This Thanksgiving guide is just what you need to help organize your next Thanksgiving dinner celebration! From choosing the perfect Thanksgiving menu to setting up decorations, this checklist will walk you through every step of planning the ultimate holiday get-together. I've even featured some of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes to get you started!
How To Host Thanksgiving Dinner
The holidays are meant to be a time for celebration and joy. However, I have spent plenty of holidays more stressed than anything due to a lack of planning!
I broke down this easy-to-follow timeline for planning, preparing, and serving Thanksgiving dinner to avoid feeling stressed or overwhelmed. I follow this no-fail guide year after year, so it's only right to pass it along!
- How To Host Thanksgiving Dinner
- The Month Before Thanksgiving
- 1. Plan Your Guest List
- 2. Plan The Menu
- 3. Rent Extra Tables And Dishes
- A Few Weeks Before Thanksgiving
- 4. Create Your Shopping List
- 5. Gather Your Cooking Gear & Supplies
- 6. Order Your Turkey
- Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving
- 8. Free Up Space In The Freezer
- 9. Pie Preparation
- 10. Freeze What You Can
- 11. Prepare Decorations
- One Week Before Thanksgiving
- 12. Schedule For The Week
- 13. Pick Up Refrigerated Items
- 14. Prepare For Leftovers
- 3 Days Before Thanksgiving
- 15. Defrost the Turkey
- 16. Final Grocery Run For Veggies
- 17. Clean The House
- 18. Pickup Rentals
- 2 Days Before Thanksgiving Dinner
- 19. Prepare Side Dishes
- 20. Make Pumpkin Pies
- The Day Before Thanksgiving
- 21. Set The Table
- 22. Plan Cooking Time And Schedule
- 23. Prep Additional Ingredients
- 24. Bake Apple, Cherry, or Pecan Pies
- 25. Prep Turkey
- Thanksgiving Day Guide
- 26. Defrost Rolls & Let Rise
- 27. Chill Drinks
- 28. Take Pumpkin Pies Out Of The Fridge
- 29. Prepare The Stuffing
- 30. Cook The Turkey
- 31. Prepare Sides While The Turkey Cooks
- 32. Rest The Turkey
- 33. Reheat sides
- 34. Make Mashed Potatoes
- 35. Make The Gravy
- 36. Sit Down To Eat
- 🦃 Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Menus
- 📖 Recipe Card
- 💬 Reviews
Be sure to check out my Thanksgiving-related recipes, collections, and more on the Thanksgiving page!
The Month Before Thanksgiving
Planning the perfect Thanksgiving takes time. Therefore, beginning to plan a month ahead is the best way to avoid unnecessary stress this time of year.
This handy Thanksgiving guide will walk you through all of the key planning points for a perfect Thanksgiving celebration!
1. Plan Your Guest List
You can’t plan anything else until you know how many people you are planning for. Therefore, the first thing to plan for is who is coming to Thanksgiving dinner.
Begin by making a list of everyone you are inviting. Write it down somewhere you will have it to refer to leading up to the big dinner.
Once you have your initial list, begin to reach out to each person or family to confirm if they will be attending dinner.
As soon as someone confirms, add a little check mark to the list. In addition, cross off those who can’t make it.
Another important thing to note is those who are undecided. There is always going to be one or two that don’t confirm until the last minute.
It is best to plan for the maybe guests now so that you have enough seating and food (just in case).
*You can decide what specialty dishes you will include if there are any dietary restrictions (such as gluten-free, vegan, or dairy-free) or allergies. You want everyone who is invited to feel welcome and enjoy their meal!
2. Plan The Menu
Once you know who is coming to dinner, plan the menu! Ideally, you'll have a variety of finger food snacks and appetizers, side dishes, rolls or bread, one or two main dishes, and at least one dessert.
Here are a few examples of traditional Thanksgiving recipes broken down by course:
Thanksgiving Main Dishes
In addition to traditional Thanksgiving dishes, you can also consider trying something new. Take a look at the list of non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner menus at the bottom of the page for more recipe suggestions!
>>>>See all of my recipes here<<<<
3. Rent Extra Tables And Dishes
Depending on how large your Thanksgiving guest list is, you may need to rent some additional materials. You can rent everything from tables and chairs to glasses and tablecloths.
While some may tell you to borrow these things, renting is often less stressful. When borrowing tables and chairs, you run the risk (and stress) of things changing at the last minute and the items not being available.
You may also find yourself stressed that a glass or plate you borrowed may break.
Renting eliminates these stresses. You know a month ahead that all the items will be available.
In addition, there is often insurance included in the rental in case something breaks. Another great thing about renting glasses and silverware is that everything will match.
A Few Weeks Before Thanksgiving
4. Create Your Shopping List
Now that you know what you are serving, it is time to create your shopping list. While it may seem early, this is the best time to do it because you want to begin shopping the week before Thanksgiving.
*Be aware that even in 2023, I still see shortages at the grocery store. If you're not in a big city with lots of stores to choose from, you really need to get what you can in advance to avoid this.
Don’t forget to check ingredients you already have on hand. This includes things like sugar and flour. While most of us keep these items in the pantry year-round, you may need to restock before the holidays.
5. Gather Your Cooking Gear & Supplies
In addition to your food shopping list, remember to add any items you need to properly do all the cooking. This includes things such as pie pans and serving trays.
Also, make sure that you have everything you need to properly prep the turkey, such as a large roasting pan and a meat thermometer. This may also include a turkey brining container or an XL deep fryer.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, I highly recommend investing in one! They are not expensive and will make all the difference in making sure your turkey is cooked perfectly.
Some ovens have a meat probe that can be inserted into your turkey so that you'll know when you've reached the perfect temp without opening the door. This is true of a lot of smokers, too.
6. Order Your Turkey
Speaking of turkey, where do you plan to get your turkey from? I suggest ordering one from a local farmer or butcher to guarantee the turkey you want.
While it can be a bit more expensive than the grocery store, the extra cost is worth it. Grain-free and pasture-raised turkeys are also available and amazingly tasty!
Local orders mean you know you will have the exact turkey you want for Thanksgiving. Plus, you don’t have to worry about finding the right size at the grocery store.
In addition, you know you are getting a fresh turkey! Another bonus is knowing that you are supporting a local business.
7. Shop for Alcohol & Non-perishable Foods
The more shopping you can get done early, the better! Therefore, use this week to stock up on all the goodies that won’t go bad.
This includes drinks, canned goods, and other non-perishable items.
Not only does shopping for these items save you time, but it also guarantees you will have everything you need for the big day. There is no risk of the store being out of the exact item you want.
Moreover, it saves you the headache of holiday crowds. If you have ever gone to the liquor store for wine the week of Thanksgiving, you know it can be a bit of a madhouse!
Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving
Furthermore, this week is great for planning (and possibly preparing) decorations for the big dinner. An amazing tablescape adds so much to a family gathering!
8. Free Up Space In The Freezer
Before you can start preparing pies and other goodies to store in the freezer, you need storage space. Therefore, use the beginning of this week to start freeing up some storage space in the freezer.
Have a family dessert night where you eat the ice cream. Thaw and cook up frozen dishes you made earlier in the year. Use what you can.
However, don’t be afraid to toss anything that has exceeded its ideal date for eating (even frozen foods have a “best by” date).
9. Pie Preparation
If you plan to make your own pies, you can prepare the pie crust ahead of time. This will save you a lot of time during the week of Thanksgiving!
Not to mention, it will eliminate one other thing that needs to be done in the kitchen that week.
Pie crust dough can be rolled into a ball and frozen, or fill your pie pans before freezing. Either way, remember to tightly wrap the dough with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
In addition to preparing crusts, you can even bake some pies early. Many pies freeze beautifully and can be thawed the night before!
Follow my guides to freeze your pies in advance:
- How To Freeze Pumpkin Pie
- How To Freeze Pecan Pie
- How To Freeze Sweet Potato Pie
- How To Freeze Fruit Pies
10. Freeze What You Can
In addition, if you plan to serve any soup at dinner, most soups can be frozen.
11. Prepare Decorations
The holidays are always a bit more festive with decorations, and when you plan this far ahead, you have extra time to enjoy decorating. So, pull up your Pinterest board and see what decorations are calling to you!
Use any extra time this week to buy or DIY your decorations. Depending on the type of decorations you choose, you may even be able to put them up around the house.
For example, wreaths and centerpieces can be set out ahead of time. You can pre-fold napkins if you are having an elegant Thanksgiving dinner.
Warm fall colors like deep red or burgundy, brown, and orange are synonymous with Thanksgiving. (Pro tip: I usually find lovely and inexpensive Thanksgiving placemats, napkins, candles, centerpieces, and other decor at the dollar store and Party City!)
One Week Before Thanksgiving
At this point, you have already planned so much and are hopefully feeling excited (and less stressed) about hosting the big dinner. The week leading up to Thanksgiving is all about finalizing details.
12. Schedule For The Week
Sit down at the start of the week and make a countdown timeline. Review what you have already done and consider what you still need to prepare.
Write out a schedule for this week as well as the day of Thanksgiving.
While creating your schedule, don’t forget to think about who you can delegate to do things. Thanksgiving is not a one-person job!
13. Pick Up Refrigerated Items
The main thing you will need to do this week is pick up your turkey - especially if you didn’t order your turkey.
If you pick up a fresh turkey from the butcher or farmer, you can store it in the freezer for the week. (See my guide to freezing turkey for instructions). Store-bought turkeys will already be frozen.
In addition to the turkey, you can also pick up food items that will stay fresh for a week. This includes hearty vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables.
Heavy cream and other dairy products will also stay fresh in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving.
If you ordered your turkey and don’t need to pick one up at the store, you can wait to do one final grocery store run a few days before dinner.
14. Prepare For Leftovers
This week is a good time to think about the day after Thanksgiving. Specifically, all the leftovers! Do a quick check in the kitchen this week to see what containers you have available for turkey leftovers.
Moreover, consider if you want to send guests home with leftovers.
If you plan to send guests home with leftovers, grab some disposable plastic containers while you are at the grocery store. This will make it easy to pack up leftovers at the end of dinner.
One thing many people miss when they don’t host Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Therefore, your guests will be thankful for a to-go container.
3 Days Before Thanksgiving
15. Defrost the Turkey
Frozen turkeys take a little bit of time to defrost. Plus, it is important to allow them to defrost slowly as broken down in my guide to safely thawing turkey.
The best thing is to move your frozen turkey to the refrigerator 3 days prior to Thanksgiving.
Even though the turkey will stay wrapped while defrosting, it can still drip. So you should always place it on the bottom shelf to defrost on paper towels or a small tray.
16. Final Grocery Run For Veggies
While it would be ideal to not have to go to the grocery this week, you will most likely need to do a final run. This is the time to pick up any fresh veggies that do not have a long shelf life. For example, the celery needed for your Thanksgiving stuffing.
In addition to fresh veggies, this is the time to grab any other items you need and may have forgotten.
If you didn’t head to the store last week, then make sure you get your heavy cream, root veggies, and any other items you haven’t picked up yet.
17. Clean The House
Having guests over for dinner will likely prompt a desire for a deep clean, which may take a bit of extra time. Plan to do most of your house cleaning a few days before dinner.
You need to do a quick pick-up the morning of (especially if you have kids). However, finish all the big things (like vacuuming and mopping) earlier.
This will not only help you prepare for guests but also help you feel more relaxed leading up to the holiday.
18. Pickup Rentals
If you rent any items you need to pick up, plan to get them 2-3 days before Thanksgiving. This way, you have time to get any errors or shortages fixed before turkey day.
If anything has changed, this also gives you a few days to make last-minute adjustments.
2 Days Before Thanksgiving Dinner
19. Prepare Side Dishes
Several side dishes can be prepped and made ahead of Thanksgiving. Taking time to prep these early saves you a lot of time and stress on the day of dinner.
Soups and stocks you didn’t freeze can be made at this time (if you froze soup or stock, move it to the fridge to defrost). In addition, most homemade cranberry sauces can be prepped and stored in the refrigerator.
This is also the perfect time to assemble any casseroles you are serving. For example, green bean casserole and yam or sweet potato dishes.
Many of these can be assembled and then stored in the fridge until the day of Thanksgiving.
20. Make Pumpkin Pies
While there are a couple of pies you need to wait to make until the night before, pumpkin pies can be made a couple of days in advance. Once they have cooled, cover them and place them in the refrigerator.
If you froze any apple pies or pie crusts, this is to take them out to thaw. Place frozen apple pies and crusts/dough in the refrigerator to slowly thaw overnight. You can use the crusts the next day to bake the last fresh pies.
The Day Before Thanksgiving
21. Set The Table
Setting the table the day before is a great way to take one last thing off of your plate on the day of.
If you have kids at home, this is a good activity to have them help with that will keep them busy (since most kids don’t have school the day before Thanksgiving). You can even have them polish the nice silverware if you want to add extra time to the activity!
22. Plan Cooking Time And Schedule
Take a few minutes to sit down and plan the cooking times for tomorrow. Start with how long you will need to cook the turkey. Then, look at the list of other items you need to cook.
Remember, there is limited oven and stovetop space, so plan accordingly!
Many of the side dishes and casseroles only need to be reheated. This means they can be put in the oven after the turkey.
23. Prep Additional Ingredients
Prepare any additional ingredients that you have left. This includes chopping vegetables for salads and stuffing. It may also include preparing hors d’oeuvres for guests to snack on before dinner.
Basically, anything you can chop and store in the fridge for the night – go ahead and chop and store them. If chopping root vegetables like potatoes, store them in a bowl of cold water once they are chopped. This will keep them from turning brown before cooking.
24. Bake Apple, Cherry, or Pecan Pies
25. Prep Turkey
While your pies are baking, use this time to prepare your turkey. Place it in the roasting pan and add any seasonings you plan to use.
If you brine your turkey before cooking it, you want to refrigerate it in the brine today. Aim for 16-24 hours before you start cooking (16 hours for smaller turkeys, 24 hours for turkeys over 18 pounds).
Once your turkey is prepared, cover it and place it back in the refrigerator until it is time to cook.
Thanksgiving Day Guide
Thanksgiving is here, and it's showtime! Remember to breathe and that no matter what, being thankful for this time with your friends and family is what the day is all about.
The food is going to be superb. Your home looks inviting and festive.
You've made it to (almost) the end of my Thanksgiving guide, and now it's my turn to say my thanks for visiting Bake It With Love. I am so honored to be part of your cooking, meals, and holidays!
26. Defrost Rolls & Let Rise
If using frozen rolls or bread, take them out first so they can defrost and rise before baking or reheating.
27. Chill Drinks
As you move food out of the refrigerator to cook, you will free up some space. Use that space to chill wine, beer, and other beverages you plan to serve with dinner.
28. Take Pumpkin Pies Out Of The Fridge
If you made pumpkin pies early and refrigerated them, take them out the morning of Thanksgiving. Let them sit and come to room temperature before serving after dinner.
29. Prepare The Stuffing
Prepare your stuffing before cooking your turkey so that you can stuff it. Even if you don’t plan to stuff your turkey, you can prepare stuffing first so it is done and out of the way.
Then, you can quickly heat it up with the other side dishes after the turkey is done cooking.
30. Cook The Turkey
There are many ways to cook a turkey, with roasting being one of the most popular options. If you don't already have a signature turkey recipe, you can give one of my tried-and-true Thanksgiving turkey recipes a try:
Regardless of your preferred cooking method, the turkey will take the longest amount of time. Make sure you have calculated how long it needs based on its weight and that you put it in at the right time.
Remember, you should also plan for the turkey to rest out of the oven for 1 hour!
Once the turkey is in the oven, you can use the next few hours to prepare any last-minute dishes.
31. Prepare Sides While The Turkey Cooks
If you have followed this guide, you may not have many additional sides to prepare. However, if you have anything left to prepare, you can do it while the turkey cooks.
This is a good time to peel and chop potatoes for mashed potatoes or to put together a quick garden salad.
32. Rest The Turkey
Often, we think that once the turkey comes out of the oven, it is time to eat. However, to get the juiciest and moistest turkey, you want to let it sit for a bit.
Use your meat thermometer to take the turkey out of the oven when it is about 10 degrees less than your desired doneness. Once out of the oven, place a loose piece of aluminum foil over the turkey.
This will keep the heat in and help the turkey to continue to cook internally.
Let the turkey rest for 30-60 minutes before serving.
33. Reheat sides
While the turkey rests, use the oven to heat up all the sides you prepared ahead of time (green bean casserole, yams, etc.).
Don't forget to put your warming tray to good use today, too!
34. Make Mashed Potatoes
Make the mashed potatoes while the sides heat up in the oven. If you already chopped the potatoes, you will need to boil and mash them.
35. Make The Gravy
Gravy should be the last thing you make. Use the drippings from the turkey, along with any additional stock, to whip up a delicious and rich homemade gravy. This will only take about 15-20 minutes and can be done right before eating.
36. Sit Down To Eat
Once everything is heated and ready to serve, it is time to eat! Depending on how you want to serve dinner, you can place all the menu items in a buffet style or set everything on the table.
However you decide to serve your guests, the most important thing is to enjoy the meal and be grateful!
Please feel free to ask questions below, and I will get back to you as quickly as possible. Even during the holidays, I do try to help keep things running smoothly! Don't forget to check out all of my leftover turkey recipes for a great collection of recipe ideas!
🦃 Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Menus
- Southern Thanksgiving Dinner
- Midwestern Thanksgiving Dinner
- Budget Thanksgiving Dinner
- Elegant Thanksgiving Dinner
- Friendsgiving Dinner Ideas
- Thanksgiving Dinner For Two
- Thanksgiving Dinner For Four
- Buffet Style Thanksgiving Dinner
- Italian Thanksgiving Dinner
- Irish Thanksgiving Dinner
- Thanksgiving Ham Dinner
- Keto & Low-Carb Thanksgiving Recipes
See more Thanksgiving →
I hope you find this full Thanksgiving guide handy for planning your meal like a pro, no matter if this is your first time hosting the holiday dinner or the 50th!
Do you love a recipe you tried? Please leave a 5-star 🌟rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page.
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📖 Recipe Card
Thanksgiving Guide: Oven Roasted Turkey (Complete Menu Planning & Make Ahead Dishes!)
- Preheat oven to 450°F (232°C) and place a roasting rack or tray in your large roasting pan.
- Remove thawed turkey from packaging, as well as any packages in the cavity (neck, gizzards, heart, liver are usually inside - some turkeys also have a package of gravy base). Rinse turkey inside and out, place in the roasting pan breast side up, then pat dry.
- In a small bowl, combine melted butter with chicken bouillon cubes and smoked paprika seasoning. Break apart the cubes to make a paste.
- Using the paste, coat the outside of the turkey as well as inside the body cavity (whether or not you will be stuffing the turkey, it adds sensational flavoring!) starting with massaging the paste into the breast and working over the legs, wings, back and then the remaining paste inside the turkey.
- Stuff your turkey (optional) with prepared stuffing. We do not cook our stuffing this way as the turkey cooks more evenly when left open.
- (optional) Place a quartered orange and fresh thyme herbs inside the cavity for aroma and flavoring.
- Pour 2 cups chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan (water will work too, water or broth will combine with the drippings from your roasting turkey and can be used for turkey gravy base).
- Leave your turkey uncovered and place the roasting pan with seasoned turkey into the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C) and cook for 13 minutes per pound (without stuffing) or 15 per pound (with stuffing).
- Every 45 minutes, remove the turkey from oven and baste with the drippings and then return to the oven and allow to continue cooking. Be sure to close the oven while basting, to keep your oven temperature steady for proper roasting time.
- *At the second basting interval is when I start checking the internal temperature of my turkey with a meat thermometer. **It is also when I evaluate the appearance of the skin, and I may choose to cover the cooking turkey loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil at this point to keep from over-cooking the skin and turkey breast.
- Remove your turkey from the oven when it reaches 155-160°F (68-71°C).
- Carefully transfer the cooked turkey to a cutting board or serving platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil, then save the drippings for gravy if desired. Allow your turkey to rest for approximately half the roasting time (ex. 1 ½ hours resting time for a 3 hour roasting time).
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!