Thanksgiving Planning Tips and Tricks

Photo: Kim O'Donnel

Photo: Kim O'Donnel

By the time we see you at market this Sunday, Thanksgiving will be less than three weeks away (!) No need to panic, but it is  time to get busy — or at the very least, scribble down a plan. Whether you’re a first-time host or an old pro, the key to pulling off both a delicious yet stress-free Thanksgiving feast is in the planning. 

To help you get this party started, a few thoughts to chew on:

Guest List

* Who’s coming this year? Getting a firm head count helps planning the menu. 

* Is this a free-for-all potluck, designated dish assignment or a solo venture? Think about what’s realistic, both in terms of time management and your budget. Even if you embark on all the cooking, your guests likely will want to contribute. Encourage them to bring a bottle of their favorite beverage or vittles for the snack plate.

Menu Planning

Are there any vegetarians or gluten-free folks to consider? Anyone with food allergies or other dietary issues? Check in with everyone individually to get the scoop.

Kitchen Tools and Equipment

Take inventory of your cooking rig. For a turkey dinner or equally sized meaty centerpiece, you’ll need:

  • A roasting pan large enough for the bird (yet small enough to fit into your oven) and a roasting rack
  • An instant-thermometer (to make sure the turkey is cooked to a safe temperature: Turkey is done when the deep part of the leg reads 165-170 degrees)
  • Extra cutting board to fit inside a baking sheet for carving

If the budget won’t allow, borrow from neighbors or friends or pool your resources and buy a community roasting pan or instant read thermometer. Also: check out your neighborhood thrift shop.  

Get a head start on three classic elements of the meal

Stuffing: Buy the bread this week and get it good and stale by leaving it on the counter for a few days. Then make bread cubes:

Cut into 1/2-inch slices. Stack in piles of two or three slices, then cut into strips, then into 1-inch cubes. Place the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees until dried out. Cool completely before transferring to a freezer bag and store in the freezer until you’re ready to make stuffing.

Stock for Gravy: Make your own, or pick up some poultry stock at the market. Either way, put it in the freezer until a few days before you need.

Here’s how to make 1 quart of vegetable stock:

  • 1 cleaned leek, cut into fourths
  • 1 medium onion, cut into fourths, skin on (rinse if need be)
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into thirds
  • 3 whole cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • a small handful of parsley stems
  • 4 1/2 cups cold water

Place everything in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium-low heat, covered, for about 45 minutes. Cool, strain and put into ice cube trays or freezer-friendly containers. 


FACT: Cranberry sauce is infinitely better made by hand than by factory elves, especially when you live in Cranberry Country, like we do! No special equipment is required, and it calls for just 30 minutes of your time, start to finish.

Check out the how-to details for Maple Crans, or join us for a demo this Sunday, Nov. 8, at noon, when SFMA’s Kim O’Donnel walks through the very cinchy steps.