It’s the night before Friendsgiving and you’re simultaneously cleaning, trying to roll out from-scratch pie dough, and suddenly realizing that you’re out of oregano. Even for planners, nailing the timing and prep required to prepare a meal of this magnitude takes some doing. This November, keep your cortisol levels from skyrocketing (the whole point of Friendsgiving is to forgo the drama, after all) and start mapping out how you’re going to make this a dinner party you’ll actually enjoy too.
If you don’t know how long it takes to defrost a turkey or when you should start telling people to come over, read ahead. Below, the ultimate Friendsgiving timeline that’s near impossible to mess up.
Three Plus Weeks Out
If your Friendsgiving is happening mid-November (like Mom would let you skip dinner with the family!) you’ll want to get your invites out before the end of October, says Clare Langan, a New York-based chef and culinary instructor. Keep in mind as the holidays start winding up everyone’s free weekends and weeknights start to dry up, hence the ample amount of heads-up time you’re giving friends. And don’t use Facebook—instead, send spiffed-up online invitations via Minted or Paperless Post, both of which allow you to easily track your guestlist and make it appear as if you’re adulting.
Three Weeks Out
Now that you know who’s coming, it’s time to plan the meal. Langan suggests looking at food sites (like this one) and publications as everyone has Thanksgiving content on the brain by this point. Also put last year’s work to work. “I like to look back at old magazines or revisit my Pinterest board from last year for ideas,” says Langan.
Though hosting a big old table of your friends might be intimidating, this is the dinner to be bold with your recipe selection and try out more unconventional, less-traditional Thanksgiving dishes.“My family would never go for a chipotle cranberry sauce, Indian-spiced turkey or stuffing waffle, but Friendsgiving is the perfect opportunity to branch out,” she says. “I also hosted a friendsgiving one year where we had all the usual sides and a turkey meatloaf! No one missed a real turkey.” Want to go the traditional route and need to figure out how big of a bird to buy? A good rule of thumb is calculating about 1 to 1.5 pounds per guest to make sure you can feed your group.
Two Weeks Before
Trust us when we say, you’ll need some help. Tap your more culinary-inclined friends to bring one of their own favorite dishes, or dole out assignments to round out your own menu. “You can delegate recipes to friends by taking a picture of the recipe and sending it out,” Langan suggests. And for those of your less culinary-inclined friends, put them on drink duty. Have your bartender friend bring the ingredients for a cocktail or punch or ask your coworker to bring some wine or even ice.
One Week Before
Get your groceries delivered. Look to Instacart, Peapod or FreshDirect, or check if your local store will bring your haul to you. The time you’ll save will be invaluable and you won’t have to deal with the inevitable long lines. “Once you know what recipes you are going to make, set up a grocery delivery list.” says Langan. “Most [grocery] sites will let you create and save a shopping list for future orders.” Also? You can watch Friends reruns on Netflix while you do this.
Four Days Before
If you want to serve a bird at your meal, and not saw through a half frozen turkey, you’ll need to start preparing at least 72 hours before your dinner. “Plan for your turkey to take about three to four days to defrost,” Langan says. “Always bring your turkey to room temperature before roasting for a more evenly cooked bird.” Just as important as defrosting the turkey? Booze. Head out to the liquor store and make sure you have your wine (serve some bubbly to start off and transition to reds like pinot noirs later in the day), mixers, and the hard stuff if that’s how you roll.
One Day Before
By this point, your groceries have (hopefully) been delivered and you’ve got all the chargers, utensils and serving dishes you need on hand to set your table properly. Now it’s time to tackle the remaining turkey prep—brining takes 8-16 hours. Brining (basically soaking the bird in salt and spices like peppercorns and bay leaves for a prolonged period of time before cooking) requires a bit of room, a large bin or bag, and some elbow grease. It’s one of the most traditional ways to prep it, though, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can always opt to deep fry or bacon-wrap it. To save oven space for the following day, make baked goods that can keep for a day like pumpkin pie or cake.
Five Hours Before
If you’ve brined your turkey, rinse it, pat it dry, and tie the legs together before sticking it in the oven to get the centerpiece of the meal started. (You can always skip the brine or do a dry brine, which is easier, if you’re short on time ahead of this step.) While the turkey is cooking get to work on the sides: whether it’s boiling spuds for mashed potatoes or starting on a hearty baked mac and cheese. Also, don’t forget the starters. Pull out your slow cooker and put it to work for some of these drool-worthy appetizers.
Two Hours Before
You’ll want some snacks on hand to greet guests when they arrive, so start chopping veggies for a crudite platter or cut up some cheese for a charcuterie spread. And if you haven’t already, stick your whites in the fridge now.
One Hour Before
Deputize any of your helpers or early guests to help set the table. Don’t worry too much about being matchy matchy with your platters, plates and cutlery; Friendsgiving is supposed to be the no-stress holiday! Start sending out any prepped cold appetizers (think those cheese and veggie platters) into the spaces where folks will congregate. Make sure you’re setting up a buffet-like environment where people can serve themselves and mingle with others before dinner.
30 Minutes Before
Have any hot apps, like spinach dip or fondue, on deck? Now’s the time you want to start putting the finishing touches on them so they’re still hot when guests arrive. Start searching for your trivets now so you can put them out. Keep the apps warm until your first guests get there, and then send the food out after you greet your pals.
Five Minutes Before
Pour yourself a glass of wine. Take a deep breath. Do a once-over on the turkey and the sides. Shoo your guests towards the dinner table before commissioning a few folks with waitressing experience to help you ferry the food out. Festive Friendsgiving!
One Day After
Know that the cheapest time to buy decorative gourds, turkey-themed table runners, and wood signs with warm and fuzzy phrases is after the holiday passes. The day after the stuffing is served, head to a store to check out the clearance bins. This is where you’ll find pumpkin hued cutlery, sturdy wine glasses, and other tabletop pieces that will make setting the table up next year a breeze.
For more great tips, tricks, and hacks, see our Ultimate Guide to Friendsgiving.
Related Video: 7 Thanksgiving Dishes You Should Always Make Ahead
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