Thanksgiving

It's the Last Weekend Before Thanksgiving! Here's What to Do.

Five smart ways to get ahead for Thursday.

by:
November 15, 2018
Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.

1. Do all of your grocery shopping this weekend.

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.”


2. Prep the small parts for the larger assembly later.

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“it increase my enjoyment of any occasion to gaze upon, tweak, re-visit “the set” during the week before “opening night!” The only hint I would add is to cook your root vegetable, save mashed potatoes (concur with E. Quittner above those are best served freshly made) sides at least on the Tuesday before peak turkey turmoil Thursday. Noticing how delicious savory leftovers tasted on the Friday after, I hit upon the stress-relieving, pleasure-enhancing practice of seasoning the squash, turnip, and creamed onion savories well ahead of the critical push hours. This year, I’ve already served my traditional dinner the first weekend of November as requested by out-of-country houseguests. Saturday, I’ll be preparing a fresh cranberry sauce from God knows when circa 1960’s as requested by my baby brother hosting me next Thursday. Two turkey moments this year!! Counting my many blessings, Happy Thanksgiving To All Cooks, Food Writers, and Guests!!”
— Swan
Comment

"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.


3. Set aside all of your cooking vessels and serving dishes.

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.


4. Start defrosting your turkey.

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.


5. Leave some notes for future you.

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!).


Bonus tip!

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.

21 Comments

Peggy M. November 18, 2018
Seriously clean bathroom. Surface clean everything else. Set the table. Clean AFTER, I’m dessert queen for dinner at daughter’s home. 10 people, 6 requests for favorites.
 
Jen S. November 18, 2018
You also have to clean the house. Depending on how Type A you are, timing out the prep for the day of also helps. Then you can make satisfying checkmarks. Remember to add a shower for yourself! I almost forgot one year.
 
Elizabeth F. November 17, 2018
I LOVE you, Food 52!!!! Thank you so much for all your amazing videos, recipes and products. Absolutley my FAVORITE resource!!! Can’t wait to try the wet brine turkey and the butternut squash salad!
 
Vanessa S. November 16, 2018
Wait. I can buy chicken parts for stock, bacon, ground turkey, etc. a WEEK before?!
 
Rosalind P. November 16, 2018
Doing everything possible ahead of time has been my modus operandi, if not ethos, forever, not just for T'sgiving but for every dinner party I do. Just because I can't handle last minute stuff very well, and I HATE being away from the guests. But I'm writing this to share one tip that may already be known to 90% of you out there: although brining is getting the bird (pun intended) by the experts now, it is undeniable that it helps keep white meat moist and tender, period. However since I left the spaciousness of a house and extra refrigerator space for an apartment, I could never even consider the standard brining approach. Here's my solution (again, pun intended): if you can find it, buy a kosher turkey. Salting is part of the process of making meat kosher, and you get the benefit of brining without the fuss. (Are the other "pre-brined" birds okay?) I get raves every year for the tasty, moist white meat. Just be cautious with salt for the gravy that uses drippings.
 
tia November 16, 2018
If you don't want to reheat mashed potatoes, twice baked potatoes can be prepped and frozen to be baked up on the day of (and they're delicious). My mom usually does a potato casserole thing ahead of time and bakes it with the turkey to warm. I don't know what recipe it is, though.
 
mollenne November 16, 2018
This is a great list, especially with the intention of looking out for "future you"! <br />I really love the thought to take the time to log the family or special recipes. I started a notebook last year doing this and I'm so glad I have it this year - and I know it'll be special once it's filled with recipes and details after years and years!
 
Deanna November 16, 2018
What is best way to reheat mashed potatoes?
 
Ella Q. November 16, 2018
Hi Deanna,<br /><br />I do it in the microwave or stovetop, stirring in additional butter/cream/milk and salt as I go—they'll need extra moisture.<br /><br />Ella
 
Stephen M. November 16, 2018
Also making the Turkey Broth this weekend. <br />
 
Isabella November 16, 2018
I have already made various cranberry sauces,cran/orange,cooked cran/cherry and poached cranberries in port wine for garnishing my pumpkin pie. Every year I roast pie pumpkins, puree then freeze in Zip lock freezer bags in 16 oz. quantities.<br />Also made pumpkin bread with dried cranberries, apple bread with a cinnamon topping and froze them as well. Plan on shopping for non-perishables today and fruits and vegetables on Monday. Brining a fresh turkey breast and also serving a smoked ham. This week end I will make the turkey gravy and freeze. My big plan is to keep made ahead mashed potatoes, gravy and possibly other sides warm with my Sous Vide Joule-fingers crossed!! Love having friends and family around for the holidays! Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!!<br />
 
Nani R. November 18, 2018
That sounds amazing!
 
BerryBaby November 16, 2018
Good advice except for the chopping onions. I save those for day of otherwise they stink up the fridge no matter how tightly you store them. This weekend the only thing I'm doing is staging the dining room table.
 
Katie M. November 16, 2018
Have you tried freezing the onions? It's less smelly that way!
 
Ella Q. November 16, 2018
I love to do that early, too! Gives you time to grab extra branches, or persimmons, etc as festive centerpieces.
 
saramarsh November 16, 2018
I have always bought a frozen turkey because for the last 10 years, I've used the Judy Bird dry brine method and I love it. <br />But this year, I'm wondering about getting a fresh bird, and brining it the same way. <br />So!<br />1. will the dry brine work as well if the bird's not frozen<br />2. will the bird keep well if I buy a fresh bird on Monday?<br />Thank you in advance for helping a potential fresh bird newb!
 
Barbara C. November 17, 2018
The fresh bird should be fine to get on Monday. Although I have always wet brined my fresh turkey, this year I’m going with a dry brine.
 
Melissa November 18, 2018
I have used the Judy Bird dry brine for years on a fresh bird and would never consider doing any other method.
 
Swan November 16, 2018
BRAVO!! Wise suggestions, serenity-enhancing solids, all! I’ve been setting out labelled serving dishes and utensils since the mid-1970s when I became a “hostess with the mostest,” she tapped modestly!! Once I had the room, I set my dining table a week before Thanksgiving (or any festive occasion, TBH!) it increase my enjoyment of any occasion to gaze upon, tweak, re-visit “the set” during the week before “opening night!”<br /><br />The only hint I would add is to cook your root vegetable, save mashed potatoes (concur with E. Quittner above those are best served freshly made) sides at least on the Tuesday before peak turkey turmoil Thursday. Noticing how delicious savory leftovers tasted on the Friday after, I hit upon the stress-relieving, pleasure-enhancing practice of seasoning the squash, turnip, and creamed onion savories well ahead of the critical push hours. This year, I’ve already served my traditional dinner the first weekend of November as requested by <br />out-of-country houseguests. Saturday, I’ll be preparing a fresh cranberry sauce from God knows when circa 1960’s as requested by my baby brother hosting me next Thursday. Two turkey moments this year!! Counting my many blessings, Happy Thanksgiving To All Cooks, Food Writers, and Guests!!
 
BerryBaby November 16, 2018
When setting the table, I also set out the serving platter and serving pieces to be sure there is room. Gives me a visual of how it will look.
 
Nani R. November 18, 2018
I love the idea of built anticipation throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving by looking at the table setting and tweaking things. :)