Divine Dinner Party

Your First Thanksgiving Dinner:
Tips and Advice

Oh, the pressure... the responsibility for that first Thanksgiving dinner has now fallen on you. And you have years --no, generations-- of perfect Thanksgivings to live up to.

You know what it tastes like: moist turkey, perfect pumpkin pie, soft and buttery dinner rolls. But --aaah!-- how is it done? With a little bit of Thanksgiving help from Divine Dinner Party, it'll be easier than you think. Just follow these great Thanksgiving dinner tips for a first Thanksgiving dinner that would impress even Mom.

Thanksgiving Dinner Timing

Timing is everything. You probably hear this pretty often. But what, exactly, does this phrase mean to you when it comes time to cook that Thanksgiving dinner? It just means planning... that is, you have to plan to have everything ready at the same time. And for a meal like Thanksgiving, it's a lot easier said than done. Here's how to get it right:

Delicious golden turkey for your first Thanksgiving

Pre-cook. Especially for a first Thanksgiving dinner, try to choose as many make-ahead recipes as possible. If you can make it two weeks before and freeze it (this works great with pies, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes... lots of things!), so much the better. And mix up that cranberry sauce or assemble that stuffing the day before!

Lots of prep. This is simple as could be, yet many Thanksgiving hostesses and hosts don't do it: get it all done the day before. This means do everything you can possibly do. Have all of your stuffing vegetables --onions, garlic, celery, the whole works-- chopped and waiting in the fridge. Have your salad fixings clean and dry and ready to go. You get the idea. Believe me, this will be a great Thanksgiving help when the day comes.

Have good estimates. That is, know how long everything will take. Don't leave just 20 minutes to make a dish that really takes an hour. Try to have realistic estimates.

Leave turkey time. This is an easy place to screw up your first Thanksgiving dinner. A frozen turkey will take anywhere from 1-5 days to thaw in the fridge, depending on weight. Buy your turkey a week ahead of time, and immediately check how long you'll need to thaw it so you won't be caught unawares. For details on turkey thaw time, check out how to thaw a turkey.

Make a schedule. Sure, it sounds a little anal retentive, but write out a schedule for cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and do your best to stick to it. This way, you'll know when you’re falling behind-- and when you have time to take a break. A schedule for a 5:30pm Thanksgiving meal time might look something like the example below. There will be a time when lots of things are happening at once, so don't be afraid to ask for help.

Thanksgiving Dinner Schedule Example

Time Activity
10:45a.m. Turkey out of fridge.
11:00a.m. Set table.
11:30a.m. Preheat oven.
11:45a.m. Clean turkey.
12:00p.m. Stuff turkey.
12:15p.m. Turkey in oven.
1:00p.m. --
1:30p.m. Prepare various veggies and side dishes.
2:00p.m. --
2:30p.m. Prepare dinner roll dough, let rise.
3:00p.m. --
3:30p.m. Punch dinner roll dough down, let rise.
4:00p.m. Make green bean casserole. Remove scalloped potatoes and candied yams from fridge. Let sit.
4:30p.m. Remove turkey from oven. Prepare carrots. Candied yams in oven. Scalloped potatoes in oven.
5:00p.m. Boil potatoes for mashed potatoes. Start gravy.
5:15p.m. Yams, green bean casserole, and potatoes out of oven. Dinner rolls in oven.
5:25p.m. Dinner rolls out of oven. Mash potatoes.
5:30p.m. Dig in!

Note: Parts of this schedule marked by dashes are probably not going to be free time. You'll have plenty of misc stuff to do, and want to leave time for everything!

More First Thanksgiving Dinner Tips

Be cautious. For your first Thanksgiving dinner, you may have dreams of gourmet recipes-- and of one-upping your Miss Perfect sister. But try to resist the urge, and plan a sensible, completely do-able meal instead. A simple-but-tasty success is a lot better than an overly ambitious failure.

Test drive. Try not to debut any of your recipes on the day. You don't have to make a full test Thanksgiving dinner in September if you don't want to, but do test each recipe you want to try out, just to make sure they all taste as good as they sound... and that they're do-able for you. If you found yourself sweating and slaving over a particular side dish, leave it out-- even if you loved it.

Consider your space. Don't make five Thanksgiving side dishes that need to be in the oven at the same time if you only have space for two. A simple idea, but an easy one to forget when it comes time to plan.

Just buy it. Especially for your first Thanksgiving dinner, don't be afraid to buy some items. Frozen rolls, for instance, taste just as good as home made, especially when they're fresh-baked. Nobody will fault you for it but you.

Time to shop. Buy your groceries as far ahead as you can. Buy canned and dry goods at least a week ahead of the date, and fresh ones a couple days before Thanksgiving. Go over your menu and shopping list after each purchase. This will make it harder to miss something and have to send a complaining husband or boyfriend to do last-minute shopping during the game.

Get help. Hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner is a big deal, so think about sharing the responsibility with a friend or relative. You might not want to ask Mom for help --after all, that wouldn't count--, but you may want to share work with, say, your sister or your best friend.

Everyone Needs Some Thanksgiving Help Sometimes

She might never admit it to you, but you can bet that Mom made a cardboard-flavored turkey her first Thanksgiving. Grandma's first pumpkin pie probably needed to be eaten with a spoon. Blacked dinner rolls, squishy stuffing, watery potatoes... it's all part of your family's Thanksgiving history. So don't sweat it. Plan your butt off and do the very best you can, but... don't worry if not everything works out.

Maybe this sounds cheesy, but Thanksgiving --whether your first or fiftieth-- is about spending time with the people you love. If everything isn't perfect, don't worry about it. Sit back, have a laugh about those burnt rolls, and cover that dry turkey in some of your delicious gravy. You'll get more practice next year.

Go from First Thanksgiving Dinner Tips to Thanksgiving Dinner Recipe and Ideas Main Page.

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Cooking a Whole Turkey
or Some Drumsticks?

Free Holiday Turkey Recipe Guide to How to Cook a Turkey

If it's a fat bird with a beard (no, I don't mean your Aunt Marjorie), we can help you cook it. Click on the icon above or click here to get started with recipes and tips on how to cook a turkey for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any time of year.


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For your first Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to take the responsibility for preparing the turkey out of your hands. And out of your kitchen.

Visit Turkey Deep Frying Instructions and Recipes and Turkey Cooking Methods for great ideas and different ways to cook a turkey-- from outdoor deep frying to smoking.

Thanksgiving Clipart


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After all, what better way to pass on your knowledge than to share it with other hosts and hostesses?

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