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Thanksgiving Dinner

Your Thanksgiving Countdown Guide

Whether you’re serving your first Thanksgiving dinner or you’ve served Thanksgiving dinner every year for many years, putting together a timetable and plan is really important.

Planning ahead, beginning at least three weeks in advance, can help you have a successful, stress-free Thanksgiving celebration. Here are some general tips to consider:

  • Make and use lists – a list of guests, a list of ingredients for the recipes, and another list of what to do prior to serving the meal.
  • Remember you can combine suggested preparation steps to make timing work better for keeping on schedule.

Here is a timetable and plan for putting together and serving a classic Thanksgiving dinner:



Three weeks before

  • Invite your guests. Make a simple phone call, send a quick e-mail or invite guests in person. Another idea is to use a Web-based program for invitations. Remember to ask for a confirmation (RSVP) from your guests, so you know how many guests to expect.
  • If guests offer to bring a dish for the meal, let them. Make some suggestions and ask them to let you know what they are bringing in advance so you can plan accordingly.

Two weeks before

  • Decide where you will serve the dinner. Determine if the meal will be served family-style at the table, as a buffet, or in courses. The number of guests and the room available will help determine where you serve the meal.
  • Decide on the tablecloth that you’ll use, as well as napkins and dishes, including serving pieces.
  • Label each serving dish with what you'll be using it for. 
  • Begin thinking about what you will use for a centerpiece.

One week before

  • Put together the grocery list for the dinner.
  • Shop for nonperishable ingredients and a 12- to 14-pound frozen turkey, unless you want to serve a fresh turkey. 
  • If you want leftovers, plan for 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person coming for dinner. So if you're having 10 people over, you'll need a 15-pound bird. If you don't want leftovers (but who wouldn't?!), plan for 1 pound of turkey per person.
  • It seems obvious, but remember to place the frozen turkey in the freezer.

  • Make place cards for the table. Print Thanksgiving designs on labels and then apply them to harvest-colored tag board so the place cards will stand up, tent-fashion.

Five days before

  • Remove the turkey from the freezer and place it into a 13x9-inch baking pan. Place it in the refrigerator and let it thaw gradually until Thanksgiving Day.

Three days before

  • Shop for perishable ingredients for the meal. This is the time you should buy a fresh turkey if you did not purchase a frozen turkey earlier.

Two days before

Homemade Buns

  • Bake Everyone's Favorite Buns. When they are baked and cooled, place them into a resealable plastic food bag and freeze so they are fresh on Thanksgiving Day. Or, you can purchase dinner rolls at the supermarket.

One day before

  • Bake pies. Cool them to room temperature and then cover with plastic food wrap. Store in the refrigerator. 
  • Set the table with dishes, glasses and silverware. Also, get out serving dishes and serving utensils. Remember to include salt and pepper on the table.
  • Make your centerpiece. Use flowers and small pumpkins and other harvest-like decorations. Or, you can always purchase a ready-made centerpiece.
  • Peel potatoes. (Better yet, ask someone to help out and do this for you.) Cover the potatoes with cool water so the potatoes don’t discolor. Put the bowl of potatoes into the refrigerator. 

Thanksgiving Turkey Meal

Thanksgiving Day

  • Panic and leave town. (OK, just kidding. Sort of.)


  • Remove the turkey (you did get a turkey, didn’t you?) from the refrigerator, rinse it and pat it dry. Make sure you remove the bag of giblets that are packaged inside the turkey. Rub salt around the inside of the turkey.
  • Determine the time to begin roasting the turkey by the time you plan to serve the meal. For specific turkey roasting information click here. Tip: Remember to allow at least 20 minutes to let the turkey stand at room temperature after roasting and before slicing. The meat will then slice more easily.

One to two hours before

Thanksgiving Stuffing

  • Prepare Bread Sage Stuffing. Plan to place the casserole with the stuffing into the oven about one hour before serving time.
  • Drain water from peeled potatoes (you know, the ones that someone else peeled). Cook potatoes about 45 minutes before serving time. This will allow enough time for the potatoes to cook until fork tender and also to mash the potatoes.
  • Prepare Roasted Honey Carrots so they will be ready to be placed in the oven about 30 minutes before serving time. 

20 minutes before

  • Ask someone to carve the turkey. (Don't be shy, someone is surely willing to help.)
  • Place the butter dish on the table. The butter will be slightly softened by serving time.
  • Whip the whipping cream for topping the pies if you didn’t do so the day before.
  • Place all the food in serving dishes.
  • Ask your guests to come to the table.
  • Relax – you’ve earned it – and enjoy! (There, aren’t you glad you didn’t leave town?)

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie



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Love the time table, and the tongue in cheek giggles. I have, however, found my bird to fit in an 11x15 pan, not a 9x13. What do I do with his legs in such a small pan? ;-) Could you give me a time table for how long to cook extra legs, as our group loves the dark meat, I have to get one with six legs. It is a strange looking bird. I have solved the problem of no room in the oven for side dishes by utilizing a large electric roaster. It will fit at least four extra dishes and is easily controlled as an oven. Thanks for permission to panic and leave town!

Posted November 11, 2014 by Di
Test Kitchen Comment
From: cindy
Remember to make use of a meat thermometer when roasting the turkey. For turkey legs roast them at 325 degrees F. for 60 - 75 minutes/pound.
Posted November 17, 2014

I LOVED the much needed humor you added! "Panic and leave town..." So many countdowns I've read are so rigid, and if you're looking for help, you're likely nervous anyway! And you followed up with, "you did get a turkey, didn't you?", which was actually a comical confidence booster. It made me relax, and say, "see, ya got a turkey, just prepare it right, and you'll be fine!" Thanks so much, and thanks to my late Mother for everything she taught me. With the help of your contribution here, Becky, maybe I'll remember it all! : ) Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted November 23, 2013 by Linda

Thanks Becky for providing this timetable and breaking down all these little important steps ..helps to control the Thanksgiving madness that usually occur in my home :).Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted November 22, 2013 by Jacky

If the turkey is in the oven, how are you supposed to put all the other things in there to cook, as well?

Posted November 19, 2013 by Myra
Test Kitchen Comment
From: Cindy
It can be difficult and often takes some planning. I have also par-cooked a vegetable or another side dish so that it would not have to be in the oven as long before serving.
Posted November 25, 2013

I make almost all the sides the day before except for potatoes. That way all I need to do is warm up everything and have more time with my family.

Posted November 19, 2013 by Robin

I just printed the planning ahead timetable. I've been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the last few years and haven't been able to time everything to be ready at the same time. Also, the more I can get done earlier, the better. I usually am working both the day before and the day after the holiday, so time is at a premium for me.

Posted November 19, 2013 by Susan O'Leary

I am so happy to find this article! I needed a guide like this and am printing it up right now! Thanks!

Posted November 18, 2013 by P.R.