You can save yourself a lot of stress on Thanksgiving Day by planning your Thanksgiving dinner in advance with this printable Thanksgiving planning worksheet.
I am a planner. I am hosting Thanksgiving again this year, and I like to have a thorough plan of what I need to do, and when, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
This is the exact plan I followed last year, and it turned out well enough that everyone wants to come back again this year. I even created a printable planning worksheet to help organize the planning process.
To get the planning worksheet, enter your email at the bottom of this post so I can send it to you.
1-2 weeks in advance
Buy your turkey. Stores are usually running specials on frozen turkeys during this time. If you are planning to cook a fresh turkey, you will want to order it at least 2 weeks in advance.
How big of a turkey do you need? I like the recommendation of estimating 1 to 1.5 pounds per person being served. This accounts for the bones and also having leftovers. I love having lots of leftovers. Hello turkey grilled cheese sandwiches!
Decide what dishes you want to include as part of your meal. Gather your recipes for the dishes you plan to prepare yourself. Don’t forget to ask family members to bring over great dishes too.
My dinner plan includes:
- Potato casserole
- Green bean casserole
- Cranberry sauce
- Apple pie
- Pumpkin pie
1 week in advance
Determine when you need to start defrosting your frozen turkey. The best way to defrost your turkey is in the refrigerator over several days.
Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey, according to the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service. Plus you can keep a fully defrosted turkey in the refrigerator safely for up to 2 days.
I am a nutty math person, so I have to calculate the exact perfect time to defrost my turkey.
This year I have a 17.5 pound turkey. This means I should allow a minimum of 3.5 days (17.5 lbs / 5 lbs per day) to defrost my turkey in the refrigerator. Since I know I can safely store a fully defrosted turkey in the fridge up to 2 days, my maximum defrost time would be 5.5 days.
But I also want to do the same calculation assuming a defrost rate of 4 pounds per day, (17.5 lbs / 4 lbs per day) which equals 4.375 days (4 days, 9 hours).
Since this time falls within my range of 3.5 to 5.5 days, I will plan on using this time. This means I will pull the turkey out of the freezer before going to bed Saturday night in order to have it fully defrosted to prepare for cooking Thursday morning.
Determine what side dishes you can prepare in advance. Last year I prepared apple pie several days in advance and then cooked it the day before. Casseroles can be prepared the day before so all you have to do is cook them on Thanksgiving. If you are ambitious enough to make your own rolls and cranberry sauce, these could also be cooked the day before.
Make a trip to the grocery store. Review recipes to determine what ingredients you may be missing so there are no surprises when it comes time to prepare the food.
Cooking the Turkey
Take turkey out of fridge 1 hour before cooking start time to allow it to reach room temperature before cooking. Use this time to rinse and dry the turkey and add seasonings under the skin and inside cavity.
Cooking time could take anywhere 2 3/4 hours to 5 hours in a 325°F oven, depending on the size of your turkey. Check internal temperature in thickest part of thigh, near the breast, with a meat thermometer. When internal temperature reaches 165°F the turkey is done.
Here are approximate cooking times according to the USDA website
- 8-12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hours
- 12-14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hours
- 14-18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
- 18-20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
- 20-24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hours
Allow at least 15 minutes for cooked turkey to sit out of oven before carving.
I used this list of tips when preparing my turkey last year.
My Turkey Plan
- We are planning to eat dinner at 12 pm.
- I’d like to have the turkey done around 11:30 to allow 15 minutes to sit and 15 minutes to carve.
- My 17.5 pound turkey should take about 4 1/4 hours to cook. However, I also like to cook it for the 1st 30 minutes at 450°F to make the skin crispy before reducing the temperature to 325°F. Because of this, I will reduce my total cooking time by 15 minutes and plan for cooking the turkey for 4 hours. I will need to start cooking at 7:30 am.
- This means I will need to take the turkey out of the refrigerator around 6:30 am to rinse, dry, prepare, and season before cooking.
Make sure you know what side dishes need to be prepared and cooked the day of your Thanksgiving dinner. You can use the printable planning sheet to keep track of what side dishes you will prepare and when along with cooking times and temperatures. There is also space to keep track of what side dishes are being brought by someone else.
Other things to remember
While planning for Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you are also planning for your normal daily needs during this time. If you are like me, you don’t want to have to run to the grocery store the day after Thanksgiving because you didn’t think about having enough milk to get through the long weekend.