Your Complete Thanksgiving Game Plan

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 20 2012 6:45 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving: masochistic, but rewarding.

Eugene Bochkarev / iStock

In the past week, Brow Beat has been providing all the essential recipes you need to celebrate Thanksgiving with culinary aplomb. (See our recent entries on turkey, pumpkin piesweet potatoesmashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, plus earlier entries on biscuits, Brussels sprouts, and stuffing.) But recipes only go so far: They tell you, in a piecemeal fashion, what ingredients to buy and how to cook them. They don’t tell you how to coordinate an eight-course meal for a dozen people—i.e., how to do it right.

Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is a somewhat masochistic enterprise. It’s rewarding, for sure, and fun if you like cooking. But perfectly coordinating the timing of several dishes—nearly all of which taste best hot, many of which require oven time, and some of which begin deteriorating in quality shortly after you finish cooking them—is, well, impossible.

Click for a printable shopping list, menu, and game plan.

That’s why Thanksgiving requires flexibility and compromise. If you have one recipe that needs to be cooked at 400°F and another that should be cooked at 350°F, setting your oven to 375°F and shoving them both in is the way to go. You also have to take into account which dishes absolutely must be hot or warm—mashed potatoes and biscuits, for instance—and prioritize their temperature over that of sweet potatoes and turkey, both of which taste pretty good at room temperature. (Keep in mind that turkey and casseroles, by virtue of their girth and density, tend to retain heat longer than lighter dishes when kept at room temperature.) Drinking also helps, of course, though it’s best to practice moderation until most of your dishes are nearly finished; too much on an empty stomach increases your odds of burning the food, cutting yourself, and/or experiencing an existential meltdown.

One of the very best things you can do to make your Thanksgiving run smoothly is to make as much as possible the day before. Pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, in particular, suffer not at all from a day in the fridge. You should also bake the cornbread for your stuffing and start your sweet potato casserole on Wednesday. Even menial tasks, like mixing spices and chopping vegetables, should be done in advance; no, they’re not difficult, but getting them out of the way in advance will make Thursday’s work that much easier. An additional benefit: Advance preparation means that you won’t have to double up on important pieces of equipment (saucepans, baking sheets, etc.), or, worse, frantically wash and dry them as you’re cooking on Thursday.

Click for a printable recipe collection.

As my colleague Rachael Larimore has already explained, cooking your turkey in a deep-fryer outdoors makes it much, much less challenging to bake and roast all your other dishes. However, if you must roast your turkey instead of frying it due to circumstances beyond your control, start roasting it as early in the day on Thursday as possible, and don’t be afraid to let it sit for a while as you finish up your other dishes.

Herewith, everything you need to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for 10 to 12 people without losing your mind. Below, you’ll find a downloadable shopping list, a blow-by-blow cooking schedule, and a Spotify playlist of some of the most crowd-pleasing, patriotic, autumnal albums featured in “You’re Doing It Wrong” this past year.

In the game plan, I’ve declined to tell you exactly what time to perform each step, both because reasonable people have been known to disagree on whether Thanksgiving dinner should be served in the afternoon or the evening, and because the timing depends on how many people you have helping you. (Furthermore, Thanksgiving dinner refuses to be micromanaged: Trying to plan everything down to the minute will inevitably end in tears.) Plan on rubbing your turkey with its spice rub in the morning and starting to cook in earnest about 4 hours before you’d like to eat on Thursday (assuming you’ve already finished everything that can be prepared in advance on Wednesday).

Be forewarned: The existence and quantity of leftovers are unpredictable. If you want to be sure of having enough to nosh on through the weekend, you might consider doubling your mashed potatoes, frying a second turkey, or making an extra pie.

Print It Out
Click here for PDF versions of the shopping list, menu, and game plan and Slate's Thanksgiving recipe book.

Game Plan
Make the cornbread for the Cornbread Stuffing; cover and leave at room temperature.

Chop the onions and celery for the Cornbread Stuffing; put in a zip-lock bag and refrigerate.

Make the Cranberry-Orange Sauce; cover and refrigerate.

Make the Pumpkin Pie With Gingersnap Crust; cover and refrigerate.

Make your sweet-potato base and streusel topping for the Meringue-Topped Sweet-Potato Casserole; cover and refrigerate.

Combine the spices for the Deep-Fried Cajun-Spiced Turkey; cover and leave at room temperature.

Rinse and dry the turkey. Rub it with the spice mixture and refrigerate.

Make the gravy (see the introduction to Deep-Fried Cajun-Spiced Turkey); set aside.

Sauté the onions and celery (and sausage, if you’re using it) for the Cornbread Stuffing; set aside.

Boil and drain the potatoes and garlic for the Garlicky Mashed Potatoes; set aside.

Heat the oil and deep-fry the Deep-Fried Cajun-Spiced Turkey.

While the turkey is cooking, heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the Meringue-Topped Sweet-Potato Casserole (sans meringue) for 30 minutes. Remove and cover with foil to keep warm.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, assemble the Cornbread Stuffing. When the sweet potatoes are done, raise the oven temperature to 450°F and bake the stuffing for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cover with foil to keep warm.

While the stuffing is in the oven, prepare the Biscuits. When the stuffing is done, bake the biscuits for 12 to 15 minutes. Wrap in a clean towel to keep warm.

While the biscuits are in the oven, make the meringue topping and spread it over the sweet potatoes. When the biscuits are done, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Bake the Meringue-Topped Sweet-Potato Casserole (with meringue) for 15 minutes.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, prepare the Soy-Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Bake and then roast the Brussels sprouts for 30 to 35 minutes total. Transfer to a serving dish and cover to keep warm.

While the Brussels sprouts are in the oven, finish making the Garlicky Mashed Potatoes, and gently reheat the gravy.

Serve the turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cranberry sauce. Be thankful. Drink as much wine as you like.

When you’ve recovered from dinner, make coffee. Whip 1 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. Serve the pumpkin pie with the whipped cream.


No need to curate a painstakingly detailed playlist on Thanksgiving; just listen to these ten albums on shuffle on Spotify, or find them on Amazon:  Strangeways, Here We Come, The Smiths; Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros; Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes; Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney; 21, Adele; Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen; Rumours, Fleetwood Mac; Boxer, The National; The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan; Graceland, Paul Simon.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 



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