Tips for Hosting a Successful and Fun Thanksgiving

Contributed by Katie Johnstonbaugh, OWB Blogger of the Month

thanksgiving turkey

Can you believe Thanksgiving is right around the corner?

We usually host at our house.  There is quite a huge difference between how things go now compared to my very first attempt at Thanksgiving cooking and hosting the first time.

In Thanksgiving past, I’ve cooked my turkey, only to realize those nasty giblet bits are still packed inside with a plastic gravy bag four hours later.  I’ve burned my forearms taking casseroles out of the oven and I’ve served some pasty and lumpy mashed potatoes.  I’ve boiled over lumpy gravy on the stove element which set off the smoke alarm shortly before my guests were to arrive and we had to open the windows causing the house to be frigid when everyone walked in. That experience almost made me give up on ever hosting again.

Yes, I’ve learned from the best – trial and error.

I can now say that we’ve pretty much got a good system going at our house, thanks in part, to my wonderfully organized husband, with whom I would never get it all done.  Here are some tips I’ve learned to have a smoothly running Thanksgiving.

*Set your table(s) days before or the day before.  Iron or dryer “fluff” your tablecloths, lay out dishes and decorations and silverware, napkins and glassware/stemware.  Or make it easy, if you’re serving a crowd and set things up to serve buffet style at the end of the counter.

*Make sure you start thawing your turkey at the proper time. The first Thanksgiving, I had no idea it took days to thaw my turkey.  Put your turkey in the refrigerator at the correct time to thaw according to the poundage it is.  We usually get a big  bird and end up thawing it on the Monday before Thanksgiving.  Now that we use the dry brine technique, we do it even earlier.

*It’s perfectly fine to make some dishes ahead of time.  Write out your menu on one sheet and then list all the ingredients on another for your grocery shopping list.  Look at your menu and decide what can be made ahead of time.  We usually do our Good as Dessert Sweet Potatoes, the stuffing, and our pies ahead of time.  They are perfect dishes to pull out and let come to room temperature and then pop in the oven at the correct time the day of Thanksgiving.

*Assign your family dishes to cook. This is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving. Each one of my kids and my husband has their favorite dishes that they cook every year. We all get into the kitchen and make a huge mess that morning (which cleans up easily) and makes everyone a part of the final meal.  From early on, my kids were pretty proud to be able to say that they made this or that and in the process, just imagine….my kids learned to cook and I didn’t have to make twelve dishes myself!

*Write down each dish and how long it needs to cook. Then make another list, that you will organize when things will go into the oven and their cooking times.  The biggest challenge by far on Thanksgiving is how to serve all those dishes piping hot and have them go in and out of the oven and finish at the same time.  Here is an example of ours.  This would be for a 7 PM. Dinner:


10 a.m. Start Mulled Cider in the Crockpot
3:30 pm. –Turkey
4:00 Make Fresh cranberry relish
Make whipped cream
5:00 bring premade dishes to room temperature
5:30 peel potatoes and boil
5:30 peel and dress vegetables for Roasted Root Vegetables
6:15 Put in Bacon Mushroom Walnut Stuffing
6:15 Start Green Beans Almondine on stovetop
6:15 Put in Poblano Spoonbread
6:15 Put in Good as Dessert Sweet Potatoes
6:15 Put Roasted Root Vegetables in oven
6:30 Start Brussels Sprouts on stovetop
6:30 Remove turkey to rest – gather drippings for gravy

6:30 Put in plain stuffing
6:30 Put in Green Bean Casserole
6:40 Put in Sweet Potato Biscuits
6:45 Make Gravy on stovetop
6:45 Remove potatoes and drain to mash
6:45 Toss salad and dress

successful thanksgiving

*Above all else – remember to have fun. Thanksgiving is about being grateful. It’s about getting together with family and friends and talking and laughing and playing games and eating some magnificent food.  One thing we do is put out pretty paper plates we buy along with plastic forks and napkins.  Once the main meal is cleaned up, this allows for no more dishes so we can go relax with our family and friends. It also serves to have dessert available to any late comers who may drop in that night when we’re exhausted from the morning of cooking.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are truly blessed to be around those you love this year.





Katie JohnstonbergBlogger of the month Katie Johnstonbaugh writes about food at her blog, Dishin & Dishes. Katie works full time in the Putnam City School District and is a wife, mother, grandmother and author. 

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  1. Makes so much sense to start things ahead of time! I also love the idea of delegating some of the duties, Katie! Last year I did a post on dinner entertainment that keeps everybody included called “Thanksgiving Table Talk” – here’s the link in case anybody wants to plan ahead to include it in this year’s festivities!
    Shel Harrington recently posted…10 Ways Couples Can Put the THANKS Back in ThanksgivingMy Profile

  2. Debbie says:

    Super post and organization. For those who may want to, you can prepare those mashed potatoes ahead, refrigerate and just reheat and whisk. I have also done them in the slow cooker which works well. I include the brussel sprous with the roasted veggies which also works well. Best wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving. Again, a really nice and helpful post. Thanks for contributing.
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