A Last-Minute Guide to Hosting Your First Thanksgiving

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Our great nation’s annual pious pilgrimage to dining room tables laden with baked birds, cranberry concoctions, and seasonal squash done ten ways is fast approaching, and the big question the day before the big event is: are you ready?

If you’re like us and inevitably millions of other Americans giving thanks for — among other things — a dependable day job, then you know how challenging balancing said dependable day job with fastidious feast preparation can be, especially when we’re all contending with the infinite number of special dietary needs that abound in the modern world. Well, fret no more because we’re taking the stress out of the final countdown to your first Turkey Day by offering you our handy guide to making it fun, making it fast, and making it fabulous. You can thank us later.

Step 1: Menu Planning

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It’s the day before the big day and you’re scrambling to come up with the perfectly coursed feast. You know that your locavore Brooklynite friends are demanding and that your foodie brother is discerning. To make matters worse, that annoying vegan cousin in college upstate just emailed saying he’s going to make it after all. Fear not fearless host(ess) with the most(ess), these menu planners will set you straight.

The Thanksgiving-erator by The New York Times

With fun, apropos themes like Modernist, Colonialist, Hedonist, Baconist and Extremist, this virtual menu generator guarantees success. Answer a few simple questions, and have your meal planned for you. Still struggling? Try The TimesThanksgiving Help Line, where the staff of the Dining Section answer any and all of your questions about your Turkey Day meal in semi-real time.

Top 26 Thanksgiving Menus by bon appétit

Detailing well thought out Thanksgiving themed menus ranging from rustic modern, “(meat)less is more” to “make-it-buy-it”, bon appétit’s Thanksgiving HQ offers endless options for every Turkey Day scenario imaginable.

Everything you need for Thanksgiving by Trader Joe’s

If either of the above are still leaving you looking like a deer caught in holiday headlights, take a deep breath and repeat after us: Trader Joe’s. They have beautiful, all-natural turkeys, fully cooked or not (more on that later), turkey(less) stuffed roasts, cornbread stuffing mix, pre-made pumpkin pies and brazen brussels sprouts on-stalk that will impress gourmands and urban farmers alike. It’s that easy.

Step 2: The Bird (or Bird Substitute)

Image credit: Hans Gissinger via bon appétit

With hungry eyes a-watching there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than figuring out how to cook a huge whole turkey. We could easily advise you to buy a pre-cooked turkey (and by all means go right ahead), but Thanksgiving isn’t called Turkey Day for nothing — we’re officially endorsing giving a home roasted guy a go. All-in-all prep time is about 30 minutes and cook time is anywhere from 3-5 hours, depending on how big your bird is. We’ve done the requisite research for you and rounded up three of the best-of-the-best simple roast turkey recipes, and one easy faux fowl how-to.

Anyone can do it: Trader Joe’s Really Moist Roasted Turkey

Anyone can do it if they know what mirin is: A Simple Roast Turkey

Anyone can do it if they’re not freaked out by playing butcher: Spatchcocked Turkey

Anyone can do it if they’re not freaked out by seitan: Smothered Seitan Medallions in Mixed Mushroom Gravy

Note: Spatchcocking (or, flattening) your turkey greatly reduces cooking time from 3 to 5 hours to about 70 minutes.

Step 3: The Table

Image credit: Lili Cuzor and Lauren Spencer King via Tigers to Lilies

Creating a special table can be as simple as making cute place cards. All you need is a pen, paper (white will do but maybe take the opportunity to dig out that pack of colored construction paper you bought on a whim for a rainy day), and some scissors.

If you have time to stop by Staples on your mad-last-minute-dash-on-your-way-home-before-the-stores-close-to-get-everything-you-need-because-you-have-nothing, pick up a roll of brown craft paper. Do it up Macaroni Grill style and use it as a tablecloth. Put out cups of crayons, pencils or whatever writing utensils you have lying around the house and let your guests draw pilgrims and gourds all dinner long.

Last but not least, always remember Martha’s wise words: a bowl of apples or any other seasonal fruit never hurt anyone. Insta-centerpiece.

Step 4: The Liquor

Thanksgiving is no time for the weak stuff. How else do you survive playing butcher for a day, the heartbreaking work that is making vegan desserts and the unpredictable and potentially unpleasant combination of friends and family? Good, strong drinks is how — and, lots of them. Here’s our favorite fun (really easy) recipe dressed to impress and designed to take the edge off. And, Brooklyn friends and Lower Manhattanites, we know you own a snifter, so don’t even pretend like you don’t. Feeling less fancy? There’s always that age-old trick of throwing a cinnamon stick in a pretty glass filled with fine whiskey and calling it a day.

Tante’s Medicine by Molly Finnegan

5 ounces hot brewed Earl Grey tea 2 ounces B&B Liqueur 1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice 1/4 ounce fresh orange juice 1/2 teaspoon honey Ground cinnamon Freshly grated nutmeg 1 cinnamon stick

In a snifter, stir the tea with the B&B, lemon and orange juices and the honey. Garnish with the ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg and the cinnamon stick.

Recipe via

Step 5: The Fun

Image via The Gazette

Once you’ve made it through the harrowing meal (we won’t sugarcoat it), all you’ll want to do is collapse into the vast sea that is your cozy couch. But, you’ve still got a house full of folks demanding your full attention and another slice of pie. Enter the genius invention that is iTunes movie rentals and for a mere $2.99 put on the best movie about Thanksgiving mayhem ever. Period. End of story. Good night and good luck.

Do It Easy. Do It Right.

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If all of this just sounds like too much for your brain to handle with 24 hours to go and counting, consider the easy, most festive option of them all: volunteer.

Here are a few ways to find out how you can give back this Turkey Day:

If you live in New York.

If you live in Los Angeles.

If you live in San Francisco.

If you live in Chicago.

If you live in Miami.

If you live in Dallas.

If you live in Seattle.