Every Thanksgiving is an opportunity to gather with friends and family and reflect on what we’re grateful for. But the pressure of getting the house ready, preparing a meal for a crowd and hosting out-of-town guests can turn a holiday about gratitude into a major source of stress. Keep the mood light and festivities flowing with these Thanksgiving hosting hacks.
From grandma’s famous sweet potato casserole to dad’s oyster stuffing, family recipes are a hallmark of the Thanksgiving menu. If you’re hosting, delegate appetizers, side dishes and desserts for guests to bring.
Even for the dishes you are preparing, not all of the cooking has to happen on the day of. Look for recipes that can be premade a week or two in advance and stored in the freezer. Green bean casserole, whipped sweet potatoes, stuffing, yeast rolls, twice-baked potato casserole, butternut squash soup and pies are just some of the many dishes that can easily be frozen, thawed and served. It’s also a good idea to test your oven capacity in advance to determine how many dishes it can hold. Just place empty dishware that you plan to cook in on the racks and see what will fit.
For any guests traveling from afar or by plane, assign them pies or wine that they can easily pick up when they’re in town. Point them towards the made-from-scratch baked goods at Breakaway Café, Weaver Street Market, Sweet Little Something and Mama Dips. Not only can they pick up a delicious pie, they’ll get a taste of some of Chapel Hill’s best local eateries.
Another option is to outsource all the cooking to the local pros. Whole Foods, The Root Cellar and the Carolina Inn offer to-go, pre-cooked Thanksgiving meals. They include all the staples from turkey to sides, and you can customize your order for your headcount and dietary preferences. Be sure to place your order in the weeks prior, then pick it up on Wednesday and just reheat to serve.
Once you have a firm handle on what’s for dinner, tap into the wine-pairing expertise of the teams at The Wine Store or Chapel Hill Wine Company. From bubbles to kick off your celebration to a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to complement the turkey, their personnel is happy to make recommendations, work within your budget and help you estimate how many bottles you’ll need.
The Set Up
Thanksgiving may be the one time of the year you have more dinner guests than seats around your dining room table. To add to your capacity, rent extra tables and chairs from local companies like American Party Rental or Marsh Rentals. They can deliver these items to your house and pick them up after the holiday, or to save money, you can pick them up yourself.
These rental companies also offer an array of other items you may need, like tablecloths, chafing dishes; and extra plates, silverware and glassware. To expand your hosting into the backyard, you may also want to consider renting a tent and/or heat lamps so guests can mingle comfortably outside.
As you think through your set up for the big day, consider creating a drink station or bar that is outside of the kitchen area. This will keep unnecessary traffic out of where the food is being prepped so the cooks can work their magic.
The Day Of
One of the toughest challenges when cooking for a crowd is preparing all the food so it’s ready at the same time. Creating a detailed minute-by-minute schedule can help you get organized for the day and prioritize which recipe steps to perform when. It can also help you determine when the oven will and won’t be available and account for the turkey’s resting time.
To serve food warm, make use of crockpots, hot plates, and metallic or disposable chafing dishes. If your microwave doubles as a convention oven or if you have a toaster oven, those can also provide additional warming space.
Be sure to stock up on serving spoons or ask guests to bring them with their dish. Another item you’ll want to have on hand is lots of extra Tupperware to send guests home with leftovers. Save containers from takeout food or get disposable ones at the grocery store so that guests won’t have to worry about returning them later.
We hope you have a fabulous and stress-free Thanksgiving!