Do This One Thing Now for Thanksgiving Success Later

You’ll be glad you did.

November  1, 2018
Photo by Mark Weinberg

It’s Nov. 1—aka 21 days 'til Thanksgiving. And if you’re like me, you can’t wait.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, the one day of the year when I get to spend the whole day cooking, drinking, and experimenting with new recipes (but never switching out the old ones, for fear of my family’s wrath). It’s also the one day of the year when I get to feed the people I love most, all together, gathered around a big table.

So where to get started? If you're like me, today's the day that your turkey brain kicks into gear—and we've got a few ideas for things you can get cracking on now. Introducing A Pan & A Plan, our handy guide to Thanksgiving prep. We're here for you! Well, we've always been here for you, but over the next few weeks, we'll be extra-here.

To keep your Thanksgiving train on the tracks:

  • Talk to The Turkey Whisperer, our guide to everything turkey.
  • Try our Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker, a fun tool to help you plan your dinner from app to dessert.
  • Stock up on the essentials]( pans, knives, everything you’ll need for the big day.
  • And check out Dear Test Kitchen, where we'll answer your most pressing Thanksgiving questions. (First up: gravy!)

One thing you can do right here, right now: Start planning that guest list. After all, the people who sit at your Thanksgiving table are just as important (if not more) than what's served on it. So, whether you’re heading up the whole shebang or joining someone else's feast as a guest, here are a few questions to ask yourself now for smooth sailing later:

Who's at your table?

If you're hosting, start thinking about who you want to invite. Is this a family reunion? A meeting of the in-laws? A college-roommates Friendsgiving? Make a list (being sure to account for children and partners). Oh, and leave a little wiggle room for surprise visitors, too—they make any celebration more interesting.

How many people are attending?

There's a big difference between a cozy, intimate Thanksgiving and a whole-neighborhood potluck. (For the record, we love both!) The size of your guest list will determine all those logistical things, such as how big a turkey to get, how many sides to plan, and the number of seats, place settings, and chairs to account for. Even if you're just attending, the total guest list is helpful to know in case you're bringing a side or are in charge of wine, beer, or ice.

Any dietary restrictions?

As you think about the guests, consider who's vegetarian, vegan, allergic to nuts, and so on. My general rule of thumb is to cook for the whole and not the part—meaning, create a feast that everyone can enjoy together. There are plenty of delicious gluten-free desserts, and a gorgeous meatless main can definitely hold its weight alongside a big ol' turkey. "Special diet" options shouldn't feel like add-ons, but rather thoughtful parts of the meal.

What's the vibe?

Though the mood of a party is not 100% set by its guests, they certainly can inspire it. Is this a buffet-loving bunch or a proper multi-course crowd? You may not want to throw a fancy shindig if you're hosting ultra-casual family (and don't skip the green bean casserole or Uncle Young will freak out). But maybe there's an in-law you do want to impress: Is there a new dish you're excited to try for the first time? Now's the moment to break it out.

My rule of thumb—about cooking in general, really—is that no matter the vibe you're going for, make sure the food reflects your style. That is, the way you cook and eat, not some playacted version of yourself. This honesty will come through in the cooking, and you'll be rewarded for being yourself. Plus, the food will just taste better.

Thinking about your guests now will help set you up for the kind of Thanksgiving that everyone wants to attend. After all, at the end of the day, it's really just dinner, right?

Who's at your Thanksgiving table this year? Let us know in the comments below, and check back tomorrow for a full plan of attack to see you through the weekend.

52 Days of Thanksgiving
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52 Days of Thanksgiving

Top-notch recipes, expert tips, and all the tools to pull off the year’s most memorable feast.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


jifferb November 2, 2018
YES! YES I am one of those people who starts planning in August actually but on November 1 I feel like I can actually start doing real things - other than what I have already done which is menu and logisitcs planning (Speaking of menu planning, THANK YOU FOOD52 for getting GDPR compliant!! I have been bugging you via Instagram and email because there are SO many Food52 recipes that have become my go-to staple Thanksgiving recipes over the years - the 11 years that I have been doing my own Thanksgiving, the majority of them here in Hamburg, Germany - and without access I would have panicked.) I have a record 80 people coming for Thanksgiving this year (it just gets bigger every year...) and I am totally agonizing over whether to keep it at home (we pull out all the furniture and put in tables because this is a sit down dinner) or move it to another location, a very cool old warehouse space owned by friends that would very comfortably fit 80 but may loose a bit of the intimacy of being crammed into my living and dining room. Opinions on this? I know 80 is not a very intimate number and I refuse to give up the tradition of going around the table and saying what we are thankful for ... it makes the Germans soooo uncomfortable initially but they all love it in the end!
paula November 9, 2018
How funny! I feel the same way. And am also in Germany. 25 people coming. After 15 years in Berlin, relocated to Rheinland and the fests are just as big and colorful. Many of my beloved recipes over the course of the last many years were saved here and locked tight due to GDPR. So excited to have them back. It's become a bit of a tradition -- people start asking for invites back in August -- maybe one of these days we should combine our crowds and resources! Good luck!
bonnie D. November 1, 2018
Great idea! I am wondering about the kid's table, since there will be 5 children that won't fit at the main table-how to make it seem special and connected, also?