7 Questions to Help You Plan Your Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving is arguably the most delicious day of the year, with staples like a juicy turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes, savory stuffing and creamy pumpkin pie to fill your plate. Hosting this holiday is a milestone in itself—but it can feel a little daunting as you start the planning process.
To help with your Thanksgiving planning, use this 7-question guide to ensure you nail your hosting duties and have everything you need for America’s favorite feast.
How many people are you hosting for Thanksgiving?
Before you start really planning for the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s important to first determine how many people you’ll be hosting for the big day. Knowing the number of guests will help you plan for the right amount of table settings, get the appropriate amount of food and plan for the day’s timing (when to start prepping and cooking any appetizers, the turkey and the sides!).
What’s the best way to plan a Thanksgiving menu? And how big of a turkey do you need?
When starting your Thanksgiving menu planning, think about the appetizers, sides, main course and dessert. If you’re hosting 4 people, pick 1 or 2 appetizers and about 2 or 3 sides to go alongside the main course. For 8 people or more, choose 2 or 3 appetizers and 3 or more sides.
If you’re going the classic turkey route, plan for about 1.5 pounds of uncooked turkey per person. We’re fans of this Classic Herb Roasted Turkey recipe. Don’t like turkey? Try a Standing Rib Roast With Roasted Garlic and Red Wine. It makes a stunning presentation on your tablescape and is a delicious, holiday-worthy feast that you and your guests will love.
As you’re planning out which dishes you want to make, be sure to consider your guests’ allergies and dietary restrictions—maybe you need a vegan Thanksgiving side or a nut-free dessert! When picking which recipes to make, keep it simple. If a recipe has a huge ingredient list, try simplifying it. If a recipe has a huge ingredient list, try a simpler dish that requires less prep or cooking time.
If you’re open to it, you can even ask guests to bring sides or a dessert, too! This will not only save time and effort for you on Thanksgiving Day, but it also helps make everyone feel like they’re part of the celebration.
What do you need for hosting Thanksgiving?
It’s important to take stock of your cookware and serveware before hosting a Thanksgiving gathering. You may realize you need more plates and utensils, a large roasting pan for the turkey or even a bigger cutting board to carve the bird.
Here’s a Thanksgiving cookware and serveware checklist to keep in mind as you’re planning how to host for the holiday:
- Roasting Pan: The high sides of a roasting pan help prevent spills and spatters, and the curved or V-shape rack allows for better air circulation for even browning.
- Meat (and Oven) Thermometer: Never rely on the pop-up thermometers in many turkeys, as they can be inaccurate and lead to an overcooked, dry bird. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to check for doneness and remove it from the oven once it’s reached 155–160°F (it’ll keep cooking outside the oven and will increase by 10 degrees while resting). Also, check your oven temperature the week or so before Thanksgiving to ensure it’s accurate.
- Extra Large Cutting Board: A nonslip cutting board with a juice groove for liquid runoff is an essential Thanksgiving kitchen tool. Many large cutting boards can double as a serving platter, too.
- Carving Knife: Carving knives make slicing large cuts of meat much easier, whether you choose a classic knife with a straight, narrow blade or an electric knife for effortless carving. If you already have a carving knife, be sure it’s sharp for the Thanksgiving feast! You may need to bring your carving knife to a professional sharpener a week or two before Thanksgiving, or purchase a knife sharpener to sharpen your knives at home.
- Festive Dinnerware: From small bites to the main course of a meal, you’ll need a few serving platters for the variety of sweet and savory dishes of Thanksgiving.
Need to stock up on turkey day essentials or looking to refresh your collection? Explore our Thanksgiving shop and find everything you need to make this a feast to remember!
When should you buy the turkey?
If you’re thinking about how to host Thanksgiving, you’re likely thinking about when to buy your turkey for the holiday meal. This will depend on whether you want a fresh or frozen turkey and if you want to buy a standard turkey from the grocery store or one that is pasture-raised.
Aim to buy a fresh turkey the weekend before Thanksgiving. Frozen turkeys usually start arriving at grocery stores in late October or early November, so if you have the freezer space and want to check a big item off your to-do list, keep an eye out for your favorite brand or size around that time frame.
Pasture-raised turkeys are more limited in supply and require a little more planning on your part, as you may need to pre-order the turkey or get on a waitlist to ensure your share. You typically purchase pasture-raised birds directly from a farm or through an online retailer, which will ship to you a week or so before Thanksgiving.
Be sure to add in extra time to your Thanksgiving planning if you plan on brining your turkey, as many brining kits or recipes call for a 24- to 48-hour brining time.
How long does it take to thaw a turkey?
Make sure you give yourself 3 to 6 days to fully thaw your turkey in the fridge. The time it’ll take depends on the size of your turkey. Allow around 6 hours per pound for thawing.
- Medium (12–15 pounds): 3–4 days
- Large (15–18 pounds): 4–5 days
- Extra-Large (18+ pounds): 5–6 days
How long does it take to cook a turkey?
How long it takes to cook a turkey largely depends on the size of your turkey and the cooking method you choose. Cooking time also varies depending on if your turkey is stuffed or unstuffed.
If roasting your turkey in the oven at 350°F, plan for about 13 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey or 15 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey. Your turkey is done once it’s reached an internal temperature of 165°F, but be sure to remove it from the oven at around 155°F or 160°F—it’ll continue cooking as it rests and the temperature will rise about 10 degrees. Be sure to let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving and serving.
Make sure you open your oven as little as possible while your bird is cooking. This helps minimize heat loss and promotes even and timely cooking.
When should you prep and cook everything for your Thanksgiving meal?
Do as much food prep as you can in advance. Even just cutting the veggies the day before saves time the day of and will ease a little bit of the stress of your hosting duties. You can also bake the dessert the day before—many pies, for example, can simply be loosely covered and stored for up to two days at room temperature.
You can also set the table a day or so before and set out your flowers if using some as a centerpiece. They’ll look perfect as they fully open on Thanksgiving Day.
As you’re planning for Thanksgiving, be sure to work backward from the time you want to eat, and create your own timeline. Plan out which dishes require the oven or stovetop, and plan accordingly based on space and cooking temperatures.
Looking for more guidance on how to host Thanksgiving? Check out Sur La Table Cooking Classes for recipe inspiration and hands-on tips from professional chefs.
Thank you for the information. It will help with my New Year’s Eve dinner this year. I’m not having anyone over for Thanksgiving, but I am having about 12 people here for New Year’s Eve. Happy Holidays to all.