No better time than the holidays to start spilling secrets… So here are my 10 favorite tried-and-true Thanksgiving Hacks. From scheduling, to decorating, to the easiest, most delicious turkey that is guaranteed to be a sure thing! I promise these Hacks will make your holiday a hit without leaving you falling asleep at your own dinner table!
1. Dinner Shopping
Plan your grocery list backwards. Start with a list of what dishes you’re going to serve for your amazing Thanksgiving Dinner. Be specific (rolls with butter, 4 bottles of Sparkling Apple Cider, etc.).
After you have your menu planned, write down the ingredients you’ll need for each dish. You can then take a tour of your kitchen and cross off what you already have–making a Dutch Apple Pie and you have quick oats? Cross that off your list. Don’t assume you have plenty of flour or sugar, only to discover Thursday morning, you have none!
Next, add to your list any non-food items you might need: roasting pans, Tupperware, tin foil, paper towels, etc. (see #10)
Now, here’s the best part: I do my shopping on Monday night–after dinner. I have found that Monday night beats the Holiday crowds, and going after dinner leaves me mostly alone in the store with polite employees stocking shelves.
With my detailed shopping list in hand, I put on my Christmas Playlist (or workout playlist, depending on my energy level!), put my headphones in, and get completely in the zone.
Starting with what dishes you will serve, working through all their ingredients to build your shopping list, helps avoid extra trips to the store on Thanksgiving Day!
2. The Day Before
Thanksgiving in my house is definitely a two-day event. This might seem like more work than less work, but
- A. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I like to stretch it out, and
- B. I promise it will make your actual Thanksgiving DAY much more enjoyable.
The idea to start a lot of the prep work on Wednesday came from watching my mom wake up early Thanksgiving morning to tear her bread for stuffing and let it sit out and get a little stale.
Unfortunately, I live in Florida—do you know how hard it is to make something stale with all this humidity? (Did you know graham crackers are soft in Florida?)
What I make ahead:
- Breakfast Pastry
- Stuffing mix (bread torn or cubed, mixed with all dry seasonings)
- Cut veggies
- Brine turkey (see #3 below)
I actually spend more time in the kitchen on Wednesday, than Thursday, which allows me time to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and visit with my family instead of being a slave to my stovetop.
Review your dishes and see what you can make the day before to enjoy more time with your family on Thursday!
3. Brine your Turkey
I know there are a million beautiful and delicious recipes out there for turkeys, but if we’re talking Hacks, this is a particular time-saver.
Brining your turkey produces that traditional, golden, Norman Rockwell turkey without basting every half hour. (I use Williams-Sonoma brining bags and recipe.)
Every year people comment how moist the turkey is! Easy, low-maintenance, perfect results every time. What more could you want?
4. Decorate your Table
If you have the space, and can set your Thanksgiving dinner table the night before, by all means, do it and cross one more thing off your list. This ensures you aren’t scrambling while trying to keep an eye on your gravy, or relying on small children to carry precious china to the table!
Super simple table decorating tip—especially for a kid’s table. Lay out a simple white tablecloth decorated with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. You can often find pop-up pumpkin stands are practically giving away their pumpkins the day after Halloween.
After dinner, pass out the Sharpies, and have everyone write what they’re grateful for on the white tablecloth. Everyone will be excited to see and add to the tablecloth year after year, and reminisce over the memories that make Thanksgiving the best Holiday of the year!
5. Store-bought Pie Crusts
The first time I made a pie crust, I cried.
I’m dead serious. My mom stepped in to help and reassured me that it would be unnatural if I didn’t cry the first time—that it was a right of passage.
Then I watched her beautifully roll out two flawless pie crusts in 3.5 minutes, and my self-worth went in the toilet. So, instead of recreate that joyful experience, I buy frozen pie crusts.
Um, do you know how many people have complimented me on my pies? Thank you, Pillsbury.
6. And Store-bought Gravy
Wait! Don’t disrespect, let me explain.
People are psychotic about their gravy. I mean, I think I could destroy the turkey, or have it devoured by a pack of dogs à la “The Christmas Story”, but if there was still gravy on the table, everyone would be fine.
I don’t need the stress of messing up people’s gravy. So, I use McCormick’s dry mix and mix it with the separated drippings from my turkey. (NOT the cold water, per the directions.)
This infuses the gravy with all the seasonings from your amazing turkey with ZERO stress. Win-win.
7. Raspberry Sauce
I am NOT a fan of Cranberry sauce…sorry mom.
I mean, what is the point if you have to add sugar, orange zest and alcohol to make it palatable? Yes, I said palatable, not “good”. And speaking of not good, don’t even get me started on that blob falling out of a can!
I cannot tell you how much better Raspberry Sauce is to go with your turkey, and not only that, it’s so easy!
8. Turkey Option 2: Deep-Fried
I’ll admit, I’ve never done this one, because I’m a sucker for my traditional, brined turkey.
But if you’re looking for time-saving, this might be your best option. PLUS, it has the added bonus of getting the husband involved with the cooking.
Just um, be well-informed before attempting this. Strictly for informative purposes only, please review this video compilation: Deep Fried Turkey Fails.
Just remember, if the Turkey gets obliterated in a fiery mess, everyone is really looking forward to the side-dishes and desserts more anyway. And the Gravy! 😉
9. Don’t be an Island of One
One of the reasons Thanksgiving is my Favorite Holiday is because of the time spent with family.
I have four children that help me make Thanksgiving dinner every year. I love that my now 14-year-old son claims one side-dish as his own, and refuses to allow anyone else to make it.
Start with little tasks when your kids are small: mixing batters, shredding cheese, peeling potatoes. Not only is this a huge help and time-saver for you, but it gives ownership of the meal to the whole family! Everyone is proud of their Thanksgiving Dinner.
And don’t forget Dad! I always tell the hubs I need his muscles for mashing the potatoes, and precision for carving the turkey 🙂
10. Buy Extras
I won’t lie. I see my ability to not have to run to the store for forgotten items on Thanksgiving morning as a kind Olympic Victory. (Hence, the fanatical grocery list planning in #1.)
From my years of experience, let me advise you add a few extras to your shopping list, just in case.
- Butter–because you know, butter makes everything better
- Chicken Broth
- Gravy Mix (see #6!)
- Paper Towels (ever spilled your Turkey drippings taking it out of the oven? No, just me?)
- Disposable Pans
I love Thanksgiving. The food, the tradition, the time spent with family, and the spirit of gratitude implicit in its celebration make it my favorite holiday.
I hope these 10 Hacks make it a little easier for you to enjoy your Holiday!