Balancing last-minute prep on Thanksgiving

Here's the real T'giving challenge--would love to see an article about this, as well as tips from readers. I'm an experienced cook who will have a total of 15 people at dinner on Thanksgiving. Guests will range in age from 11 to 85.I have four burners, a conventional oven, no microwave, limited counter space--and no room for guests to mill about comfortably, as we have to remove living room furniture to set up our second table (aka picnic table). In short, folks can grab a a drink, a radish slice with butter, a parmesan sable--but pretty quickly we'll get seated and move on to the main event. My question is: how do other folks juggle the inevitable last minute heating/reheating? Yes, my gravy is made, as are my pie crusts, etc.--but at the last minute I need my four burners (for reheating gravy, pureed root vegetables, honeynut squash puree, and a beloved side dish of sauteed mushrooms); I need my oven for stuffing, roasted veggies (tray of brussel sprouts and tray of carrots), and yeast rolls. How the heck do I pull all this off in terms of timing--and is it okay to put the creamed onions under the broiler AFTER everything else is on the table?

  • Posted by: Jennifer
  • November 21, 2016


AntoniaJames November 21, 2016
Chafing dishes, heated ceramic bread baskets, covered casseroles wrapped in towels, come to mind. And don't forget that the very bottom of your oven can also be used, especially for sheet pans of roasted vegetables, if you are not actually cooking, but just trying to keep everything warm.
Also, a hot pizza stone (heated as hot as its temperature grading will allow -- I use refractory tiles from the kiln supply store, so mine withstand about 2400 degrees more than my oven will ever produce), thoroughly heated, will retain good high heat for quite a long time and could be used for items like rolls and stuffing in a staging area before serving - well covered with thick towels; set it on a towel too to insulate from the cold counter, etc. The hot ceramic bread basket (I suggested this to the Shop team a few years ago but they never responded to me) is absolutely wonderful for keeping rolls warm. If you love hot bread, you'll wonder how you ever managed without one. It also makes a pretty, counter-worthy bowl for fresh fruit, when not being used for bread. ;o)
P.S. Yes, put the onions under the broiler after everything else is removed from the oven.
Dona November 21, 2016
I use a small crock pot to keep the gravy warm. If the rest of the sides aren't piping hot it helps if the gravy is hot. I have limited space and 16 guests but I find it's worthwhile to make room for the gravy crock pot.
E E. November 21, 2016
Hi Jennifer,
Kudos to you for bringing people together!
1. A couple of wide mouth thermoses are good. You could even preheat them with hot water (pour, pour out, wipe out) and then keep sauces or gravy hot. This could give you an hour or so lead time on the gravy.
2. I might be tempted to have someone bring a microwave, set it up on a back porch and use it to zap the vegetable purees, which will stand up just fine to that treatment. You could even have a designated zapper.
3. Cover a hot dish, like the stuffing, with aluminum foil and especially in the warm kitchen it should hold just fine for 15 minutes or so.
4. I would absolutely run the onions under the broiler and also do the mushrooms when the other food is on the table. Especially if you can use covered casseroles or tureens for the food on the table.
Jennifer November 21, 2016
Genius idea on the thermos; of course you're right on covering the stuffing with aluminum foil, thanks; and you're right, everyone will survive if the 'shrooms appear late, with the onions. We do indeed have a back porch, with french doors to the dining room, but as it is supposed to be in the 30s on T'giving with a mix of snow/rain (=Syracuse), my guests would probably prefer I keep them tightly closed (but otherwise, good idea).
Nancy November 21, 2016
Is it possible to buy borrow or rent an appliance that will help in the heating/re-heating.
And (if buying) something you will use on the other 364 days.
Nancy November 21, 2016
Meant to include examples...rice cooker, crick pot, pressure cooker, hot tray.
Jennifer November 21, 2016
My first instinct was "no counter space," but a hot tray--now that's a genius idea. Thanks.
Sarah J. November 21, 2016
Hi Jennifer,
Great question and tough challenge! Is there anything that can be served room temperature?
Jennifer November 21, 2016
I guess that is part of my question. I know I could serve the yeast rolls hot, but I do like them fresh from the oven, with meadow butter sinking in... (And yes, there are other dishes that will be served room temperature, from a salad of bitter greens to a fruit salad to good-old canned cranberry sauce [because unlike every fresh cranberry sauce recipe I have tried, the canned stuff gets eaten]
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