Welcome back to my month-long series on how to make your own delicious Thanksgiving Dinner even if you’ve never done this before. This week, we’ll be covering some things you might need before you get started. In the following weeks I’ll be covering making gravy, how to cook the turkey and how to set everything up so that it all lands on the table at the right time. Plus there will be bonus posts on making some of the side dishes. Already, we have planning your dinner here and a special checklist and more thoughts on the menu here.
If you downloaded my checklist, you’ll see that there are three passes at shopping for the big day. It may sound like a lot of trouble to do it that way, but if you can get the bulk of your shopping done early, you’ll be beating the crowds and then some. If you’ve ever fought your way through a supermarket during the weekend before Thanksgiving, you’ll know what I mean. Getting as many items as you can ahead of time will give you less to buy that weekend, which means fewer altercations in the stuffing aisle.
So part of planning for the big day is figuring out what you have in the way of serving and other dishes, cooking equipment and the like so that you can buy or borrow it before you’re fighting over the last gravy boat in the china department. This also, by the way, includes ambiance and decor. Now, if you’re one of those folks who are good at this and love going nuts, be my guest. Or rather, let me be yours. I suck at ambiance. I’m lucky if I remember to put the now-grown offspring’s paper bag turkey on the table.
And if this is your first time doing the big meal, there are other more important things to think about, like the cooking. Yeah, yeah. I know we eat with our eyes first, but your guests will forgive a haphazard presentation if the food tastes good. No presentation can make up for lumpy, icky gravy and a dry bird. So, pour yourself a glass of wine and remind yourself that you are not Martha Stewart. You do not have to be Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart can go soak her perfect head in one of her hand-trimmed buckets. Putting out the nice dinnerware, tablecloths and napkins (no, it does not all have to match), and a couple candlesticks should be enough. Also, a fancy centerpiece makes it hard for your guests to see each other over it and there’s less room on the table for all that food you’re cooking.
So check your tablecloths, napkins and plates and serving dishes and add what you need to your shopping list. Also, if you really, really want the fancy turkey platter or gravy boat, there’s no reason not to buy it. Just remember that you’ll only use one day a year and that you have to store it the rest of the time. I went with the gravy boat – it’s small. And on the matter of plates, you may be considering using paper or other disposables. I have issues with that because of the environment thing and adding to our landfills. I also understand that when your guest list has ballooned to huge proportions, disposables seem pretty attractive. The one good use for them is when you’ve got a lot of very small children on the guest list and you have to serve buffet style. Kids can learn to handle real dinner-ware at surprisingly young ages, but if you’ve got a lot of them and no table, you may want to provide a sturdier option than your grandma’s china.
Next on your shopping list should be three or four potential wines for your dinner. Unless you already have a go-to wine – we love Beaujolais Nouveau with our Thanksgiving Dinner. That being said, we do not serve any wine we haven’t tasted. Wine with Thanksgiving Dinner can be tricky. You’ve got a lot of strong flavors, some of which are pretty sweet and that can really mess up the flavor of even the best cabernet sauvignon. Think of sipping orange juice after a big syrupy bite of pancakes. You can check out our blog OddBallGrape.com for a quick tutorial on pairing and tasting wine for Thanksgiving here. But make sure you invest in some tasting bottles and try them with sweet potatoes and/or turkey beforehand.
Now, your cooking equipment. The major item that you probably already have, but may not, is a good, solid roasting pan. I’ve tried the aluminum ones from the supermarket and, well, let’s not talk about that particular disaster. Mine is 9-inches by 13-inches and I’ve roasted 22-pound birds in it quite successfully. A rack with handles is a good thing to have, but I’ve used everything from a small cooking rack to a small plate turned upside-down. All work very well. But the good, solid roasting pan is well worth the investment, as are a probe thermometer, and immersion blender and a gravy de-fatter (see the slider below).
Some things you do not need are roasting bags, lacing kits and basters. Seriously. You do not need them because you will not use them. Period.
Now, I’ve included the below slider with a carousel of stuff you might need, assuming you don’t already have them.