Cooking the Thanksgiving Spread



The Thanksgiving Spread  

You probably either love it or fear it.  I grew up in a home where cooking has always been an important thing, and eating dinner together a daily occurrence.  

Typically my mom hosts Thanksgiving but in my former life working with college students, our student center put on a Thanksgiving dinner for 100 students and I loved every minute. I can tell you that preparing the whole spread (including 4 turkeys) with just two ovens can be done.  How? Preparing foods ahead of time.  We would cook the turkeys on Tuesdays, and cook all day Wednesday. Thursday, the day of the feast, was for re-heating and doing final preparations.   

Let’s Talk Turkey

This might be my favorite thing to discuss as there are some simple adjustments to make this part of cooking so, so much easier.  Unless you do a deep fried turkey (I am not an expert on this!) ….



 Cook the turkey the day before.  

This frees up oven space, allows you to do the messy clean up easily, all without being stressed about the spread being ready on time.   After the turkey has cooled, go ahead and carve. Layer the slices in a 9X13 dish (or other size). On Thanksgiving, pull it out of the fridge about 90 minutes before dinner (so it can come to room temperature) and pop in the oven (about 300’) about 30 minutes before serving.  To keep moist drizzle the turkey with chicken broth and cover with foil.  Really, I promise no one will know nor will taste be compromised.  

 The next trick I stole from my mom, who learned from a gourmet cook: 

Using a poultry cooking bag.  This allows for all of the moisture to stay in the bag and I’ve never had a dry bird with this method.  Simply follow the instructions on the box and voila.  I like to rub my bird with oil and then some herbs (sage, thyme, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper).  

Pop a quartered orange or other citrus in the cavity for a little extra flair.  


To get that golden glow….

Use paprika in your herb rub. 

Preparations that can be done in advance: 

Sweet potatoes: Easily cooked, peeled, and prepared.  We save the baking until Thanksgiving. 

Cranberry sauce is a perfect option to cook earlier in the week 

For stuffing, I will cube the bread and dice the vegetables ahead of time, and put it together on Thanksgiving before baking.  


What not to do ahead of time:  

Items like green beans, roasted vegetables or mashed potatoes are best finished shortly before dinner.  Items like broccoli or green beans do not do well if they are “held” at warm temperature for an extended time.   If you want to peel the potatoes ahead of time, keeping them in cold water helps prevent them from turning color.  

Use that crockpot or electric skillet!  

For items that are already cooked but need to be kept warm, the crockpot helps save oven space.  Items like sweet potatoes or even your green beans are perfect for this.  


A delicious new take on the old favorites.  

Are you wanting to try something new?  

In my house, my family is sometimes wary, but does usually let me try new recipes for Thanksgiving (or I just make them without telling them…).  These ideas are some of my favorites:

Apple Bacon Stuffing

Seriously, yum.  If you do have a vegetarian in the house, it’s not hard to make a batch sans bacon.  

Savory Sweet Potatoes  

I don’t have a recipe to share for this, but I’ve made an amazing sweet potato shepherd’s pie in which the sweet potatoes are mixed with olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt & pepper, and a splash of milk.  

Mixed Bag Mashed Potatoes 

So I just made up this title but it seems appropriate! Mix and match red skinned potatoes, golden, and baking potatoes for a great mix of texture and taste.  Leave in some of the skins as desired.  

I also like mashing with sour cream or cream cheese in addition to the butter and milk for a  creamy taste. 

Citrus or Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce

Green Beans Almondine

(with a bacon crumble!) I even like doing a mixture of butter and bacon fat for that yummy taste.  


Creating your spread 

For the instagram worthy look, I love mixing and matching white serveware of different shapes and dimensions.  

Guests always want to know what the menu options are, so creating food labels is a must-do, especially if it’s a little bit of a twist or has allergens (like gluten).  

Where to cut corners 

I am here to tell you that not everything needs to be home-made!  I am a shameless user of packaged gravy.  In my humble opinion, homemade gravy is not worth the trouble.  Seriously disagree? Share your secrets in the comments.  

Pillsbury pie crusts.  I love to cook and I will admit to using these for my baking. It’s flaky, delicious, and bakes well.  Maybe one day I will foray into pastry but for now, I cheat.  :) 

The Clean up: 

I will leave you with my favorite cleaning tactic. I find soaking dishes rather unhelpful and a bit of a mess-maker.  My secret: boiling water.  If it’s a dirty pot, I simply add water and some soap and heat to boiling on the stove.  if it’s a casserole dish or the like, I add boiling water to the dish for the same effect.  I think you’ll love this new technique!  

Special thanks to the vendor team for this amazing table design:

Photography: Leandra Brown

Florals: Westwood Flowers

Dessert: Eileen's Bakery

Calligraphy: Write Liz Write

Video: Ashleigh Buyers

 Planning & Design: Glorious Weddings & events

Shoot Assistant: McKinzie Turner 

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