This post has been edited from the original, which was published on October 27, 2011.

Can you believe what today is?  It is the beginning of the countdown!!  Thanksgiving is 4 weeks from today!  No need to panic, friends.  We’re going to have some fun over the next month!  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I am going BIG this year! I love the traditions, the food, the Macy’s parade (is there going to be a parade??) on television while I am making my pies, the football games (fortunately football never takes a holiday!) Plus this is my first Thanksgiving in my new house and ALL the kiddos will be home.  YAY!

I love hearing everyone share why he or she is grateful. I have cooked every Thanksgiving for the last 26 years, as well as over 150 Thanksgiving-themed cooking classes. I have made lots of mistakes and in the process learned a thing or two about how to execute and enjoy a very happy Thanksgiving. The key is being organized. Every Thursday from today until the big day, I will share my best tips, strategies and a few good recipes to set you up for a successful holiday.  

I have an updated version of my Thanksgiving ebook. The PDF contains ALL my Thanksgiving recipes, tips and tricks, in one document!  You will have everything you need to plan and execute your best Thanksgiving ever. It will be the best $15 you have ever spent!  Also, if you take my online cooking classes, the November recipes are exclusive to our cooking class and will not be in the ebook.  The online class has been taped and will be available very soon – plenty of time for you to decide what you might include on your menu!

Let’s get started!

4 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Guest list Now is a good time to invite family and friends for the holiday, even if they are regulars. I send an email out to all our guests with the schedule for the day, especially when we will sit down for dinner. We live on the West Coast, which means the second football game is over at 4:00 pm. Anyone that wants to come for the earlier game is welcome to do so. There’s coffeecake, fruit and coffee in the morning. A mugful of soup and cornbread around noon; hors d’oeuvres at 3:00 pm and dinner is at 4:00 pm or whenever the game is over. You know that I pray for no overtime!
  • Plan your menu Planning the Thanksgiving menu requires a bit of strategy and balance. Make sure you have a balance of cooked and raw food (one thing I have learned is no matter how big your kitchen or how many ovens you have, it’s never enough on Thanksgiving, so don’t pick 15 recipes that require an oven); protein, starches and vegetables (I find most Thanksgiving menus to be too starchy;) and ingredients (make sure not every recipe has dried fruit and nuts in it.) Know what dishes need an oven and when because if you’re making turkey and you have one oven, you won’t be baking too much in the hours before dinner.

Also, know your audience. I love trying new recipes, but my family looks forward to the same traditional standbys every year. There was almost a revolution when I took Breaded Cauliflower off the menu in 2007 ( I now serve it as an hors d’oeuvre.) So I compromise by making the classics (traditional roast turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie), but I also try out a new salad or vegetable side dish every year.

Also, just because you’re cooking overtime for Thanksgiving dinner, doesn’t mean your household won’t be needing dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of. Instead of ordering takeout pizza on Wednesday night, make and freeze a casserole in the weeks ahead or plan for your easiest 20-minute meal. The same goes for Thanksgiving day, especially if you have young children in the house. You might be able to save your appetite and get by on a piece of fruit for the day, but your four-year-old cannot. I always make a pot of butternut squash soup the day before and a pan of cornbread to be served around noon to tide anyone over until the big meal.

So funny to look back on my menu from 2010 with notes I wrote the next day! I keep all these documents on my computer.
Photocopy your recipes from books and magazines I remember my first Thanksgiving with a stack of cookbooks and magazines taking up valuable counter space and my wasting so much time looking up each recipe multiple times. Ugh! Put your photocopied recipes in sheet protectors and create a dedicated Thanksgiving or holiday binder organized by category. This just might be the most useful tip I give you.
Here’s what I am probably making this year and we’ll probably only be 10-12 people.  BUT I just want you to know that in the last few years, I have allowed my guests to bring food instead of doing every single thing myself.  That’s not what this holiday is about.  It’s about feeling grateful for what the earth provides us and enjoying time together.  It’s not about whether or not every single morsel of food is homemade or perfect-looking or that I will somehow win the Thanksgiving Gold Medal (never won it BTW.)  Silly.  But if you let your guests bring food, please be specific as to what you need so you don’t end up with 8 pumpkin pies!
Coffeecake (recipe in the ebook), fruit, coffee and tea
Hors D’oeuvres:
Thanksgiving Cheeseboard + 1 of the following:
Breaded Cauliflower with flaky salt
Spatchcocked Roast Turkey with Gravy (the ONLY way I will ever make a turkey)
Stovetop Brussels Sprouts (from my cookbook)
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Freshly Whipped Cream
Click here for loads of Thanksgiving recipe ideas!

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  1. Thank you, Pamela! This is just what I needed to read through this morning to not only start thinking on my menu, but I love your share about dinner the night before and breakfast/lunch on Thanksgiving! My daughter became a vegetarian last year and Thanksgiving is one of her fav holidays…pressure is on to have a few yummy options for her (yep, I’m a lil’ stressed).

    • No need to be stressed! Planning ahead and writing it all down will get you organized so you feel confident. 🙂

  2. Thank you for this post and for upcoming Thanksgiving posts. You have definitely pushed me to get organized, as I don’t typically host Thanksgiving (but I am this year!). Can I ask you a gravy question? My husband plans to grill a bone-in turkey breast since there will be only a handful of turkey eaters. This means that I’ll lose out on pan drippings. How critical are the drippings for gravy? Do you have a recipe for make ahead gravy that does not include drippings? Many thanks!

    • The drippings will enrich the flavor of your gravy, so I do think they are important. I know Williams Sonoma sells a gravy base. I haven’t tried it, but it may be worth trying.

      • Thank you! I think you’re right. I might roast a back-up bone-in turkey breast for the drippings, for leftovers and for any potential grilling emergencies that might arise 🙂

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