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A 48-Hour(ish) Game Plan for Your Best Thanksgiving Yet

Thanksgiving can be a trial by fire, but with this easy to follow hour-by-hour game plan, you’ll emerge on the other side victorious—and mostly unscathed.

By Rachel Robey
Nov 20, 2022
thanksgiving food
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For many home cooks, Thanksgiving is a crucible requiring meticulous planning and a Herculean ability to multitask. But with this step-by-step game plan—which begins (roughly) 48 hours out from Thanksgiving dinner—you can minimize day-of stress and ensure every dish on your Thanksgiving menu makes it to the table.

Disclaimer: While this is a 48-hour(ish) schedule, it requires your turkey to be already thawed (or fresh) and all groceries to be purchased. Per Chef Tom Colicchio’s recipe for Slow Roasted Turkey, you’ll need to begin thawing your frozen turkey on Sunday, allowing 2 days for it to completely defrost. On Tuesday, you can proceed with the 48-hour plan.

The Menu

While this schedule specifically correlates to our chef-curated Thanksgiving menu, it’s highly applicable to most Thanksgiving dinners, which feature many of the same staples. Feel free to pick and choose the tasks that feel applicable to your menu, and leave out the rest. Ultimately, the goal is for you to break the labor into manageable chunks so you can actually enjoy the holiday.

Here are the recipes included in this year’s menu:

The Cocktail

Cranberry Rosé Spritz by Chef Kevin Scharpf

The Main

Slow-Roasted Turkey With Herb Butter and Gravy by Chef Tom Colicchio

The Sides

Stuffing With Swiss Chard and Kale by Chef Nancy Silverton

Sweet and Sour Braised Red Cabbage by Chef Mashama Bailey

Mashed Potatoes With Caramelized Fennel and Garlic by Chef Melissa Perello

Mac and Cheese With Spicy Breadcrumbs by Chef Jo Chan

Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad With Toasted Hazelnuts By Writer Izzy Johnson

The Dessert:

Bourbon Pecan Slab Pie by Culinary Director Rhoda Boone

NOTE: By now, your turkey should be completely thawed and all (or most) of your grocery shopping should be completed.

Butter or Brine the Turkey

If you’re following Chef Tom Colicchio’s slow-roasted turkey recipe, remove your fresh or defrosted turkey from the fridge. Make the herb butter, pat your turkey dry, rub herb butter on and in the turkey, season generously with salt and pepper, and place on a rack in a Roasting Pan. Place this in the fridge, uncovered, where it will sit until Thursday.

If you’re opting for a simple dry brine, you’ll want to dry your thawed turkey, season liberally, and store in the fridge uncovered on a roasting rack.

Make Pie Dough

Get ahead on some of the smaller prep tasks and thank yourself later. Begin with prepping your pie dough, wrapping in plastic wrap, and chilling in the fridge until you’re ready to roll, make, and bake on Wednesday. This way, your dough has enough time to relax, resulting in a more tender, easier to roll crust.

Prep the Cranberry Syrup

You’ll also want to make the cranberry syrup base that sets the foundation for your cranberry spritz cocktail, especially if you’re making a batch. If you need to test it out for quality control before guests arrive, we won’t judge.

Bake the Pie(s)

For Rhoda’s pecan pie, roll out the dough, transfer to your Baking Slab, and trim to size. Make the filling, top with pecans, and bake. If you’ve got other pie plans, follow the recipe. Whether you’re going for a slab pie or not, cool your baked pie to room temperature and loosely cover with foil. Store at room temperature away from curious family members and mischievous pets.

Get Ahead on Sides

The goal here is to get as far ahead as possible so that Thanksgiving day is primarily about assembly and baking. By getting these tasks done today, you’ll free up time for chatting—or, more likely, the unanticipated last-minute tasks that inevitably pop up when you’re hosting a major holiday meal.

For the Stuffing: Reduce the chicken broth (step 2) and prepare the leek, alliums, and greens mixture (steps 3–4) so you can easily assemble and bake on Thanksgiving. Chill the stock and  sautéed vegetables in the fridge.

For the Cabbage: Clean, quarter, core, and slice the cabbage into strips. Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl or storage container. Soak raisins in red wine vinegar to plump overnight. Cover both the cabbage and the raisins and store in the fridge. Lightly toast and crush allspice, then store, covered, at room temperature.

For the Brussels Sprout Salad: Clean and prep the Brussels sprouts by halving and slicing. Make the dressing, and store both in the fridge. Toast hazelnuts and store at room temperature.

For the Mac and Cheese: Boil elbow macaroni, drain, let cool, and chill. Store in the fridge, along with the grated cheddar and Parmesan, all in separate containers. Make the spicy panko mixture, omitting Parmesan and butter for now.

Thanksgiving day is always a doozy, but the following instructions break down all your essential steps and order of operations for optimal efficiency. It’s worth reading through all the steps to get a sense of what to do and when, but we’ve broken it down hour-by-hour—sometimes by the half-hour—for maximum clarity. Good luck!

Disclaimer: This schedule assumes you’re following Chef Tom Colicchio’s low and slow turkey method, which roasts for a whopping 5 hours at 250F for an unbelievably juicy bird. However, Chef Colicchio also provides an alternative cooking method at 350F which will shave about 1½ hours off your total cooking time. No matter what recipe you follow, keep in mind that timing is approximate based on the size of your bird, the degree of heat loss that occurs as you open the oven, and basting.

7 Hours Before Dinner

Pull the turkey out of the fridge. Stuff the cavity with herbs and butter and then truss the bird by tucking the wings underneath the shoulders, crossing the legs, and tying the drumsticks together loosely. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before roasting.

6½ Hours Before Dinner

Preheat the oven to 325F and slice the bread for the stuffing. Toast the slices for 7–10 minutes, until dry to the touch. Once they’re done, remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 250F for the turkey.

6 Hours Before Dinner

Start your turkey, following the basting instructions outlined in the instructions.

Meanwhile, prepare whipped cream to serve alongside the pie. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve dessert.

5 Hours Before Dinner

Prepare the salad by tossing the Brussels sprouts with your pre-made dressing. Transfer to a Serving Bowl, scatter with toasted hazelnuts, and store in the fridge.

Continue basting the turkey every 30 minutes, per Chef Colicchio’s instructions.

3 Hours Before Dinner

Begin the mashed potatoes by boiling the potatoes using a Stock Pot and Pasta Insert. Slice the fennel, smash and chop garlic, and caramelize both in the Dutch Oven (steps 1–3).

Continue roasting the turkey, periodically checking the thickest part of the thigh until it registers 135–140F.

2 Hours Before Dinner

Crunch time begins. There are a lot of moving parts, so read through all the tasks to stay ahead.

For the Turkey: Once the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 135–140F, increase oven temperature to 500F and continue roasting until its internal temperature reaches 165F. If the skin is browning too quickly and turkey is not yet cooked through, decrease oven temp to 450F and cover it with foil.

For the Stuffing: Remove the leek, alliums, and greens mixture from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature, then assemble stuffing in a 9x13 Baking Dish.

For the Mashed Potatoes: Rice the potatoes into the Dutch Oven with the garlicky fennel-cream mixture and add remaining ingredients. Stir to combine, cover, and keep warm.

For the Mac and Cheese: Make the cheese sauce and toss with the macaroni you prepped yesterday. Pour this into an Oval Baking Dish. Finish the spicy panko bread topping by adding the reserved Parmesan and melted butter, then sprinkle over the macaroni.

1 Hour Before Dinner

You’re almost there—most of what remains is just carrying near-complete dishes to the finish line.

For the Turkey: Remove the turkey from the oven and let rest for 30–40 minutes.

For the Mashed Potatoes: Tidy the Dutch Oven by scraping sides and evening out the surface, or transfer to an 8x8 Baking Dish. Bake at 500F until lightly browned on top, about 10 minutes. Finish with hot cream and fennel pollen, if desired, and then cover and keep warm.

For the Mac and Cheese: Decrease oven temperature to 400F and bake the mac and cheese until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cover and keep warm.

For the Salad: Remove from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.

For the Braised Cabbage: In a Rondeau, prepare the braised cabbage to completion. Cover and keep warm.

30 Minutes Before Dinner

Reduce the oven to 375F and bake the stuffing until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, carve the turkey and arrange on a platter, cover, and keep warm.

Set the table, fill water glasses, set out any small bites you (or early guests) have prepared, and briefly decompress.

Dinner Is Served

Assemble the cocktails and greet guests, taking care to be extremely casual about the feat you’ve just pulled off—this makes it seem even more impressive. When you’re ready, usher guests to the table, ask everyone what they’re thankful for (annoying but obligatory), serve, and enjoy!

Just Before Dessert

After dinner, clear plates and give guests time to digest. 20 minutes before you serve pie, prepare coffee, and soften ice cream (20–30 minutes in the fridge or 10–15 at room temperature, depending on the size).

Pull whipped cream out of the fridge and serve everything tableside—whether latticed, crimped, or baked as a slab, homemade pie is an impressive conclusion. After all that work, make sure guests see it in its full glory before you slice and serve.

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