Executing a perfectly timed Thanksgiving dinner is a feat in itself. Preparing dinner for this holiday starts days in advance at the grocery store where you fight people for the final boxes of cornbread stuffing or swoop in to steal the last 15 lb butterball turkey. The day of, it’s important to create an organized schedule so everything is ready on time. Here’s our time table for ensuring the turkey was carved on time.
At the beginning of the week, sit down and count up how many people will be attending your Thanksgiving feast. It’s important to have a head count so you get the right amount of ingredients from the store (and it helps create your timetable!) After you have a headcount, figure out what dishes you want to make and make your shopping list. This year we were tasked with serving 15 friends dinner on Thanksgiving. We served a smoked turkey, cornbread stuffing, garlic Parmesan bread, bacon jam brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, rustic root vegetables, homemade gravy, salad, creme brulee cheesecake, and pumpkin pie. Decide if you’re using any pre-made dishes (using a boxed stuffing, buying a pre-made pie, etc.) and how many dishes you’re making from scratch.
Five Days Before
Go to the grocery store and pick up your turkey. The turkey is going to be frozen and it takes some time to thaw. We prefer cooking smaller birds. The 10-15 pound turkeys are easier to work with. If you get a 20+ pound turkey, it will need more time to thaw. You essentially want 1 day to thaw for every 4 pounds of turkey.
Two Days Before
Go get the rest of your groceries from the grocery store for dinner. We prefer doing the grocery shopping the day before or two days before so your vegetables, bread, and other fresh ingredients are new and haven’t been sitting in the fridge.
Brine your turkey the day before. If you plan to spatchcock your turkey, spatchcock the turkey before placing it in the brine. You want to give your turkey an entire day to sit in the brine before cooking. This helps lock in flavor and is very important! After you have your turkey in the brine and have disinfected your work space, we recommend peeling your potatoes, chopping up your vegetables, and cubing your bread for your stuffing. Having some of the prep work done ahead of time will make Thanksgiving day much less hectic. If you’re making homemade pies, do this the day before as well so they have time to sit and set in the refrigerator overnight.
For us, we had our entire stove and oven open all day because the Turkey was smoking outside on the Traeger! If you are using your oven to roast your turkey, you can rearrange the schedule slightly to accommodate your cooking space. The schedule for the day of is based on our personal menu. If you have additional items, substitute similar items from your menu.
9 am or 10 am: If you’re chopping your vegetables day of (which we do), start between 9 and 10 am. This gives you plenty of time to get everything chopped and ready to go. Make your broth (to be used later in gravy recipe). Place your turkey giblets, water, herbs, and some vegetables in a large stock pot and simmer. You’re going to let this simmer low and slow for several hours. Let the broth simmer for at least 3-4 hours before setting aside.
11 am: Pull the turkey out of the brine bucket and pat dry. Prep your turkey for roasting or smoking. For us, this means injecting the turkey, applying rub, and assembling in a roasting pan with herbs.
1 pm : Put turkey in smoker or oven and begin roasting or smoking. Smoking a 15 lb turkey takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. After the turkey is set and cooking, assemble your stuffing and veggie dishes / casseroles.
1:30 pm: Place your root vegetables in the oven to braise at 1:30 pm to allow 1-2 1/2 hours for them to cook all the way through. It’s time to make your bacon jam so it has a few hours to meld in the fridge before serving.
1:45 pm: Remove pies from the fridge and let come to room temperature
2:00 pm : Rotate your turkey i n the smoker so it browns and cooks evenly after 1 hour. Boil and mash your potatoes. Keep them on low heat so they stay warm. If you’d like, you can transfer your potatoes to a slow cooker to keep warm if you need the stove space.
2:30 pm : Bake your stuffing in the oven. This is something that can be made a little ahead of time and placed back in the oven about 15 minutes before serving to re-crisp the top and warm. The stuffing will take about 45 minutes to cook.
3-3:15 pm: Your root vegetables will be braised and ready to go at this time. Put these on your stove over low heat to keep warm. Remove your stuffing from the oven and set aside, covered in foil to keep warm.
3:20 pm: Put your brussels sprouts in the oven to crisp. These will take 30-45 minutes
3:30 pm: Take your turkey out of the smoker and let rest. Remove the pan drippings and browned bits from your roasting pan for your gravy. Assemble your gravy.
3:50 pm : Slice your bread and assemble garlic bread. Place in oven and allow bread to crisp. This usually takes 5-10 minutes.
4 pm: Carve turkey and assemble dishes on your table.
4:15 pm: Enjoy!