First Thanksgiving Checklist

November 1, 2012    |    By +
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A few years ago, I was thrilled to be hosting my first Thanksgiving. I had no idea what that logistically entailed, I was just happy to be having friends and family at my house for the big meal. I’ve been exploring cooking multi-course meals for large groups for a while and I can honestly say that Thanksgiving is another beast altogether. Hosting can be one of the best days of your year if you know what you need and how to execute it. I always say that, “everything is hard until you know how to do it” and Thanksgiving dinner holds true to that statement. So, here’s an easy check list and some tips to get you through your first of many happy and delicious Thanksgivings!

First, know that your first Thanksgiving should not aim to be the stuff of a Williams Sonoma cover shoot. You are probably a newly-wed or young enough that you don’t have the kitchen, experience, assistance, or time to roll out a dinner like that. But, it will be delicious, fun, and unforgettable! Don’t let those fancy recipes scare you.



  1. Go for the classics – ask for family recipes that you have always looked forward to. They are classics for a reason, which usually means they’re easy to make and taste great.
  2. Ask attendees if they have a family recipe that they’d like to make and share. Keep a list running so that you don’t end up with tons of varieties of potatoes and no veggies. By having others bring dishes, your work load is lightened which means you can have more fun!
  3. Ask for a turkey recipe from someone you know who makes a delicious bird…i.e. your mom, grand mom, or mother in law. This is not a place to experiment until you’ve made a few.
  4. Find recipes with the most familiar ingredients & the shortest list of ingredients. You don’t have to brine your turkey in adobo and stuff it with an intricate stuffing. These dishes are supposed to be simple and complimentary. Too many ingredients can make shopping expensive and cooking confusing.
  5. Throw in one experimental recipe – whether it’s a new pie, side dish, or cocktail, one is enough. Otherwise you’ll get too stressed out and if it doesn’t work out, it won’t ruin dinner.
  6. Gather recipes 2 weeks in advance and review timing, ingredients needed, & make a plan for what you can make ahead, and what you need to make just before it goes out.
  7. I always make a soup as the first course to get people nibbling on something while everything finishes up. Soups can be made in advance and are easy to re-heat and dish out.
  8. Cook the Turkey first on Thanksgiving Day. It can stay warm for a long time when covered with foil and kept in the steamy kitchen while everything else cooks.
  9. Anything in a small enough pan to fit in the toaster oven should be cooked there to leave room for the big stuff in the big oven.
  10. Don’t forget to have fun decorating! I like to use mini pumpkins as tea light holders for a low & festive tablescape. Be aware that big arrangements on the table mean that people can’t talk to each other or pass dishes easily. Placecard holders can be a practical decorative feature if you’re having a lot of guests. That way you can help mix them up and/or seat people who know each other close by.

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Kathryn D.W.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is the senior manager of content at She was formerly the executive editor at Honolulu Magazine, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Shopping on Oahu. Her career has included staff positions at Country Living Gardener and Power & Motoryacht. Her latest book is "Hawaii's Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!"

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Gwen is the Editorial Curator at In addition to writing blogs, she creates gift guides, curates the site, and produces content for our social media channels. As a freelance writer, she created blogs on fashion, art, travel, health and lifestyle. A talented jewelry designer, she's also a yogi and a hospital volunteer with her therapy dog, Lilo, a Pomeranian.