Holidays / Birthdays

thanksgiving meal prep — the best list ever!


I like lists. And I like turkey. I don’t really care if turkey happens on Thanksgiving either, but lots of other people do. My sister’s chickens in the photo are wary about any poultry-related holidays.

I like to check things off when they are accomplished. I like to see the tick mark of “DONE” when a task is completed. I like to see movement forward. Lists are a good thing. This most certainly applies to my everyday life at work (“Call medical supply store about lateral rotation bed and alternating pressure mattress order for Mr. X”, “Check labs on Ms. Y”), kid stuff [“Email Grub’s teacher about his dentist appt”, “Pick up Hot Cheetos for Peach”, “Tell Sky-Girl to get lunch ready for tomorrow’s field trip”], and simple reminders to pay attention to myself [(“Finish edits on essay and send for review”, “Write more”, “Sigh at dozens of rejections from literary magazines” (the last one doesn’t need to be on a list to remember to do)]. The whirlwinds of life relegate my own care to a list, sometimes, only because it’s so easy in this culture to forget ourselves.

When cooking, I forget myself but also enjoy the zone of focus. It’s a good place to busy myself. It nourishes in many places. It feels even better when it involves a group of people coming together to feast. That didn’t happen last year because of the pandemic. This year, we are happily COVID vaccinated and boostered, all of our kids will be vaccinated, and we’ll venture out to a vaccinated friend’s home to commune. Living in an apartment for over six months during renovations has not motivated me to cook or invite people over to eat together. Last year, I wasn’t feeling motivated to cook at all, despite a larger kitchen.

“Can’t you just do all the Thanksgiving cooking this year? I’m not in the mood.” I said to my husband then. We compromised on a small turkey (~10 lbs) and scaling down the fixins’.

That similar apathy hits me this year, with COVID still hanging around, even with our vaccinations simulating our immune systems. I can’t help but let some of that dread blur some of my focus.

Exhibit A: I’m usually the sole prep cook for Thanksgiving in our household. (Mashed potatoes are sometimes Eat’s contribution.) I can handle twelve eaters with one fridge and one oven. I’ve become more frazzled as we’ve climbed in our invitation list over the years after that manageable 12 in 2014. Once we had 24 people over — that was WAY overcrowded for me in a one-oven kitchen. I started a blog post two years ago to make my future Thanksgiving meal preparation easier for future dinners. As I get more organized in the months following Thanksgiving, I’ll add in every recipe I use for each. (See–I’m still not completely organized to get everything posted beforehand, even when I’m trying to be.)

Although do-able with one very spacious refrigerator, having two fridges helps immensely. I try to shop for the bulk of the ingredients a week ahead of time to save on the bustle and crowded grocery stores creeping closer to Thanksgiving. Our year-round enclosed farmers’ market is always busy any time of year, though the day or two before Thanksgiving is like walking through Lollapalooza at its peak. Parking is almost impossible despite an acre-sized lot. I don’t want to fight with all that. I prefer the ingredients at that store because of the multitude of choices for produce. Most of these items are found in “regular” grocery stores though.

I organized the To Do list with recipe labels on each ingredient (except dry spices) so you can tick off each box as you complete tasks or cross them off completely if not doing that task. For instance, if you are not making the Gouda cheese dip, just scribble that off the list completely. It still makes you feel you’ve done something. Because you’ve crossed it off. Without doing it. But it’s on a list!

This menu will feed 7 adults and 6 kids (young kids, and more excited about playtime than eating) or about 12 hungry adults with lots of leftovers. I’ve also noted where you can make/prep some items even more in advance.

We usually start our Thanksgiving eating around 5:00PM.


Menu – click on the links for photos to entice you

Gouda-beer cheese dip (optional — I’ve included it if you want some appetizers before the meal. It’s usually forgotten by my family. Boo!)

Dilled shrimp dip

My friend Kari’s cloverleaf rolls – or whatever your favorite recipe is. I’ll link something here eventually.

Swiss chard and sweet potato gratin

Roast turkey, about 15-17 pounds of total bird (cut up and dry brined prior to cooking–I like Serious Eats’ recipe and cut the baking powder way down.

Make-ahead gravy

Three sauces to serve with turkey: a fiery piri piri (can refrigerate for up to 4 days before serving), chimichurri (can prep a day in advance and store in fridge), and green olive based charmoula (can store in fridge for up to 2 days before serving)

Mum’s mushroom dressing

Mashed potatoes – no fancy recipe for us, though usually some cream cheese thrown in

cranberry-orange relish

Pumpkin panna cotta with caramelized apples

Serve with your choice of wines and beers. If you’re feeling really motivated or want to delegate a role for someone else that can be done ahead of time, try amaretto apple sours for a cocktail choice. You can easily scale up the recipe.


Grocery list – I organized this somewhat how you’d find items in the grocery store, grouping produce, canned items, dairy, etc.

Grocery #1 – 1 week before Thanksgiving:

`cranberries, fresh, 10 ounces [cranberry relish]

`orange (Get a variety with more rind than pith if possible.) [cranberry relish]

`lemons [piri piri, charmoula, shrimp dip, and lots more lemons if you’re planning on amaretto apple sours]

`Granny Smith or Jonagold apples, 3 pounds [pumpkin panna cotta]

`celery, 1 large bunch [dressing, shrimp dip]

`yellow onions, 3 pounds [dressing, piri piri sauce, gratin, gravy — so much chopping!]

`green onions, 1 bunch [shrimp dip, and possibly mashed potatoes]

`Russet/Yukon Gold potato mix, 5 pounds [mashed potatoes]

`sweet potatoes or yams, 2 to 3 pounds, medium to large [gratin]

`garlic, 4 heads [piri piri sauce, chimichurri, charmoula, gratin]

`green olives [charmoula]

`cream of mushroom soup, 10 ounces (condensed and canned and not low-fat) [shrimp dip]

`pumpkin, canned, 30 to 32 ounces [pumpkin panna cotta]

`chicken (or turkey) broth, low sodium or unsalted, approx 64 ounces [gravy, dressing]

`cream cheese, 16 to 24 ounces [shrimp dip, mashed potatoes]

`heavy cream (check expiration date) [gratin, optional small amount for gravy]

`half and half (check expiration date) [pumpkin panna cotta]

`Gouda cheese [Gouda dip, gratin]

`unsalted butter [dressing, cloverleaf rolls, gratin, gravy]

`sour cream [shrimp dip]

`mayonnaise, not low-fat [shrimp dip]

`Dijon mustard [Gouda dip]

`red wine vinegar [piri piri, chimichurri]

`olive oil [piri piri, chimichurri, charmoula]

`powdered gelatin, 1 ounce [pumpkin panna cotta]

`maple syrup [pumpkin panna cotta]

`dried herbs/spices: cinnamon, coriander, crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, dill, nutmeg, poultry seasoning, sweet smoked paprika, and plain sweet paprika

`all-purpose flour [cloverleaf rolls, gratin, gravy]

`salt [for seasoning everything and for dry brining the turkey]


`sugar [cloverleaf rolls]. If you plan on making the amaretto apple sours, some turbinado sugar is nice too.

`yeast, 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) [cloverleaf rolls]

`salad shrimp, frozen, 10 ounces [shrimp dip]

`pita chips [to serve with shrimp dip, Gouda dip]

`crusty day-old breads, 3 to 4 quarts, if not already collected earlier [dressing]

`eggs [cloverleaf rolls]

`white wine [gravy — The recipe calls for a small amount. If you have leftover from another time, freeze a few cubes of it and save for this dish if you don’t want to buy a bunch of wine for Thanksgiving. Though c’mon.]

`beer, sweet and malty [Gouda dip]

`amaretto [amaretto apple sours]

`apple cider [amaretto apple sours — if you don’t make the sours, you can serve the cider to the kids]


Grocery list #2 – 2 days before Thanksgiving:

`Swiss chard, 3 to 4 bunches to equal about 3 pounds [gratin]

`mushrooms, 24 ounces (Plain button mushrooms are fine, though a mix of something fancier is nice too. No need to spend extra money on the fancy stuff if the quality is poor.) [dressing]

`fresh herbs: thyme [gratin],  2 large bunches of flat-leaf parsley [gratin, chimichurri, charmoula, shrimp dip], 1 bunch of cilantro [charmoula]

`red bell peppers, 2 large [piri piri]

`finger chiles, 6 [piri piri — you may also need gloves to keep the spicy oils off your fingers when you chop]

`Thai chiles, 4 [piri piri]

`turkey, 15-17 pounds. Request to have it cut up (breasts, thighs, wings, tail, etc.).



2-3 weeks prior:

[ ]  Order turkey, unfrozen if possible. A 15 pounder feeds 15 people well with fair but not an overwhelming amount of leftovers. You can impulse buying another drumstick and thigh to add. There are enough leftovers to make Taiwanese savory rice porridge (bae or congee) or Chiayi-style turkey rice the morning after Thanksgiving. More on that later.

[ ]  Collect stale bread, cube, and store in freezer well wrapped.


1 week prior:

[ ]  Grocery list #1 (see above): Do it–you’re on a mission.

[ ]  Make cranberry relish. Freeze. One dish done already!

[ ]  If you’re making the amaretto apple sours, make the homemade sweet and sour mixer today. Store in fridge.

[ ] Optional start time for potatoes, swiss chard prep, béchamel, gravy if planning on freezing: See notes below too.


Monday before Thanksgiving:

[ ]  Grocery list #2 (see above). You got the bulk of it done last week. Yay!

[ ]  Call butcher for a reminder to cut up turkey. They will have to sell you a thawed bird to cut it up first. You don’t have to worry about thawing the bird at all, unless you order the bird a month in advance, cut it up, and freeze until using.


Tuesday (time to ramp it up!):

**Aim for about 6-8 hours of prep time here.**

[ ]  Pick up turkey. It is thawed already if you had the butcher cut it up — two less things you have to do . One year, my family butchered a live turkey in the garage. I named her Beatrice. Do not name your bird. Despite my connection with Beatrice and concern for the possibly not-as-sharp-as-it-should-have-been axe, she was successfully butchered, plucked, and handed to me to cook. She was delicious! Back to now: Get your bird and store it in the fridge.

[ ]  Turn on your favorite music or podcasts. Chop LOTS of onions (1 1/2 cups for gravy, 1/2 cup for gratin, 1 large onion for dressing, 3/4 cup for double recipe of piri piri sauce). Marvel at the mountain of allium. Get a Bandaid to cover the potential spot on your index finger developing a blister from all the chopping. (You can cut some of these onions earlier to save you from blisters. 1-2 weeks ahead, chop and cook with mushrooms for the dressing and for the gravy. Freeze.)

[ ]  Chop celery (4-5 ribs for dressing, finely chop 1 rib or so for shrimp dip). Refrigerate. (You can chop the dressing celery here, cook with onions, mushrooms and butter, and refrigerate/freeze if making 1-2 weeks prior.)

[ ]  Prep bread dough for the cloverleaf rolls. Allow in rising to double its size then deflate, wrap well in oiled bowl, and refrigerate. The dough yeast will be active in the fridge until it completely cools, so the first 12 hours you will need to deflate the dough 1-2 times. You could even roll out the dough balls to fill muffin tins, wrap well, then refrigerate until day you plan to bake. The only problem in this whole menu plan is there is limited space to store multiple muffin tins in an already stuffed refrigerator or two.

[ ]  Make gravy but leave out the cream (Make ahead 1 week or more: Leave out cream in case you want to freeze instead of refrigerate. We’ll add that later.)

[ ]  Chop cheese for Gouda dip (1 pound). Refrigerate.

[ ]  Shred Gouda for gratin (5 ounces or about 1 1/4 cups). Refrigerate.

[ ]  Make bechamel for gratin. Refrigerate. (You can also do this a week or two in advance and freeze it. It works! Reheat gently before using.)

[ ]  Prep swiss chard leaves. This is a serious pain but so worth it. Cook them down with the onions needed, squeeze out the juice as directed in the recipe, then cool and wrap well to refrigerate. (Also can do and freeze ahead of time. Thaw in fridge two days before using.)

[ ]  Make pumpkin panna cotta (can also do this on Wednesday instead).

[ ]  Cut up apples for pumpkin panna cotta topping. Refrigerate.

[ ]  Dude, that blister. Ouch. Get a new bandaid.



[ ]  Dry brine the turkey and store uncovered in fridge. Give it 12 to 24 hours brining time before cooking. I put the breasts, neck, and giblets onto one pan, the thighs, wings, and drumsticks onto another.

[ ]  Remember that cranberry sauce you made last week? Thaw it in the fridge now.

[ ]  If you made the mashed potatoes last week, get those in the fridge to thaw now, too.

[ ]  Peel and cut up sweet potatoes into 1/8-inch rounds.

[ ]  Assemble gratin (you’ve already prepped the swiss chard/onions, bechamel, cheese — yay!). Chop fresh herbs. Cover assembled gratin well with foil and refrigerate.

[ ]  Cook apples for panna cotta in the morning. Cool, cover, and refrigerate.

[ ]  Make all sauces and store in fridge. This is mostly herb chopping. Make the piri piri (onions already chopped on Tuesday), chimichurri, and charmoula. You will need a food processor (charmoula and possibly chimichurri) and a Vitamix blender (piri piri). I didn’t feel like a food processor was needed for the chimichurri though the recipe calls for whirring it around.

[ ]  Thaw shrimp in fridge overnight.



Remember, some of the cook times are staggered weirdly to accommodate for the fact there is only ONE oven. If you have a neighbor or friend with an open oven, take advantage of it!

[ ]  Get up. Eek!

[ ]  5 HOURS BEFORE BAKING: Take bread dough of of fridge and allow to come to room temperature for about 4-5 hours before shaping. I take out at 7:30AM with plan to bake at 2PM.

[ ]  Thaw bread cubes for dressing (doesn’t take long) and cook down the components of the dressing in the cast iron pots you plan to use in the oven. Set aside in fridge if you have space or a cool garage floor. (Don’t cook in oven until about 1 hour before serving. See later instructions.)

[ ]  Make shrimp dip. Refrigerate.

[ ]  Did you forget to chop something? Is your blister raging, like mine? This is the time to delegate that task.

[ ]  Go for a walk, do yoga, shower, drink some tea, stop running around so much. Yeah, right. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F in prep for turkey roasting. Arrange the oven racks to accommodate two large pans of turkey.

[ ]  2 1/2 HOURS BEFORE SERVING: Take out piri piri, chimichurri, and charmoula from fridge and allow to come to room temperature before serving. I set out at 3PM for a 5:30PM eating time.

[ ]  2 1/2 HOURS BEFORE SERVING: Same with Gouda dip. Needs about 2 to 3 hours to warm up at room temperature before serving — 3PM. Prep the bowl of pita chips to serve with it.

[ ]  2 1/2 HOURS BEFORE SERVING: Take the dry brined turkey out of the fridge to warm up. Massage some oil into the skin, re-salt a bit if needed. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

[ ]  ALMOST 2 HOURS BEFORE SERVING: Start cookin’ the bird. I started out with the breast pan on the bottom rack, the thighs/drumsticks on the top then switched them at around the middle of the cook time. When the breast meat skin looked like it was darkening too much at this point, I tented with foil. At the 60 minute mark, I checked the internal temp of a breast and thigh. An instant read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast should register 150 degrees F, the thigh at least 165 degrees F. When the turkey is done, let it rest on a new baking sheet for 20 minutes before carving/cutting into manageable slices.

[ ]  Take the gratin out of the fridge to take off the chill before putting into the oven.

[ ]  1 HOUR BEFORE SERVING (if you have not made the mashed potatoes early, do it now): Hey, hey, it’s potato time! Peel and chunk your potatoes evenly and boil to soften for mashing. Drain, add butter, cream cheese, sour cream, and green onions and put into serving bowl with cover to keep warm.

[ ]  1 HOUR BEFORE SERVING: Bake gratin at 400 degrees F for 1 hour until bubbly. Keep the foil off to start. If browning too much or drying out, cover again. (Ask your neighbor to use his/her oven if you have limited space.)

[ ]  45 MINUTES BEFORE SERVING: Bake covered cast iron pots of dressing at 425 degrees F for 45 minutes. You can remove the covers for the last 15 minutes to crisp the tops if you desire. (You could do this while the turkey is resting after cooking. You could also turn down the temp to 400 degrees F and add in the gratin to bake if you have enough room, though it will take longer for all items cooking because there is more cool food to heat up.)

[ ]  T-MINUS 30 MINUTES: Rewarm gravy on stove and add cream.

[ ]  Take caramelized apples and pumpkin panna cotta from fridge about an hour before serving to allow to come to room temperature. I took these out just as we were sitting down to dinner and topped with apples just before serving.

[ ]  Eat at 5:30. Drink wine! Stuff yourself! Enjoy the conversation! Take down disagreeable political conversations with a dose of sensibility and appreciation for the knowledge of science and evidence-based medicine.


You have now succumbed to a turkey coma on a sofa. Get back to work if you are making turkey congee! See the linked recipe for more details.

[ ]  Fill a 16 quart pot with water and the bones of the already carved turkey. Bring to simmer and turn heat down to low simmer overnight, covered. You can use a slow cooker instead. That’s it for now. Make the rest of the congee tomorrow.


The morning after:

[ ]  To make the turkey congee (see link for more detailed info): Waddle to kitchen. Strain turkey broth. Pick bones carefully from strained meat (there are lots of small ones) and discard. Pick as much meat out as you can and set aside.

[ ]  Small dice 2 to 3 carrots, 1 onion, and 1 celery rib. Heat vegetable oil and some sesame oil in the now empty 16 quart pot (or obtain one if you slow cooked the turkey bones) and cook a mirepoix with the diced vegetables merely to soften. Sprinkle generously with salt. Pour in all the strained broth. Cook on low heat.

[ ]  Make the cooked rice to add to the bae (congee). In a rice cooker, cook a 1:6 ratio of rice to water (1:5 is fine too). I used 1 1/2 cups of rinsed rice to 9 cups of water. Cook this as you would other rice, covered at low heat after boiling. When done, add to turkey congee.

[ ]  Season with salt. Serve with fermented soy, salty duck egg, thousand year old egg, pork floss, gluten, soft omelet with sesame oil, etc.



Other leftover ideas:

[ ]  Make turkey rice, the signature dish of Chiayi, Taiwan. See my turkey rice recipe post for more specific instructions and my Chiayi, Taiwan post for some history.

[ ]  Got extra gravy? Because ya should since everyone raved about the piri piri, chimichurri, and charmoula all over their turkey meat. Use that gravy to make turkey pot pies. Use Brave Tart’s pie crust recipe.

[ ]  OMG, what about waffle iron dressing waffles with fried eggs on top? What?! Yes! I’m not the genius behind this fabulous idea but I agree that it is creative way to eat leftover dressing (and gravy, if inclined). I tried it after a few Thanksgivings — so good with my mum’s mushroom dressing.


Tell me what you think! What parts of the list did you try? Were there ways to be more efficient? Maybe you have a good recipe to share in this mix?



One year ago: No November posts last year, but this bean recipe posted last December is the BEST – carla lalli music’s magic brothy butter beans from marlow & sons

Two years ago: make-ahead gravy  (sooooo good!)

Three years ago: chocolate peanut butter bars

Four years ago: spaghetti fritters (and a pig named Grey Spot)

Five years ago: pickled okra and fried pasta chips (my post just after the election — my thoughts still hold true today)

Six years ago: pumpkin spice liqueur and red wine braised short ribs and a construction-themed birthday menu

Seven years ago: lemon crinkle cookies and feline in memorium (when our 14-year-old cat died) and accordion potatoes 

Eight years ago: coconut black rice pudding and tangled thai salad  and bloody broken glass cupcakes and watermelon-feta salad and lemon syrup and fermented grape soda

Nine years ago: ramen with tonkotsu broth and membrillo (quince paste)  and  braided peach curd bread and ginger frozen custard and peach sauce (or baby food) and strawberry balsamic smash and apricot-earl grey tea pâte de fruit and watermelon soda floats and pasta with fresh tomatoes, dill, and feta

Ten years ago: oven-roasted tomato tart and grilled fava beans  and lemon cupcakes and honey-tamarind pork ribs and watermelon granita and whole-wheat chocolate “PB&J” brownies and syrian baklava


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