How To Make Thanksgiving Dinner


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Looking for ideas on what to make for Thanksgiving dinner? Here’s everything you need to create a delicious turkey dinner, whether you’re serving 6 people or 16!

Turkey dinner seems stressful, but with some planning, it’s not difficult. While making turkey dinner, your best friends are planning and timing. We are here to help with the planning, and show you how to time your turkey dinner so it comes out perfectly every time.

A turkey carved on a plate with cranberries and gravy

Turkey Dinner Ideas – Planning

Use this printable Thanksgiving Planner to write it all down. This helps make sure that all dishes are accounted for and none forgotten to be served! (yes, it has happened to me!). Write down the timing to help make the day go as smoothly and easily as possible.

The first step to planning the turkey dinner is determining how many guests you’ll have, so you can decide which menu to make or do any shopping. We have included the right number of servings with this Thanksgiving dinner menu, but here’s a printable servings chart you can also reference.

You’ll need a different amount of turkey dinner plates, cutlery, a different sized turkey, and more ingredients as your guest list grows.

Next, I like to sit down and brainstorm some decor ideas for the house and the dinner table. If I am in a rush, I always keep an eye out for a Thanksgiving dinner kit like these ones on Amazon or at my local store. They include cutlery, napkins, plates, and sometimes decorations to make this part of the dinner super simple. Plus, easy cleanup!

Here are even more tips on planning the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

Some of the things I always include on my shopping list:

  • Dinner plates
  • Candles
  • Napkins
  • Napkin holders
  • Cutlery
  • Dessert plates
  • A centerpiece (here are some fun homemade Thanksgiving centerpieces)
  • Toys or treats for the kids (it helps to keep them busy!)

To create a mood (and memories) during Thanksgiving dinner, remember to play some soft music, light some candles or string lights, and keep everyone chatting. I like to make a specialty cocktail for my guests – whether it’s eggnog, mulled wine, party punch, or a simple pitcher of fresh mojitos.

How To Make Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner Grocery List

Next, it’s time to create a grocery list for the ingredients we need to make the perfect turkey dinner. Kidding, we have already done that part for you!

I aim to do my Thanksgiving dinner shopping 3 days before the big day, so I can ensure the ingredients are fresh but it also gives me time to brine the turkey (if I am brining it), premake the pumpkin pie, or do any prep work I can to make the big moment a little less stressful. You may need to get the turkey in advance if it needs more time to defrost (check out how long to thaw a turkey here)!

Here is the Thanksgiving Dinner Menu:

You can print out this Thanksgiving Dinner Menu List to refer to how many of each recipe to make for your dinner. This list shows how many servings one recipe makes, and then the number of recipes to make based on the number of servings that you need. For the turkey and ham, we’ve listed the size of turkey recommended. The grocery lists include groceries for the number of recipes listed in the table. If you’d like to add more servings or an extra pie, remember to update your grocery list!

A table with a list of recipes and their serving sizes to prepare a thanksgiving dinner.

These grocery lists contain everything you need in order to create this menu for 6, 10, or 16 people. If you’re serving 10 or 16, you may want to do both a turkey and a ham, and two or three pies. We love doing pecan pie and pumpkin pie if there is a large crowd.

Printable grocery lists:

Tip: As you go over the grocery list, remember to double check any dietary restrictions from your guests. If someone is vegetarian, it may be a good idea to substitute chicken broth for vegetable in some of the sides, or other substitutions you may have to incorporate.

Let’s Get Prepping

Okay, it’s time to begin getting dinner ready, even if Thanksgiving isn’t for a couple days. The key is in the timing. Anything you can do early, do a day or two before Thanksgiving.

Some of my prep includes:

3-4 days before:

2 days before:

  • Baking the dinner rolls
  • Making the cranberry sauce
  • Decorating the table, if the space allows

1 day before:

  • Making the dessert, pies and whipped cream
  • Brining the turkey
  • Prep work, such as trimming the brussels sprouts and chopping the sweet potatoes
  • Putting out the stuffing bread to dry

Things that should be done on the day:

  • Cooking the sides – You can put the sides in the oven while the turkey rests.
  • The potatoes – don’t prep them in advance or they can oxidize and turn gray.
  • The turkey – should be cooked during Thanksgiving.
  • Gravy – you will whip this up while the turkey rests, using the drippings from the turkey pan.

On Thanksgiving Day

Let’s Talk Thanksgiving Appetizers

Having some appetizers ready for when the guests arrive is the easiest way to avoid impatient guests while you get dinner ready. If you’re stressed, consider asking a guest to bring an appetizer or even a dessert to help.

A meat and cheese plate on a wood board

Some of our favorite make ahead appetizer recipes include:

Let’s Get Cooking

  • The first thing to start cooking is the turkey. A general rule of thumb for an unstuffed turkey is 20 minutes per pound, but you can reference this post about turkey temperatures to ensure you time it correctly, remembering to account for resting time.
  • Once the turkey is in, it’s time to start the Crock Pot mashed potatoes, because those will take the longest.
  • Then, it’s time to start working on the side dishes: cooking the stuffing ingredients, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and brussel sprouts. Don’t toss the stuffing bread cubes with broth until it’s time to put it in the oven. When all the sides are ready to bake, cover them and stick them in the fridge until the turkey comes out.
  • When the turkey is done, tent it with aluminum foil to rest while the sides go in the oven. Use kitchen timers, post it notes, or even phone alarms to ensure everything cooks correctly.
  • While the sides are in, get the gravy thickening on the stovetop, and set out the other sides like cranberry sauce, and dinner rolls (we have definitely forgotten the cranberry sauce before, so keep it close on the day!)
  • Allow the sides to rest for 5-10 minutes while you carve the turkey. Here’s the easiest way to carve a turkey.

Timing Tips For Thanksgiving Dinner

With the right prep, timing will be much easier. Here are some tips for timing your turkey dinner so everything comes out at the same time and to plan out your day on the Thanksgiving Planner:

  • The turkey needs to rest for 30 minutes, and that will be your busiest 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the side dishes. Iif something is done, cover it with aluminum foil to keep it hot.
  • If the turkey is ready too soon, cover it with tin foil and splash it with chicken broth to keep it juicy while it sits.
  • Stuffing the turkey will make it more difficult to time everything correctly. When stuffing is made in the turkey, it must also reach an internal temperature of 165°F. This can cause the breast meat to dry out while the middle comes to temp. You can easily make the stuffing on the side and add some pan drippings for flavor at the end!
  • If you’re serving a warm dessert, put it in the oven while everyone is eating the turkey dinner. Apple pie is usually served warm, but pumpkin pie or pecan pie can be served at room temperature.

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Holly

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Holly is a wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. Her greatest passion is creating in the kitchen and making deliciously comforting recipes for the everyday home cook!

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