11 Tips for Cooking Your First Thanksgiving

(Updated Nov 2021)

So you’re all cute and on a #DebtFreeJourney and you decide to not fly home for Thanksgiving to enjoy someone else’s cooking. Instead, you choose to stay in your new city and try cooking a Thanksgiving meal for two (with some help from your #2).

Yes, you’ve recently started cooking far more than you ever have, you even purchased a Crockpot and have an Instapot on the way (thanks to Black Friday Prime deal!), but doesn’t taking on Thanksgiving dinner suggest far higher expectations about what the food is and how good it is?

While it is a day, like every other day, to be grateful for everything you have from life to family to friends, etc, the expectations are just there for the meal. Whether I ever do a spread on Thanksgiving like this again, I just had to share my ups and downs for anyone else cooking their first Thanksgiving.

First, my menu looked a little something like this:

2018 Thanksgiving for Two Menu

Dying to try one of the recipes above? We don’t have our Grandmas’ recipes digitized (we should do that this year), and you’ll see below our Turkey went to shit, but I have to say, Terry Crews’ Mac and Cheese was one of our favorite recipes after our own Grandma’s recipes.

Second, all my tips, feedback, woes, and joys of cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner:

1. Do plan dinner, start your grocery list and get recipes in order at least 1-2 weeks out so you can plan for grocery shopping the weekend before Thanksgiving (vs any days that week). Having to go to the supermarket for things you forgot 2 days before Thanksgiving is the worst.

2. Do plan Thanksgiving day. Work backwards from what time you want to eat and prioritize dishes to try to get either all the dishes done around the same time, or do cold/re-heatable dishes the day prior or early in the morning.

3. Don’t do more than 1 complicated recipe you haven’t tried before. Both of the special Grandma recipes on my menu weren’t easy (1 even lacked completeness of measurements/ingredients) and only one came out really great (Grandma Mary’s Pie).

4. Do wear comfy shoes. If your menu looks anything like mine, I was in the kitchen from 10am – 5pm. Don’t try to look cute in your slippers all day – they likely don’t have the arch support you need and your feet will be hurting by 3pm.

5. Do get yourself an amazing #2/partner that’ll offer you a foot massage 🙂

6. Do put your #2/partner in charge of hugs and (alcoholic) beverages. You will need the support!

7. Don’t use a cornbread recipe that’s part of a stuffing recipe (which is what I did), if you’re looking for just really good southern-style cornbread. For whatever reason, the cornbread came out really dry which feels right when being used for stuffing; but not when what you want is some gooood cornbread.

8. Don’t assume anything about how to/how long to prepare any part of a turkey. I went with just a breast since we were just two – didn’t want an excessive amount of meat leftover; it was a Butterball Organic Turkey Breast Roast.

It was thawing in the fridge 2 days before Thanksgiving, and I took it out of the fridge Thanksgiving morning. The packaging suggested up to 2 hours at 325 degrees for the way I thawed it. Let’s just say… that wasn’t enough and… let’s just say I misunderstood the terms “brine” and “roast” and didn’t season it with anything other than dry basil, salt and pepper… and I was so tired by 1pm (when it was time to pop it in the oven) that I didn’t even think to change-up the plan.

I know, I know… all the regrets about the Turkey. The turkey breast “roast” was probably our least favorite menu item. If I do Turkey again, I will plan better – it’ll be the focal point of the menu, vs it being (what I hoped would be) an “easy” after thought. Or maybe, I’ll just do some cute roasted chickens because that’s just easier.

9. Don’t be upset if you don’t hit your original meal time (4pm turned into 5pm). Things will happen, the turkey will need more time.

10. Do enjoy every bite and be grateful that you have the livelihood and the companionship of another human, to ever even have planned this day of excessive eating and drinking.

11. Do nothing the day after Thanksgiving – seriously.

To anyone that just had their first Thanksgiving dinner, anything I missed or that you’d add? Good luck!

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