Thanksgiving 2008

Thanksgiving week is here, and along with it the mad rush to make sure that the dinner is organized, travel plans on schedule, and the beds are made with fresh sheets for out-of-town guests. People often ask me or my parents what special things we are planning for our Thanksgiving meal. Honestly? I think long ago we all figured out that the simpler the better. We make our roast turkey the same way every year, because it works, and it’s good. Same with the stuffing. I rather think my mother would have a riot on her hands if she changed her stuffing in any way. We’ll have green beans, and either squash or sweet potatoes, heaping mounds of mashed potatoes, and some form of cranberry sauce. Dessert is usually my dad’s apple cranberry pie. (Check the site for more Thanksgiving recipe ideas.)

If you are planning to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, some foresight is necessary. My brother Eddie tells the story of he and his roommate Mike, right out of college deciding to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. They bought a frozen 15 lb turkey, unwrapped it, removed the giblets, and put it in a 350°F oven for whatever time the instructions on the turkey said. At the end of the cooking time, they pulled out a perfectly browned, delicious-looking turkey, only to cut into it and find it still completely frozen, about an inch in. They went out for turkey sandwiches at Subway for dinner that night. (By the way, a 15 pound turkey takes about 3 days to defrost in the refrigerator.)

So, our tips for a successful Thanksgiving? Keep it simple. Order your turkey in advance. Make your pie doughs on Tuesday and pies on Wednesday so you have the oven free on Thursday. (See Thanksgiving pies for pie ideas.)

By keeping it as uncomplicated as possible you’ll have a little brain space left to actually enjoy the friends and family gathered at your table. Oh, and that tissue paper accordion turkey centerpiece in the photograph? Kids LOVE them. We had one my dad brought out every Thanksgiving when we were growing up. I bought a new one online this year.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving survival tip? Let us know in the comments.


  1. marci

    My survival tip: make a list. I am a list person, and without one, my cornbread won’t get made for the stuffing until Thursday morning, or I’ll wake up and realize the sausage-egg casserole was never put in the fridge.

    Oh, and use your help, but know what you’re picky about. If your lettuce must be chopped just-so, maybe that’s the dish you should prepare.

  2. Karina

    The pressure! The pressure! It’s crazy when you need to be gluten-free and dairy-free, too. I just posted about my GF/CF survival tips and menu suggestions. Thanks for another year of beautiful recipes, Elise! I’m grateful for everything you do. Have a safe, healthy- and relaxing- holiday!

  3. Liz

    I could not live without my gravy separator. Years ago, I’d hover over the gravy, removing the fat spoonful by spoonful. Now, I simply pour everything into the gravy separator and let my trusty gadget skim the fat for me. It’s a huge time saver!

  4. Garrett

    Be sure not to accidentally smush down the plastic turkey is done pop-device thingy. Otherwise it won’t be able to pop up and tell you it’s done. =P

    Also, cranberry sauce the day before. Will taste better after having sit and one last thing you have to do.

  5. katrina

    My survival tip? Check your propane tank. Many, many years ago, I put the turkey in ( and must have basted – or maybe I was too busy….) Whatever, pulled out a still raw turkey and found no propane. Dinner 6 hours late. ( but I did find a company that would deliver propane on Turkey Day)

  6. sally

    pre planning pre planning and pre planning – and I totally agree…keep it simple but special and splurge on the table – if nothing else, it makes your guests behave…sort of!

  7. Lisa

    This will be my first year doing a low-sodium Thanksgiving dinner and I am really looking forward to it! I won’t be indulging in my usual 2 huge helpings of traditional cornbread dressing and gravy this year, but I think it will be a great dinner nonetheless. :) Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!

  8. jonathan

    My favorite Thanksgiving survival tip? I have a few, actually (probably geared more toward surviving family).

    1) Hire a caterer.
    2) Keep the shades closed and the lights off, don’t answer the phone or doorbell, hide in a closet.
    3) Wine. Red. Lots of it.

  9. Kinneh

    Instead of getting stressed out about lack of oven space on Turkey Day, we play the oven hokey-pokey. You put the turkey in, you take the turkey out, you put the casseroles in and you shake it all about. Putting sides like sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, etc. into long shallow pans makes the heating/reheating easier and faster.

  10. Kevin in AK

    I’ve discovered that cooking stuffing in a cupcake or muffin pan creates easy to serve and more crispy stuffing surfaces (that we all like) as well as a quick way to sneak leftover stuffing from the frig.

  11. Marilyn

    It is ok to bake the turkey 2 days before Thanksgiving day?

    So you want turkey leftovers for Thanksgiving? Or are you planning to reheat the entire turkey in the oven before serving? Reheating the entire turkey will take some time, and you are likely to end up with a dry turkey with skin that is not at all crispy. ~Elise

  12. Kelly

    Hmm… I may be crucified for suggesting this, but we fry our turkey. It keeps the oven totally free for dressing, potatoes, etc. And really, the first time I had fried turkey I didn’t even know it wasn’t roasted as usual, until someone told me.

    Also helpful because this keeps all the men out of the kitchen. See, frying something that big, out doors – that’s a MAN’s job you know. So they all huddle around the fryer and talk about man-stuff, and we can actually get the table set without them underfoot. Viola!

  13. Tom

    What I love to do is take the turkey outdoors. A grilled or smoked turkey makes a wonderfully delicious meal and is looks beautiful. Beside the flavor benefits, you also free up your oven for all the other side dishes, making for a less crowded and hectic kitchen. Grilling or smoking a turkey is very simple too.

  14. Julie

    Key for survival in my house: starting the day with a solid breakfast/brunch. My mom always makes a breakfast casserole the night before, so it can bake while the turkey is being prepared. It may seem counter intuitive on a day with such a big meal planned for the afternoon, but having a good pre-meal makes waiting for the big event easier and helps everyone feel like we are in less of a hurry.

    Love your site!

  15. Humanbeatbox

    A couple years ago, I bought an electric turkey roaster oven (looks like a large oblong slow cooker) for $25, and even though I use it only on Thanksgiving, it’s still the best $25 I ever spent. The turkey goes in that and my regular oven is free for all the sides – such a time saver.

    My other tip is that if you do cornbread stuffing like I do, make the cornbread for the stuffing way ahead of time, at least 3 days. I get much better results with dry stale cornbread bits.

  16. Bob

    My favorite tip? Go to my brothers for dinner. :D

    Seriously though, planning ahead is the most important thing, whether you are trying new things or not. Research, plan, then do it.

  17. kelly windsor

    I also had a propane tank run out on me with a Turkey in the oven.

    But here’s my tip. Make soup and pies on Tuesday, stuffing on Wednesday and order take-out for Wednesday night dinner.

    I also make a list by 30 minute intervals of everything that’s going to happen on Thursday, which culminates in taking the turkey out of the oven at 2pm. It really works.

  18. I.R

    Simple yet so easy to forget…

    BE THANKFUL! :-) Count your blessings and then the rest should be a peice of cake…or pie?

    Happy Thanksgiving :-)

  19. Andrea

    The night before Thanksgiving, be sure NOT to spend all evening reading blogs and Twitters instead of getting some baking done.

    Darn…. should have followed that advice!

    Have a great T-Day Elise! Thanks for your friendship.


  20. Melissa

    I pulled a few recipes from you for possible use this year! I ended up using the one for green beans with shallots and pancetta. Thank you!!

    Hope you and your entire family had a wonderful day.

  21. Nathan

    Since I need orange zest for the cranberry sauce my daughter and I like to make, after zesting I quarter the orange and squeeze one quarter in the cavity then rub the inside with it and do the same with the other quarters under the skin on the breast area then all over the skin. Then I season with salt, ground sage and ground thyme. It gives a nice flavor.

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