharing gratitude for each person who is coming to your table. Head to the dollar store and grab a roll of kraft paper. This can serve as a simple and timeless runner. (Also perfect for kids who love to color, craft, and make hand turkeys on their end of the table.) For flowers and additional color we line some of our favorite gourds, mini pumpkins, and taper candles in a row. To add additional color, we add foraged greenery and sweet gum leaves adding that perfect element of fall decor. Additional touches go a long way. Choose a few elements, and set the table the night before so you can focus on cooking and enjoying others throughout the day.

Week of Prep.

Review recipes and develop shopping list.
Complete any DIY or decor items.
Clean house (for any overnight guests) and catch up kitchen linen laundry.
Pull Thanksgiving outfit.
Buy groceries 3-4 days prior.
Pull dishes and servingware making sure you have all essential elements/pots/pans needed.

The Day Before.

Forage greenery.
Set the table. (Figure out if you need to set a kids table as well. Adjust accordingly.)
Prep the bar.
Buy ice.
Brine turkey.
Make timeline for recipes, oven temperatures, and completion leading up to guests arrival.
Make desserts and wash produce ahead of time.

Day of Prep.

Watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Get ready minus your outfit for dinner.
Eat a great and filling breakfast. We love to start the day out with Pumpkin protein pancakes. (Simply add a scoop of vanilla pea protein powder to our Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pancakes recipe.)
Prep charcuterie platter and store in the fridge.
Make any simple syrups for cocktails and set up the bar with instructions for your mixologist.
Follow your timeline for cooking, adjusting timelines accordingly to the turkey.

Additional tips

Have water throughout the day and put on a favorite playlist.

Tidy up the house, 1 hour prior to guests arrival.

Clean up the kitchen as you go. Pots and pans will be in high demand throughout your day.

Save cash by repurposing pumpkins and gourds from earlier in the season to decorate your table.

Use other heat sources than the oven so your turkey receives consistent heating temperatures. This could mean keeping things warm on the grill, stove, or crockpot.

This Year’s Menu

Smashed Cranberry Gin Fizz

Charcuterie Tray

Braised Turkey with Burnt Orange and Aromatics

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Autumn Kale Salad

Garlic Herb Slow Cooker Potatoes

Gluten-Free Mini Chai Bundt Cakes

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