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6 Mistakes to Avoid When Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

If you want your Thanksgiving prep to run smoothly, don't do these six things!


Plate surrounded by Thanksgiving foods

1. Starting to cook too late


I have learned over the years that cooking always takes me longer than I anticipate. Many people, myself included, don't accurately anticipate the prep time, especially for a meal with many moving parts, like a Thanksgiving feast. Start earlier than you think you need to! One of the worst things that can happen during Thanksgiving is leaving hangry guests waiting to eat for hours.


2. Cutting the turkey right after it is removed from the oven


Sorry to break it to you, but no one likes dry turkey. To avoid this, let the turkey rest for 20-40 minutes before carving. This will let all the juices redistribute, leaving you with a very flavorful and moist bird. Don't worry, your turkey will still be hot when serving.


Thanksgiving turkey being carved

3. Over or under cooking the turkey


The turkey is the star of the show so don't mess it up! As no one likes a dry turkey, no one likes an overcooked turkey and especially not an undercooked turkey. Serving undercooked turkey also increases the likelihood of giving your guests foodborne illnesses. Don't rely on the pop up timer that comes with many turkeys--a lot of times it won't pop and then you'll end up with a hopelessly overcooked bird. Instead, pull the turkey when the the inner thigh of the bird is at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that the turkey will continue to cook as it cools outside of the oven and the temperature will rise up to the golden number of 165 degrees. Invest in a meat thermometer and you will never have to guess for proper doneness.


4. Getting too ambitious


Especially if this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you may want to try out some fancy new dish to impress your guests. With all of the numerous dishes you'll be making, Thanksgiving is not the time to try something new! Guests expect the Thanksgiving basics and won't be disappointed if they don't receive a fancy, inventive casserole. There's nothing wrong with sticking to what works!


5. Not planning ahead


Thanksgiving is not the time to go to the grocery store the night before to gather ingredients. A week or two before the big day, plan out which dishes you'll make, how you will cook them (oven vs. stove top) and the ingredients in which you will need. Make sure to take your oven and stove space into account when making the plan. If you have a tiny oven, you may not want to make turkey, casserole, pie, biscuits and out-of-bird stuffing. Cozi.com has a great, detailed Thanksgiving Plan-Ahead Schedule that you can reference to help out with preparation.


In addition to planning the meal, make sure you prep your kitchen as well. Start with clean counters and an empty sink and dishwasher. Setting the table ahead of time is also helpful to avoid doing it in the chaos of the cooking.


6. Not thawing your turkey for long enough


If your turkey is frozen, it needs to be taken out of the freezer far in advance. Depending on how much your turkey weighs, thawing will vary so follow these times accordingly for a whole turkey:

  • 4-12 pounds:1-3 days

  • 12-16 pounds: 3-4 days

  • 16-20 pounds: 4-5 days

  • 20-24 pounds: 5-6 days


If you’re willing to put in the extra effort, place the turkey in a leak proof bag and thaw it in cold water and be sure to change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cold water thawing times are as follows:

  • 4-12 pounds: 2-6 hours

  • 12-16 pounds: 6-8 hours

  • 16-20 pounds: 8-10 hours

  • 20-24 pounds: 10-12 hours


Remember this list of do-not-dos and you're on your way to creating a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. Don't be scared to ask for help--a few extra hands can go a long way. Thanksgiving is all about spending time with loved ones, so don't be too hard on yourself if things don't go completely according to plan.

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