The leaves are changing, the air is chilly, and dreams of sugar plums dance through your head. It’s the most magical time of year...until you realize Thanksgiving is just around the corner! Ahead of you lies weeks of cleaning, recipe selecting, prepping, planning for any dietary restrictions, finding diet-friendly recipe alternatives, more prepping, more cleaning, hunting down tupperware, then ultimately finding out everyone is ending their diet a week before resulting in you giving up on the perfect meal! Don’t worry, even professional chefs find the holidays stressful.
Whether you are gearing up to cook the whole family meal, or bringing a dish to a potluck, the Cue Chefs are here to help. Making your life easier and helping people get together is what we love to do. We’ve put together a thanksgiving battleplan along with our favorite recipes and some helpful tips and tricks to help you pull off a delicious and stress-free Thanksgiving.
Before the Big Day: Up to a Week in Advance
We created a super helpful checklist for you to stay ahead of the game and better organized.
Make a (Guest) List and Check it Twice!
First, draft a list of all the guests you are expecting to host. Double-check to make sure you have enough room at the table, dinnerware, flatware and serveware, and food for everyone. If you are planning for a potluck, ensure sure you are making a large enough portion for the group. Our favorite tool here is a yellow legal pad. Make a list of everyone and their dietary restrictions.
Plan the Menu in Advance
Especially if you are hosting a big dinner or the family potluck, having a menu selected in advance will help make your life easier; be it for shopping, selecting dinnerware, organizing the fridge, and orchestrating oven use. If you are cooking a frozen turkey this year, make sure you allow enough time for the turkey to defrost. Use the chart below to determine the time and set a reminder.
If you are a guest bringing a dish, communicate with the host if you will need access to the fridge or oven, and for how long. Most of all, make sure it tastes good! Luckily, all of our Cue recipes are crowd pleasers. And check out blog post From Our Kitchens to Yours! The Cue Team shares Their Thanksgiving Menus for our favorite recipe recommendations.
Make a Shopping List
We know we tend to lean towards extreme organization but trust us, if you want to have an easy-peasy holiday, planning is key. No matter how involved your dish(s) are, the less time you spend in the grocery store the better- it’s a jungle out there! We designed a pretty handy organized shopping list for you to navigate your way around the store like a pro! Just print and fill it out with everything you need or simply use it as a guide, then take the grocery store by storm! You can even designate different sections to different family members. Always remember to shop either early in the morning or late at night when there are fewer people at the stores and don’t wait until the last minute to shop! If possible shop for food, cleaning and house items separately to make sure you don’t forget anything!
Download the shopping list here
Clean the Fridge
The week before Thanksgiving is the best time to clean and organize your fridge. We’re not talking about making it nice for your in-laws, we mean empty that sucker out. Whip up some ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ type meals for breakfast or dinner (think frittatas or fried rice or noodles) in order to get your fridge clean and ready to be stuffed. We’re not just talking about Turkeys anymore!
Gather Your Tools
Make sure you have the twine, turkey baster, brushes, roasting pan, deep fryer, sharp carving knife, brining bags, casserole dishes, serving spoons, etc. Even if you are just preparing a side dish, make sure you have all of the tools you need to prepare it. The last thing you want is to send someone to the store for the items you know are already sold out. At least right now you still have enough time to order things online.
Select your Dinnerware and Serveware
Organize your china cabinet and select, clean, and reserve everything you need now with enough time to buy or borrow any pieces you are missing. Labeling each dish with sticky notes is a quick and easy way to organize all of the dinnerware for the big meal.
24 Hours Before
If you are hosting and once you have prepared the fridge, and sorted the dinnerware, it is time to prepare the rest of your home. Make sure you have enough chairs and table space for the meal. Then pull together some board games, trivia, or other activities for that post-meal slouch.
Our best Thanksgiving-eve strategy is to make sure the house and fridge are clean, the table is set, name tags placed, and serveware out. We all know there won’t really be any time for this on the big day. Or if you are just bringing a dish to a potluck, make sure you check with your host if they need any help or any last-minute runs to the store, it will be highly appreciated.
The day before is also an excellent time to get ahead on any food prep and make any side dishes that will hold in the fridge. Often carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pies can be made ahead of time.
Of course, if you have followed all of the above tips by Thanksgiving morning you have set out plates, organized the fridge, re-arranged your home and folded customized blankets for each one of your guests to take a post-meal nap. If not...at the very least we hope you have fully defrosted your turkey and/or removed it from its brine to begin drying for its final trip to flavor town. Below is our battle plan for the big day.
7 Hours Before
We like to start by preparing all our vegetables, once they have been prepared they can hold up the whole day uncooked until we are ready to “fire”. If you are making mashed potatoes, peel the potatoes and let them sit in a pot or bowl of cold water. You can peel, clean, and cut all the veggies you will be making and place them in zip-top bags or containers in the refrigerator until you cook them later. If you are making any oven-roasted vegetables (check our Cue recipe suggestions below), you can bake them up to 4 hours in advance and then reheat them in the oven while the turkey finishes roasting.
5 Hours Before
Get your roasting game on! A turkey can take up to 4.5 hours to roast depending on size (see our cooking chart below for suggestions). Double-check the baking times of all of your recipes, and organize the oven to ensure you have rack space later when you need it before everything is hot! If you have selected a Cue recipe as your main then you are in for a treat, but either way, we suggest a cooking thermometer.
Remember once you remove your meat from the oven it will continue “cooking” (increasing in temperature) for up to 30 minutes. If you are trying to land your bird at 165°F, don’t be afraid to pull it out a little early and let it “rest up”; trust us, you’ll be happy you did. So turn the oven on truss your turkey, wrap that pork loin, score that ham, and get in the game.
Here are the FDA final cooking temperatures for all your favorite thanksgiving proteins:
Turkey: 165°F (thigh)
Pork Loin: 155°F
Beef: Rare 125°F, Medium Rare 130°F, Medium 140°F, Medium Well 155°F, Well 170°F
3 Hours Before
This is the time to get the rest of the food cooked and ready. Glaze your carrots or parsnips, saute your Brussel sprouts with bacon or mix and finish the stuffing in the oven while the main dish finishes roasting.
2 Hours Before
Take a few moments to clean up the kitchen and yourself! Take a shower, open a glass of wine, and get ready because you are coming into the home stretch. If you are cooking a Cue guided recipe you will know exactly how long you have left on each dish, otherwise, double-check all of your recipes. Whether you are setting up a few side timers or using the Cue app, it is key to know exactly how to manage your time.
1 Hour Before
Always make the green bean casserole or the mashed potato last and keep warm in the Cue Chef’s Pot at 180°F on control mode. Using your Cue as a Chafing Dish will become your best ally for a memorable and delicious dinner.
30 Minutes Before
Your turkey or selected main dish should be out of the oven and resting. Allowing meat to rest is always a good practice, it also gives you the perfect excuse to prepare a gravy or sauce. Since you are going to make gravy, might as well do it right! Our recipes for Mushroom Marsala or Mushroom Pan Gravy are great and easy recipes to make last minute, and a good way to use those delicious drippings!
Dinner is Served!
The oven is off, food is ready and the Cue is keeping the food at the right temperature. You have crushed it chef! Now relax and enjoy!
For more recipe inspiration look for the Thanksgiving category in the Cue app and check out our post From Our Kitchens to Yours! The Cue Team shares Their Thanksgiving Menus for new ways to reimagine your leftovers.
We hope this Thanksgiving guide helps you feel less stressed and more inspired this holiday season. Either way, tell us what you think. Show us what your cooking or ask our Chefs for advice in our Facebook community.
For more recipe inspiration check out the Cue app, where you can discover over 500 chef-crafted recipes, all with step-by-step video guidance from prep to plating. Download the Hestan Cue app for iOS and Android and learn more about precision cooking with Cue, and all the things you can do!