It’s a little too early to buy your perishables and start baking pies, but only a little. There may be an entire month between now and the 25th of December, but pushing everything onto those last few days will make things very stressful, and you should enjoy one last “normal” weekend before The Holidays kick off in earnest. Some weekend work is unavoidable, but there are a few things you can do to spread it out and keep the next month on an even a keel as possible.
Everyone plans for big events differently, and some people don’t even consider Holiday dinners to be a big event, which is fair. If you only recently learned you would be hosting or simply haven’t done a single lick of planning out of sheer disinterest, do not worry: Our first and second planning guides will catch you up.
Check in on your team
Reach out to the people who are bringing side dishes or otherwise helping with prep and make sure you’re all on the same page. Ask if they need any help, and let them know if you need assistance. If you need to assign any last minute dishes, desserts, drinks, or tasks, do it now so the person responsible doesn’t have to scramble last minute.
Make your turkey timeline
Giving your turkey enough time to defrost is crucial. Though you can speed things up with cold water baths (or low-temp sous-vide baths), setting The Bird in the fridge and forgetting about it for a few days is a lot more hands-off — and I suspect you will need your hands (and sink) for other things.
A turkey needs roughly one day in the fridge for every four pounds of mass, but I usually put give it an extra day on top of that. If you’re going to do a brine, you need to factor that in as well. So, for my turkey — which is 5 kg and will need 24 hours of brining — I know that I need at least three days in the fridge, but I’m going to do four to be safe. I need to get my turkey in the brine on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so I want to start defrosting my turkey four days before that. This means I need to get that bird into the fridge to start defrosting on Saturday (which happens to be the day I’m picking it up). Once you know your defrost day, create and event and set an alarm on your phone so you don’t forget.
Buy your perishables (and anything else) before the weekend rush
Eggs, dairy, fresh produce and other perishables should be the only ingredients you have left to buy, and you should buy them before Friday to avoid the last-minute crush. If you have things on your menu that need to be super duper fresh, you can make a separate, last-minute list for them, but try to get the bulk of your shopping done before the weekend.
Review those lists we talked about in our first planning guide one more time to make sure you haven’t missed any cans of cranberry sauce, then make your final shopping list. In addition to ingredients, make sure you pick up beverages (including the soft ones), and any vessels and/or utensils you’ll need to cook, serve, and eat each dish.
Do an appliance check
By now your oven should be clean (mine isn’t — whoops) and your fridge should be fairly empty and ready to receive lots of food. But your oven and fridge are, most likely, not the only appliances you will use in your meal prep. I would guess a stand mixer is in the mix, perhaps food processor, and maybe a grill. If you haven’t used one or more of these appliances in a while, pull them out and make sure they still work, and that you have all the necessary attachments and batteries on hand. (Batteries are especially important if you’re using a digital thermometer to check temp your turkey — and you should be.)
Map out your oven and stove usage
Every dish will have to be cooked in your oven, on your stove, or in/on some other specialised appliance. To make sure I’ll have space for everything, I like to grab some sticky notes, write down the name of the dish and where it needs to be cooked, and then put that note in the casserole or pan I plan to cook that dish in. If I’m cooking something in the Instant Pot, I’ll stick the note directly on its lid. (You can also write the info directly on the IP in dry erase marker if you prefer.) For the dishes that will be going in the oven, I’ll write their cooking temp and approximate cook time as well.
Writing these silly little notes gives you a clearer vision of what your kitchen will look like the morning of: How many things you’ll have simmering on the stove, how crowded the oven will be. And knowing these things ahead of time allows you to adjust your menu or schedule as needed to ensure everything gets cooked and on the table with as little stress as possible.