Ten Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving at Your Place

Merrily Jackson, our ace of entertaining offers inspiration for hosting America’s most beloved holiday meal. Photo by Corie English

Hey you. You darling, angelic, lionhearted hosts of Thanksgiving 2023. Thanks for stepping up! Do you even know how heroic you are? Just having your house in readiness to accommodate a large group is a feat. Add a multi-generational guest list along with a very large bird to roast and the pressure is on. 

Here are ten points of guidance to help you relax and enjoy the day. Much of it is targeted toward hosts who are preparing their own Thanksgiving feasts, but there is no shame whatsoever in purchasing your entire Thanksgiving meal from your favorite grocery store, restaurant, or country club.

Lay the Groundwork Now
You want to be at least loosely organized as the day approaches. Start by making lots of room in your fridge and pantry. Clean ’em out, tossing all expired and mystery items. Closer to the day, lay in a supply of the stuff you’ll use in abundance: butter (lots!); chicken stock; aromatics like garlic, onions, shallots, fresh ginger; fresh citrus; sturdy, branch herbs like rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves; light brown sugar; and the creams: heavy, sour, and ice. 

If your family is fond of Champagne and wine, stock up now before they hike up the prices for the holiday. White Burgundy, Chardonnay, Beaujolais and pinot noir all taste delicious with a turkey dinner!

What Would We Do Without Sticky Notes?
Decide whether you’re going to serve the meal buffet or family style. Think through where you’ll set up the self-service drinks station. Well in advance of the day, pull out your serving platters, bowls, and implements. Decide what foods will go where and tag them with sticky notes. 

Also pull out your dishware, linens, glasses, and flatware. Lay everything out so you can determine whether you’ll need to buy or borrow more of anything. 

On the big day, put sticky notes on each cooking appliance with its respective cooking schedule. For example, for the oven: “stuffing 3:00–5:00; green beans, 4:00–5:00; rolls, 4:40–5:00.

Seating Everyone is Better than Having Things Look Perfect
There’s something touching about a dining space that’s been cobbled together—lovingly but not necessarily seamlessly, using card tables and the odd piano bench or ottoman—to create seating that includes everyone. 

You’ll probably need to round up chairs from other areas of your home, and perhaps employ a folding table or two to create extra seating for the meal. You can go online and buy, in virtually any color, cloth covers that make folding chairs look elegant. Buy some if it will make you happy. But know this: nobody cares if things don’t match. 

The same goes for linens and tableware. It’s charming to mix things up!  

The Power of Place Cards
If you want to host a truly fun-for-your-guests gathering, place cards are more important than any elaborate table decor you might be planning. People really appreciate knowing where to sit, the assurance that there is a place, just for them, at the table. They don’t want to have to bother you to ask. The cards don’t have to be fancy, or even “cards.” Here’s an idea: find some pretty leaves outside, write your guests’ name on them using a Sharpie, and tuck each leaf into a napkin ring. 

Because Not Everybody Loves Football
If people are arriving hours before dinner, it’s thoughtful to provide some sort of amusement for those not glued to the football games. It could be as simple as putting out a deck of cards, a board game or a partially started jigsaw puzzle. Take advantage of everyone being in one place; assign to one or two guests the task of arranging a group photo. 

Let’s Talk About Mr. Turkey
Well before Thanksgiving Day, inventory your kitchen and make sure you have: a roasting pan with rack big enough to hold your turkey; a bulb baster; a big spoon for defatting pan juices or a fat separator; a sharpened carving knife; a carving fork; and an instant-read thermometer.

When buying a turkey, plan on about one pound per person for an eight- to 12-pound bird, or 3/4 pound per person for a larger bird. Purchase a larger turkey if you want leftovers for the weekend. If you are cooking a frozen turkey, start thawing it in the refrigerator on Sunday. 

For really juicy turkey, take it from the oven when it’s done, then create a tent of tin foil over the bird and let it sit for about half an hour. This allows the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the turkey. 

To garnish the turkey platter, have on hand fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary and some colorful fall fruits, such as crab apples, cranberries, and pears.  

If there are only two or three of you, consider roasting a turkey breast instead of the entire bird. Your house will still smell like Thanksgiving, but without all the to-do of a turkey. And you’ll have more room in your oven for your sides. But you won’t have dark meat, and you won’t have that Norman Rockwell moment of pulling a gleaming roasted turkey.

Hunker Down on Your Timetable
This is the part I hate, but it’s essential to your own enjoyment of the day. A day ahead, create a written timetable for serving dinner. Start with what time you want to serve, and work backwards. When should the bird go in the oven, if you want dinner to be at 5:30? (Probably about 1 p.m., if it’s average-sized and stuffed. Butterball has a handy chart.) I always switch off any music or TV to do my timetable because it requires focus.  

Remember Why You’re Together
It’s so easy, in all the commotion, to overlook this part. Have a plan—even if it’s only in your head—for how you will, once you’ve sat down to dinner, observe that it’s Thanksgiving. It can be serious, it can be funny or lighthearted, it just can’t be an afterthought. 

Consider Doing a Day-After Lunch
After all the feasting and fun, Thanksgiving Friday is a relaxing time to unwind with your nearest and dearest. A cozy lunch in the family room would be just the thing, where everyone can enjoy a casual, self-serve spread while watching football on the telly and catching up. Set up a station in the kitchen with makings for turkey sandwiches: a Waldorf salad; Bloody Mary ingredients if you’re feeling festive; and other drinks along with plates and trays. Arrange some dips and nibbles on trays in the family room, restocking as needed. When it’s time for dessert, bust out some brownies and freshly brewed coffee and tea.

Need Recipes, You Say?
I have recipes for the above-mentioned dips and nibbles as well as brownies and blondies. I also have lots of Thanksgiving recipes, including instructions for making turkey brine and gravy, and my tried-and-true recipes for make-ahead gravy, classic Thanksgiving dressing, cream-braised cabbage, roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, creamed spinach casserole and stuffed mushrooms. Email me. Please know I will never share your email address with anyone else.  

Thanksgiving Menu Cheat Sheet

Use this handy list when you’re putting together your dinner menu for the big day.

APPETIZERS Choose 1 to 3

  • Olives
  • Nuts
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Crudites and dip
  • Stuffed mushrooms


  • Turkey
  • Gravy
  • Cranberry sauce or relish

CARBY SIDES Choose at least 2

  • Some kind of white potatoes
  • Some kind of sweet potatoes
  • Stuffing or dressing

GREEN VEGETABLES Choose at least 1

  • Green beans
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli


  • Cauliflower
  • Fennel
  • Squash
  • Onions or leeks
  • Root vegetables

DESSERT Choose at least 2, depending on the number of guests

  • Pumpkin pie
  • Apple pie
  • Pecan pie
  • Lemon meringue pie
  • Flourless chocolate tort
  • Chocolate or gingerbread ice cream roll
  • Berry cobbler
  • Apple bread pudding
  • Poached pears

Email me with your entertaining questions, dilemmas, or triumphs at mjackson@inkansascity.com

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed