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8 things no one tells you about hosting Thanksgiving (that they really should)

Advice for hosting Thanksgiving dinner without the stress

Family eating Thanksgiving dinner.

So, you’re hosting your very first Thanksgiving dinner? It’s a rite of passage that’s bound to happen for most of us, and as the most food-focused holiday of them all, it’s no small task. You’ll have side dishes to prepare, desserts to bake, table-setting ideas to sort through, and (of course) the turkey to cook!

From finding the most mouth-watering pumpkin pie recipe to setting a gorgeous table, you’ll have so many things on your to-do list that it’s easy to trip up, especially if it’s your first time. But we’re here to help you make your holiday a smashing success and save you some worry. 

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Hosting Thanksgiving can be overwhelming, but it can be way less stressful if you avoid these rookie mistakes.

sparkly Thanksgiving tables cape
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Half the battle is time management and delegating

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving morning to start cooking

Thanksgiving Day will be hectic enough. You don’t need to add all the cooking that day to your list of tasks. The basic rule should be that if it can be done ahead of time, without sacrificing taste or quality, then it should be done ahead of time. 

  • Salads: Put together your tossed salad with all the chopped-up veggies, cheese, olives, etc. (minus the dressing), then cover it with foil or plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to add dressing and serve. 
  • Desserts: If you’re making pies or other desserts, almost all of them can be baked the day before. You can always heat up your apple pie in a warm oven before dessert time, making it “a la mode” ready! 
  • Sweet potatoes: Making candied sweet potatoes? Do all the prep work the day before Thanksgiving and simply pop the prepared casserole into the oven when your guests arrive. 

Don’t try to do it all

People want to help. Let them. If desserts aren’t your forte, dole them out to your guests. Not great at selecting wines to pair with turkey? Leave that to your wine-loving friend. No one ever said that the host has to do every single thing. 

Keep a list of what people are making/bringing to minimize duplication and don’t be afraid to request the things you aren’t comfortable making yourself. Most people are more than happy to help out.

Set your table ahead of time … way ahead of time

You can easily set your table several days before Thanksgiving and take away the stress of having to rush and do it in the final moments before your guests arrive. Not only will it give you time to create an attractive and festive table setting worthy of a Pinterest post, but it will also give you ample time to fill in the holes for the things you don’t have on hand. Don’t have enough wine glasses for every guest? Borrow some from a friend or pick up a box to keep for entertaining. Need a few more cloth napkins? You’ll have a few days to get some. Can’t locate a platter large enough to fit your turkey? Borrow one from someone who won’t be hosting. 

Clean the house days in advance

Similar to setting the table in advance, cleaning your home prior to preparing for the holiday party will save you a ton of stress and hassle. The last thing you want is to find yourself scrambling for more toilet paper in the guest bathroom, washing guest linens, or facing a pile of dirty dishes right before you begin your Thanksgiving dinner. Get your house chores out of the way a few days before the festivities.

What to clean:

  • Sweep, vacuum, and mop all floors
  • Bust the dust
  • Tackle the laundry
  • Prep the guest bedroom
  • Clean all bathrooms
  • Clear the sink of any dirty dishes
  • Take out the trash (the night before is the best time)
  • Prepare the pantry and refrigerator

While you might have to spot-clean the bathroom and kitchen the day before, you can at least rest assured that wads of dust or pet fur, bags of smelly trash, and floors that need a good sweeping won’t be troubling you.

You probably need to factor in football

Whether you’re a big football fan yourself or don’t know the difference between a touchdown and a home run, chances are some of your guests will be as interested in watching football as they are in eating turkey. Decide when you are going to serve dinner and designate an hour as a football-free zone. Afterward, expect one or more guests to retire in front of the sofa to watch the big games (and likely doze off in turkey-stuffed bliss).

turkey in a large dish for thanksgiving dinner
Getty Images

Let’s talk turkey

A frozen turkey takes days to defrost

If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, know that it takes a long time to defrost… a really long time. Depending on the size of the turkey, it can take three, four, or more days in your refrigerator. The basic rule of thumb is 24 hours for every five pounds of your turkey, and in most cases, it ends up taking even longer than that. Be aware that you should never defrost a turkey on the countertop (it gives bacteria a chance to grow and could give you and your guests food poisoning). Turkey needs to defrost slowly in your refrigerator.

If you’re getting close to Turkey Day and your turkey still feels a bit frozen, you can speed the process up a bit by placing the turkey in a cold water bath. Be aware that you’ll need to change the water about every 30 minutes, and it will still take many more hours to defrost.

You need to wash the turkey — inside and out

When you’re ready to season your turkey and get it into the pan, remember that it needs to be rinsed, both outside and inside. More than one turkey novice has likely put the bird into the oven without removing the packaged gizzards stuffed inside the body cavity. Once everything has been rinsed off, you’ll want to pat the turkey dry, again inside and out, with some paper towels before seasoning.

You shouldn’t carve your turkey right away

Once your turkey comes out of the oven, do not carve it right away. For a super tender, juicy bird, the turkey will need to rest, tented in foil, for at least 20 minutes or more. Only after the turkey has had a chance to rest from being in the oven will it be time to start the carving. If carving makes you a bit nervous, ask for a volunteer. Someone is always ready to help. 

Hosting your first Thanksgiving with friends and family can be a bit scary, but by avoiding a few pitfalls (and taking help when it’s offered), your holiday will go off seamlessly. 

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Kim Renta
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kim has written for Bloomingdales, Movado, and various e-commerce wine sites. When she's not writing about wine and…
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