Step 1: Write your menu
Select all your recipes that you will be cooking, as well as those that guests might be brining. There are no rules for what to make at Thanksgiving, so time to get creative! If someone else is bringing a dish, are they brining it fully cooked? If they’re cooking at your house, who is buying the ingredients? If you need more inspiration other than family favorites, Fresh Fork has collected hundreds of recipes online for you to peruse: our two Pinterest boards “Thanksgiving Ideas” & “Fall Recipes” are good places to start. We also have a trove of recipes collected here on this site in our Recipe Index, and we have our Thanksgiving Recipe Packet you can download and print. Once you’ve selected your recipes, make Prep Lists.
Prep Lists are the secret to how a chef gets his or her staff to prep and prepare dozens of different meals each day, and then hundreds each of those once service begins. The key to doing this efficiently and economically is by careful planning: List all the dishes that need to be prepared that day and the individual components that are required to make each dish ready. For example, if a menu included the following items, we can create a prep list for each ingredient:
- Chicken confit – cut whole chicken into pieces, season, prepare cooking fat, cook
- Pan fried potatoes – wash potatoes, cut/chop, soak in salt water, soft-boil, pan fry
- Braised greens – wash greens, sauté/braise
- Pan-seared halibut – cut fresh fish, season, sear
- Fresh salad – wash and dry salad greens, dress greens and toss, serve
By looking at the list above, we realize we can do a few things in advance to minimize the amount of work done while not compromising quality. Here is a list of things we may do over three days:
- Day 1: cut and season chicken, wash and cut potatoes
- Day 2: fully cook the chicken, boil the potatoes, wash and braise the greens, pan fry the potatoes
- Day 3: wash, dry, and dress the salad greens; reheat the chicken confit, potatoes, and greens in convection oven; sear off the halibut.
Following this method, the final meal can be prepared in about 30 minutes on Day 3 without effecting quality. All restaurants follow a similar preparation technique.
Step two: Scope out the available cooking surfaces and ovens.
Do you have counter prep space and adequate oven space to make everything you’re planning? If not, adjust your menu. One important thing to keep in mind is that the turkey can come out of the oven hours before dinner and be wrapped tightly in foil. It will keep warm for a very long time and before carving, it can be re-warmed quickly in the oven. This makes the oven available for the last few hours before dinner for casseroles, pies, or anything else that needs to be cooked. It’s also important to check in with your guests if they are bringing anything— how long does it need to be reheated and in the oven? On the stove-top?
Step three: Determine what part of each recipe can be done in advance.
Review your recipes to determine what parts of each dish/whole dish can be done ahead of time (part of your Prep Lists!) Examples:
- Anything that can be made way ahead (soups, etc.) and frozen should be done ASAP. Not only to get it off the to-do list, but to save room in the fridge.
- Prepare the cauliflower by removing a “florets” from the stalk and bagging.
- Chop, dice and measure all the ingredients for the stuffing.
- Peel the potatoes and store in water.
- Roasting the sweet potatoes.
Step four: Do you have the cooking tools, cooking dishes and serving platters you need?
Look at your inventory of cooking tools and vessels. Do you have an appropriate pan or the proper tool to do each job? Rather than Googling what Home Goods stores are open on the big day, plan ahead and adjust your menu or borrow from a friend.
Step five: Who will help you?
If you will need extra hands in the kitchen, particularly at serving time, make sure you discuss this with your “team” in advance. Provide them with clear directions and make sure that each helper has a specific place to work. Make sure they know when to start their part and when to take things to the table. Do not hesitate to assume the role of the Executive Chef! Post instructions with the assigned person’s name next to each task on a space on the wall that is easy to see. Part of helping is being on time. Make sure that your guests know when to arrive and when dinner will be served.