Stress-Free Thanksgiving

10 Tips and tricks to make your holiday dinner easy as pie.

By Sarah MacDonald

As a chef, I understand how stressful it can be to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd. Finding a way to entertain guests while juggling oven space and perfecting the turkey is a challenge shared by chefs and home cooks alike. Thankfully, I have compiled helpful entertaining tips and tricks to allow cooks to spend more time with friends and family and less time in the kitchen.


Write it Down

When you are preparing your stuffing, cornbread, or anything else that needs to go in the oven before your Thanksgiving meal is served, use the number one restaurant trick in the book: After you cover the food in foil or plastic wrap, top it with a piece of painter’s tape. Then, take a marker and write the time and temperature it should be cooked. This keeps the instructions clear and easy to read for kitchen helpers or the busy cook.

Set it and Forget it

On Thanksgiving, most ovens are filled with multiple dishes but have only one timer. Instead of counting on the microwave and a house full of phone alarms, get creative by using some digital cooking timers. Label them with the menu items in question and you can reuse them year after year.

Back Burner Buddy

Keeping chicken, vegetable or turkey stock simmering on the stove during the last hour before dinner makes it easy to put the finishing touches on dishes. You can add a ladle over the stuffing, turkey or vegetables to keep them warm and full of flavor. If you have extra stock, add it to the turkey roasting pan for a quick gravy.



Marinate the Bird

The good news is you don’t need to go through the hassle of brining or injecting a turkey to make sure it stays moist and flavorful. Marinating the turkey in herbs and olive oil ensures the most savory and delicious turkey every time. Blend a handful of rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic, and lots of olive oil and use as a marinade on defrosted turkey for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. The olive oil will make the skin crisp and the herbs will favor the bird from the inside out.

Create a Battle Plan

To some, Thanksgiving can seem like a war against time. Set yourself up for success with a three-day “battle plan” before the holiday. Three days out you can begin cutting vegetables and preparing sides. Two days before, bake off rolls, breads and make the gravy. On T-Day, all that is left is reheating and roasting.

Bake Ahead, Stay Ahead

Keep the kitchen clean and your oven free by baking all of your desserts ahead of time. Starting in September, when you do your fall baking for friends and family, bake an extra for your freezer. Cornbread, pies, cakes, and cookies can all stay fresh for up to three months when you freeze them after baking. Once the turkey is served, reheat the baked goods and keep everyone guessing how you hid the mess.

Helping Hands

Helpers find themselves in the kitchen between football breaks and snack time. Keep a list of easy tasks in your back pocket that you can delegate. Setting the table, peeling potatoes and chopping herbs are all simple ways to save the cook some time and include friends and family in the cooking experience.

Clean As You Go

Clean kitchens create star dishes. Make sure to allocate time between each Thanksgiving project to clean as you go. You can also keep things organized by doing similar tasks together. Do all the chopping and then pause for a cleaning break. When it is time to serve, there will be no piles in the sink.

Chef’s Secret

Do you ever wonder how restaurants get their dishes to pop? Try keeping a stash of fresh herbs on hand to garnish your sides and star dishes. Adding fresh rosemary, parsley or thyme instead of dried will add a gourmet twist and carry flavor and aroma to the menu.

Top it Off

Finally, garnish your food for the ultimate presentation. Whether you decide to plate or serve family-style, when the items hit the table, they need to be dressed to impress. What sets a chef apart from a cook is the presentation and a simple garnish can elevate a meal. Personal favorites include sprouts, microgreens, sliced citrus, and fresh chopped herbs.

A Braintree resident and Marshfield native, Sarah MacDonald has a passion for fresh, delicious food. An executive assistant by day, she spent much of her career providing private chef services for celebrations, dinner parties, chef demonstrations and other events through her business, Doorsteps Catering and Private Events. Follow Sarah MacDonald’s culinary adventures on Instagram at @sarahbeththeprivatechef.