Your First Thanksgiving - 20 Mistakes Not To Make
With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, that sound you hear is the clatter of pie tins and baking dishes being prepped for the year’s most delicious day.
While all of us have our own history with Thanksgiving - from favorite dishes to family football games - the number of brave souls who have attempted to host their very own Thanksgiving is slightly less.
That may be because Grandma and Grandpa always take the honor. It may be because it’s easier to split time between your family and your partner’s family than host at home.
But as we age, and as we go through the sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating steps of becoming an adult, there’s an ever-higher chance that the Thanksgiving hosting responsibilities will become ours.
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From finding yourself living on your own for the first time to ascending to the role of Grandperson, there are a good number of people who will be hosting their very first Thanksgiving this year.
Having lived through a fair number of Thanksgiving successes and our share of flops, we’re taking a moment today to pass along our best tips on mistakes not to make. And because Thanksgiving Day is as much about the meal as it is about the gathering, we’ve split it into two parts.
10 Thanksgiving Meal Mistakes To Avoid
The first part of hosting a successful Thanksgiving Day meal is preparing the meal itself. Perhaps you’ve dallied in some dishes in your day, but taking on the whole meal (or even a majority of it) is an entirely different beast.
To start you off on the right track, here are 10 common mistakes we’ve all made during our Thanksgiving Day meal prep - along with some tips on how to avoid them.
Not Getting Enough Turkey - Short of completely undercooking the turkey, the cardinal Thanksgiving sin may be coming up short with not enough turkey (both white and dark meat) to go around. This can be solved by some basic math beforehand. For ample turkey (and generous leftovers), go for 1½ pounds per person, no matter how big the turkey. Cooking for six people? That’s a nine-pound bird. Cooking for 12? Clear space in the oven for an 18-pounder.
As for cooking the perfect turkey in the oven, don’t play around with guesses. Grab a meat thermometer and check for 180°F in the thigh and 170°F in the breast.
Not Giving Your Turkey Enough Time To Thaw - If your turkey is still frozen Thanksgiving Day morning, not giving it enough time to cook could leave you with an undercooked bird. To play it safe, let it thaw completely. In the fridge, a turkey usually takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds. If you find that it’s still frozen, The Kitchn has a hack for you but it’ll require you to simplify your seasoning plans.
And for our final note on thawed versus frozen: it is not okay to let your turkey thaw by leaving it out at room temperature (unless your goal is to throw an early Thanksgiving Day celebration for the bacteria in your kitchen).
Sticking Stuffing Inside The Turkey - Many of us have this wild idea that the stuffing we eat for Thanksgiving is stuffed at some point in the turkey. Doing that is a double no-no. It can slow the time it takes to actually cook your turkey (even risking an overcooked bird) while also never fully cooking the stuffing itself. You’re better off referring to this dish by its other name - dressing - and preparing it in a casserole dish instead.
Seasoning Just The Turkey’s Outside - When you imagine a golden-brown turkey popping out of your oven to the ooh’s and aah’s of your guests, remembering to season the outside of the bird is a cinch. However, it’s the inside that’s just as important. For the turkey’s outside, add the butter, pepper, and salt you normally throw on a chicken. Then add seasonings and aromatics to the inside - think thyme, halved lemons, a quartered onion, garlic, and other herbs - to help flavor the meat.
Making A Soggy Pumpkin Pie - Another dish that’s as popular for Thanksgiving as it is easy to mess up: a pumpkin pie. Whether it’s a soggy crust or a watery filling, this is a Thanksgiving mistake we’d prefer you didn’t make. If you’re making the dough from scratch, the main advice to avoid a soggy pumpkin pie is to blind bake it (bake it in the oven beforehand) before you drop in the filling.
Using a premade crust and it's still soggy? The oven may not have been hot enough, a common problem on Thanksgiving when you are opening and closing the oven door so often.
Burning A Pie’s Crust - Have your pie crusts been coming out more brown than golden-brown? While it may seem like you’ve gone too far in the opposite direction from our soggy pies, the truth is a little more labor intensive. Sometimes the filling takes a bit more time to cook completely than the crust. When you peek at your pie and see the crust is close to done, do your best to cover the edges of the crust with some angled aluminum foil strips.
Trying Too Many New Recipes - For all of the traditional Thanksgiving tastes we’ve come to expect, the temptation of a twist on a classic is hard to resist. While a test run or two in the weeks coming up to Thanksgiving is totally fine - and even advisable - don’t break in your new recipe on the day of. Given how many other variables you’ll be dealing with as you cook and host, troubleshooting a new recipe (you’ll want to learn how to candy pecans beforehand!) on Thanksgiving is not worth the trouble.
Obsessing Over The Oven - The oven can seem like the star of the show on Thanksgiving Day. You’ve created your schedule. Your guests are asking for 15-minute slots to heat up their dishes. A mistake for a first-time Thanksgiving Day host? Getting oven tunnel vision. Don’t forget that not only are there other ways to cook, non-cooked dishes exist, too. Salad, anyone?
Not Prepping - Thanksgiving Day is already going to be a cooking marathon, especially if it’s your first time hosting. Just remember as you are planning out your cooking schedule that not every dish needs to be made the day of - casseroles, gravies, and most desserts can be made the day before. For ones like pie that take at least two hours of cooling time, it’s even advisable to do them ahead of time. Then just warm them up for 15-20 minutes during the meal, and you’ll be ready to go.
- Not Making A List (Or Checking It Twice) - While more and more stores are open on Thanksgiving Day, that’s not something you should resort to. Save yourself the day-of stress and make a list of the ingredients you need to buy. Then before you go, cross-check that the ingredients you supposedly have in your home are both fresh (think less than six month old) and sufficient (three apples does not a pie make).
10 Thanksgiving Day Gathering Missteps To Avoid
Which came first: the Thanksgiving Day meal or the Thanksgiving Day gathering? While we’ll leave the more complicated history of Thanksgiving for another time, the question is meant to bring up the following point:
Why go through the trouble to cook all this food if you can’t create a nice moment for your friends and family?
We’re looking past the stereotypes of drunk uncles to give you a helpful list of 10 mistakes to avoid while hosting Thanksgiving Day.
Not Giving Folks Enough Time To Plan - Thanksgiving Day is an in-demand day and part of one of the busiest travel times of the year… so if you’d like to host them for Thanksgiving Day, let them know well in advance. For guests in your area, a month’s notice is nice. For guests traveling from out of town? At least two months.
Inviting Too Many People - We’ll start this with a caveat: if you’ve found out last-minute that someone’s got no place to be for Thanksgiving Day, yes, by all means invite them. We’re speaking in the more general sense here of being realistic about your resources (can you actually cook enough food for the people you’ve invited) and the size of your space (do people have the space to cut the pieces of turkey you’ve served them?). If you’ve got space for six people besides yourself, then just invite six.
Nothing For The Guests To Do - While Thanksgiving: The Meal may be the main Thanksgiving Day activity, you as the host should keep in mind that people are going to mill about and talk before and after. Depending on the mix you’ve invited, have something for them to do, whether it’s leaving the game on the TV or having all-ages games for kids and adults to play.
Messing Up The Timing - Thanksgiving tends to be one of those rare meals where any time of day sounds right. A 2pm Thanksgiving? Great. An 8pm Thanksgiving? Sign me up. Since it ends up being such a feast, your guests are going to time their day’s snacking and eating to your schedule, so if you say the meal starts at 5pm, start it at 5pm.
Running Out Of Plates - What is an especially common situation for younger first-time Thanksgiving hosts is not having enough plates to make it through the evening. While people are fine to have their savories and sides running together, having a fresh, gravy-free plate for dessert is a welcome touch. If you think you’ll run low, ask a guest to bring a few - or get some biodegradable disposable plates as a back-up.
Not Wanting To Host - Like a good party, Thanksgiving needs a leader. Whether it’s someone offering guests drinks or kickstarting the sharing of what they’re thankful for, a good host helps the guests feel welcome. With the demands in the kitchen, managing all that can be difficult. If you think that might be the case, why not consider having a co-host to share some of the responsibilities?
DI(A)Y - Many first-time Thanksgiving hosts may feel the need to DI(A)Y - Do It All Yourself, from cooking all the dishes to handling all the hosting tasks. There’s no need to complicate the day. If your guests offer to bring a dish, let them. If they ask if they can help clean up, let them. By hosting, you’re already taking on the lion’s share of work - it’s okay if the pride chips in.
Hogging All The Leftovers - This is a mistake that runs the line between hosting and cooking. If you’ve ended up making enough food that people can take home, help seal the deal on a fantastic celebration and help them package up some of their favorite bites.
Not Asking About Allergies - Part of the fun of hosting Thanksgiving is knowing that we get to do it our way. Want to smoke the turkey? Try turducken? Skip turkey altogether? Those are adventures you get to embark upon. What you shouldn’t forget about is asking your guests ahead of time about their allergies or intolerances. Besides, nearly every dish can be made with substitutes!
- Not Taking The Time To Enjoy - Thanksgiving Day is going to come at you fast. With demands in the kitchen and guests to chat with, you’ll be doing the dishes before you know it. The fun of the moment goes beyond any single dish, though. It’s about the people you’ve gathered together. So make the most of it, put off doing the dishes and cleaning the table, and enjoy the day that you made possible.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve more than a glass of eggnog to celebrate the end of one holiday and the start of the next. You deserve the Adulting IRLA Pack, a set of coins designed to celebrate all our real-life adult achievements, including paying your bills, filing your taxes, and even signing a mortgage on a home.
Plus, there’s also ‘Cook all your meals for one week’ which, if you have enough Thanksgiving leftovers, you may have already earned!
Be sure to let us know below if there are any other Turkey Day missteps or warnings you’d give to first-timers (because even us Thanksgiving Day meal veterans could use the help!).