So you’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before. Easy peasy. (Ahaha!) Relax. Follow these simple instructions, plan ahead, and you’ll reduce the stress of planning and hosting a big holiday meal. You might savor the process so much you’ll want to repeat the performance. The key is keeping it simple. We’ll show you how to cook a turkey with a clear, photo-heavy recipe and all the classic fixings. This guide lays out the plans for you to time it just right. And you’ll enjoy your first Thanksgiving dinner immensely (for that, you’re on your own). We do, however, show you what to do with the leftovers.
TIMELINE FOR SUCCESS
Sunday: If you’re using a frozen turkey, put it in the refrigerator to start defrosting. The average 12- to 16-pound bird takes three to four full days to thaw safely.
Tuesday: Check that you have all your cookware, serving pieces, utensils, etc.; make your shopping list.
Wednesday: Do your shopping the day before so that your produce is fresh. The cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pie can all be made ahead. Remember that the turkey will take up the oven for about three hours on Thursday.
Thursday: Roast the turkey. While it cooks, do your stovetop cooking and setup. When the bird comes out to rest, put all your premade sides back in the oven to warm up. Do the gravy last, as well as dressing a salad or heating bread if you’re serving it.
Easy Roast Turkey
A straightforward cooking method with only a handful of high-impact ingredients puts the all-important bird in easy reach, with a minimum of sweat. If you’ve never roasted a turkey before (or suffered a fail or two) this recipe id for you. Get our Easy Roast Turkey recipe.
Easy Turkey Gravy
The prospect of making gravy that has body (but is not gluey and floury) and is lump-free can seem like the Holy Grail of Thanksgiving novices, but fear not. This simple recipe will turn you pan drippings and roasted turkey neck into a smooth, lithe, and flavorful sauce. Get our Easy Turkey Gravy recipe.
This is an easy go-to recipe, appropriate for stuffing inside the turkey’s cavity or baking apart, in a baking dish (our preferred method, for the crispy top surface and lack of worry about timing). It calls for two types of bread, white and coarse country levain, plus sweet Italian sausage—use hot if you like things spicy! Get our Sausage Stuffing recipe.
Tannic pomegranate juice combines with crisp apples and sweet raisins for a tasty sauce that goes way beyond the Thanksgiving table. It’s best made at least one day ahead so the flavors can meld. Serve room temperature or warmed, which is kind of a revelation. Get our Cranberry Relish recipe.
Basic Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes: arguably the center of Thanksgiving dinner, thirsty bed for gravy and the thing that, if you didn’t make them, would leave Thanksgiving utterly pointless. Making perfect mashed potatoes is a simple affair, if you get all the details right. Get our Basic Mashed Potatoes recipe.
Baked Ginger Sweet Potatoes
Candied sweet potatoes with a browned cap of mini marshmallows is definitely a thing, but these yams—sliced and baked with orange juice, butter, fresh ginger, and apricot preserves—are even better. Even better: They’re simple as all get-out. Get our Baked Ginger Sweet Potatoes recipe.
Basic Sautéed Green Beans
Green beans offer color relief and a bright, healthy foil to all the rich, saucy, buttery, and sweet food at Thanksgiving. Keep them a little crisp, prep them beforehand, and—just before you sit down to the meal, and everything’s ready, give them a quick toss in a sauté pan. Get our Basic Sautéed Green Beans recipe.
Spiced Cranberry Sangria
A simple syrup with holiday spices, port, and Cointreau is an evocative medium for macerating apples and cranberries. For the sangria itself, port, Cointreau, and cranberry juice blend with Tempranillo rosé for a thrist-quenching Thanksgiving quaff. Get our Spiced Cranberry Sangria recipe.
Perfect Pumpkin Pie
You start by making a simple press-in crust, then assemble a simple filling from canned pumpkin purée, spices, eggs, and condensed milk—it takes only a few minutes to mix. Pop it in the oven for an hour, and what you get is the best possible end to Thanksgiving. Get our Perfect Pumpkin Pie recipe.
For more Thanksgiving tips, hacks, and recipes, check out our Ultimate Thanksgiving Guide.
— Head Image: Her Campus.