This article is part of our 2019 Holiday Entertaining Series sponsored by Roots Catering

Thanksgiving gatherings are enough of a minefield without complications from the turkey and sides. There are sibling rivalries, football rivalries, political rivalries, and usually at least one annoying relative to contend with. Plus, even with potluck help from the guests, there are a LOT of food items to warm up, keep warm, keep cold and orchestrate to the table all at the same time, with the turkey, who never fully cooperates.

We reached out to a few folks who are hosting experts, or who feed a lot of people for a living, to get some tips on surviving the Thanksgiving meal.

Stephen Schmitt, WP Kitchen + Bar
Thanksgiving is a big part of any chef’s life, and my wife (who is a certified sommelier) and I love hosting. 

Our home kitchen is very small so cooking the turkey on the Big Green Egg helps free up much needed oven space inside, and it provides an unmatched flavor from the natural lump charcoal. 

For the rest of the meal, we usually serve a salad, this year we’re doing pomegranate, roasted squash, pistachios, and feta. A small number of sides, roasted root vegetables, brussels sprouts, my mother in-law’s cornbread dressing (a Mississippi family tradition), cranberry sauce, gravy, and for dessert my wife will always make chocolate pecan pie, and this year we’re having pumpkin pie as well, both of which do incredibly well with crème-fraiche whipped cream. 

Turkey Prep Tips

  • Pull the turkey of the refrigerator at least 3 hours before you plan to cook it. Having the turkey almost room temperature helps the turkey cook evenly. It’s not an issue if it gets too warm, your just going to throw it in an oven anyway.
  • Injection Brining is the hands down best way to brine poultry, no need for complicated brines of vegetables, wine, aromatics. Save your money. Create a Brine with Salt and water, whisk to dissolve and inject in breast, legs, and thigh meat. There are several online resources to look at for ratios but a 5% salt to water by weight is a good starting point.
  • Leave the Turkey uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before you plan to use. Helping the skin dry out will make it nice and crispy when baking. Another reason why injection brining is better than traditional brining
  • Don’t truss the turkey. Save a step by letting the legs of the bird lie naturally. Trussing constricts muscles so that they do not cook evenly, and usually make the leg parts take longer, leading to dry breast meat.

Wine Tips
What we drink is almost as important as what we’re cooking. As I said my wife who is a CS gets particularly excited about the pairings and like to plan something to have before, during, and after dinner. Beaujolais, is a great wine to have as the Nouveau release is often timed with Thanksgiving, although Beajolais Cru makes for an even better wine to have with the main meal. This year we’re doing Far Niente chardonnay and cocktails for before dinner, Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir from Patagonia, and 10-year Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port for Dessert. 

Sarah Sofia Knepp | Wedding & Event Planner | Sarah Sofia Productions

Whether you’re hosting a Friendsgiving with your friends or Thanksgiving with your family making it festive and memorable doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Choose a few things you want to do yourself, set the menu, and then let others participate by bringing a dish, dessert, activity for the kids, or small décor elements.

  • Use flowers, vegtables and fruits that are in season to create your own floral table runner centerpiece.
  • Add a personal touch by making these easy DIY pumpkin place cards for your guests.  
  • Serve a signature cocktail and mocktail like this Sparkling Apple Cider Rosemary Cocktail, which is a festive alternative to beer and wine.
  • Instead of serving your guests family style for desert, have a desert bar, which allows guest to mix and mingle and devour dessert at their leisure.
  • Don’t forget the kids table! You can easily add craft paper with turkey or give thanks stencils and whimsical centerpiece to make it festive.
  • Get more details of this colorful and chic Thanksgiving and kids Thanksgiving ideas, here and here from Sarah Sofia.

Craig Barbour of Roots Catering + Cafe

  1. Start with the menu. – Choose dishes you can make ahead of time – think casseroles, charcuterie boards for appetizers, semi-homemade desserts, etc. – Don’t forget “one pot wonders”, too! While they might not be traditional for Thanksgiving, they make your life so much easier. 
  2. Make a timeline of things to do when.  – Getting organized is essential when entertaining, especially with a feast as intricate as Thanksgiving can be. – The timing is most important day-of – do as much as you can before guests arrive and plan to simply heat through or finish off items right before dinner if possible. 
  3. Get ahead. – Go to the store ASAP – but don’t leave without your grocery list that you’ve checked at least twice. – I start about 2 days out – i.e. make the pie crusts and stick them in the fridge, go ahead and tear the bread for the stuffing, start doctoring your turkey at least 24 hours in advance, etc. The more you can get ahead, the better. 
  4. Delegate. – Don’t be afraid to delegate! Worried about cooking something? See if you can pass it off to someone else. – And if you can’t get rid of that one (or two) dish(es), delegating other things will at least free up time to focus on the big items. 
  5. Go easy on beverages. – Remember everyone will more than likely bring their own wine or beer or liquor preference so don’t stress. – Cover your bases with non-alcoholic offerings but leave the alcoholic offerings up to your guests. 

Chanel Murphy, Founder and Executive Director, My Fabulous Food

  • As the host, it’s crucial to make sure you’re not running around for last minute items.  Plan your menu at least a week before Thanksgiving and review recipes for ingredients.  This allows you to create a grocery list and possibly avoid crowds if you purchase items in advance.
  • Adults love a festive drink during the holidays, but as the host, you do not have time to make individualized cocktails.  Instead, make a signature punch and allow guests to serve themselves.  You can garnish the punch with edible flowers and/or fruit to dress it up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This series is brought to you by Roots Catering, which provides the community with locally-sourced, handcrafted catering for any event. Led by Executive Chef Craig Barbour, who with his experienced crew can specialize any menu for any occasion. From weddings, to social gathering and corporate events to everything in between, the Roots Catering team goes above and beyond to create and execute an unforgettable experience.