It’s the last weekend before Thanksgiving, which is 6 days away (not that we’re counting). Now’s about the time I’m expecting a harried phone call from my mother, asking things like:
“I’m going to H-Mart this weekend—what should I buy?”
“Do you want me to salt the turkey? Or are you going to try some new foodie thing this year?”
“What was that ham recipe we had last year?”
“When’s your flight again?”
Needless to say, this weekend is primetime for Thanksgiving prep. And it seriously helps to have a few things squared away. Since Nov. 1, we’ve been mapping out a game plan—a pan and a plan, if you will—to make the ultimate dinner so much easier. And this weekend is no different. So here are the five things you should do in the next few days so Thursday's a total breeze.
In theory, you’ve already started shopping—for spices and canned goods and other pantry items. But now’s the time for all the fresh stuff. Don’t leave anything out: veggies, meat, eggs, cheese—everything you need for the menu you’ve planned. It’ll all keep just fine until Thursday. If you’re not one of those people who ordered their turkey in advance, then pick out your turkey. Follow my mother’s lead and get it all squared away before any visiting guests arrive so all you have to do in the days leading up to the big day is cook—and enjoy the cooking, too.
Oh, and buy the ice. “Chances are you’re going to forget it on the day-of,” Test Kitchen Stylist Anna Billingskog says, “so just get it now.”
Once you’ve gotten all your produce, this weekend’s a great time to prep, prep, prep! Trim your green beans, scrub your carrots, chop your onion and celery. You can store everything in gallon zip-top bags, clearly labeled for later (“STUFFING,” “GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE”) so cooking’s mostly just dumping and stirring. But be careful with white-fleshed produce, like apples and potatoes, that can oxidize and turn brown over time. Either chop those closer to Thanksgiving, or just make the mashed potatoes and apple pie now to warm up on the day.
"While I think mashed potatoes are at their absolute best when they're fresh and hot,” says Recipe Developer Ella Quittner, “you can make them in advance if that makes your life easier. Just be sure to add more cream, butter, and salt when you reheat.”
And if you haven’t already made your pie crusts, now’s a good time to do it. You could make your dough now, roll it into the plate, and freeze it so it's ready to go. Alternatively, you can make the full pie (filling and all), freeze it, and then bake it from frozen on Thanksgiving Day.
Including the spoons and tongs you’ll need to serve each dish. Art Director Alexis Anthony likes to take a quick inventory of her dishes and pans and serving spoons against the menu she’s planned out—so she knows what to go out and buy if there’s anything missing. Another trick: Test Kitchen Cook Allison Bruns Buford likes to label each platter and casserole dish with sticky notes according to what recipe goes with what.
Sunday’s your day! You don’t want to be that person who’s cooking a bird from frozen on Thanksgiving (but if you are, there’s a hack for that). The easiest and safest way to defrost your turkey is in the refrigerator (kept at 40°F). The USDA recommends 1 day of thawing in the fridge for every 4 to 5 pounds. So if you have a 15-pound bird, you’ll need to start defrosting at least 3 days in advance. Make sure to place the wrapped turkey breast-side up on a tray near the back of the refrigerator, where it will remain consistently cold. You might also want to keep it on a bottom shelf to prevent contamination from leakage. Once your bird has thawed, cook it within the next 4 days.
Though you don’t want to start brining your turkey just yet, feel free to mix up the solution now, whether it’s wet or dry, and keep it in the fridge so it’s ready to go.
Not just the you in 6 days, but the you in 365 days! Print out all of your recipes and keep them in a binder or book so you’ll have a record of the many successful dishes you’ll want to make year after year. Leave a pen in there for good measure, and mark notes for the future you. Things like, “Definitely make again next year” and “Everyone’s favorite.”
One invaluable thing you can do this weekend: Write down any essential family recipes that have never been documented other than verbally. All of this helps so that when it comes time for any cooking closer to Thanksgiving, you can hand out written-down recipes and assign out dishes to others, and you can focus on the turkey (or the guests!).
Got Thanksgiving Qs? We'll be staffing our Hotline every day from Sunday at 8 a.m. until Thursday at 8 p.m., ready for all your Turkey-Day conundrums!
What are you doing this weekend to get ready for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments below.