Countdown to Thanksgiving Dinner Checklist

I am a planner by nature. Thanksgiving dinner is one of those events that need a lot of planning in advance so I don’t get overwhelmed on the day of. If this is your first time ever hosting this holiday, I want to share with you my countdown to Thanksgiving dinner checklist.

My planning systems are not perfect and I do not expect them to be perfect, but when it comes to planning Thanksgiving dinner, I have it down to a T. In the last 12 years,  I have hosted Thanksgiving 9 times, and although it is a lot of work, the workflow is manageable, and I have learned to keep the overwhelm to the minimum.

This post will guide you step-by-step on the things you have to do on Thanksgiving week, starting the Monday before.

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving feast.

Please note that, since I like to brine the turkey, this countdown to Thanksgiving guide includes some steps related to this particular process. Feel free to skip this, if you do not intend to brine your turkey.

At the end of the post, you will be able to sign up to access a checklist, in PDF format.

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Things To Do on the Monday before Thanksgiving

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, we focus on 2 things:

  • Preparing the kitchen and the house for a smooth workflow, and
  • Shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner ingredients.

Monday Morning

  1. Make room in the fridge. Toss (or give away) anything that you know your family won’t eat within the next few days. Thanksgiving dinner is known for the best left-overs, ever!
  2. Make sure to make enough room in the fridge to fit a whole turkey and a big and tall stock pot where the brine is made.
  3. Make room on a table or counter space. This should be a table different than the one where you will be serving Thanksgiving dinner.
  4. Go shopping. Buy today everything you need to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. If you buy meats, especially ground beef, make sure to freeze it OR buy it the night before cooking them.

Monday Afternoon

  1. Put away all items and ingredients that require refrigeration.
  2. Set all pantry ingredients on the table or counter space.
  3. Pull out all cookware, serving dishes, dinnerware, and glassware. 
  4. If necessary, rinse all serving dishes and glassware.

Things To Do on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, make the brine for the turkey. If you have never brined your turkey before, I highly recommend it. It makes the moistest and most flavorful turkey you will ever eat.

Each year, I follow either Alton Brown’s recipe or Ree Drummond’s. They are both excellent choices that never disappoint.

Tuesday Morning

On Tuesday morning, we focus on:

  • Making the brine for the turkey
  • Washing and cleaning fruits and produce
  • Getting the house ready for guests
  1. Make the brine according to the recipe of your choice. Let it cool completely, and put it in the fridge.
  2. Wash fruits and produce. This saves you a lot of time when you’re ready to start prepping your dishes. Return them to the fridge.
  3. Pull out tableware, including tablecloths, placemats, napkins, and silverware.
  4. Deep clean social areas such as dining room, living room, and bathrooms.
  5. If you want and feel inspired, make a centerpiece, place cards, and decorate your home.
  6. Set up a bar cart or a drinks station.

Tuesday Afternoon

If you plan to brine the turkey, follow the first 3 steps:

  1. In a clean sink or basin, wash the turkey. Remember to remove the bag with giblets that are inside the turkey’s cavity.
  2. Place the clean turkey inside the brining bag, and the bag inside a deep roasting pan. The roasting pan acts as a drip pan in case of leaks.
  3. Add the brine over the turkey, add extra cold water, and tie the bag. Refrigerate it.
  4. If possible, start setting the dinner table.

Things to do on the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.

Wednesday Morning

On Wednesday morning we focus on:

  • Checking the turkey brining process.
  • Pre-cutting and prepping all vegetables needed for the entire dinner.
  • Baking all desserts.
  1. If the turkey isn’t totally submerged in the brine, now it’s the time to turn it while still in the brine bag. Keep it refrigerated.
  2. Chop all vegetables and produce your recipes call far, and save them in airtight containers. Return to them to the fridge.
  3. Make the cranberry sauce. Allow it to cool down and save it in the fridge in an airtight container. 
  4. Pull out butter, cream cheese, and eggs to bring them to room temperature. Do this if you are baking cakes, cheesecakes, pies or cookies from scratch.
  5. If you haven’t done it yet, set the Thanksgiving dinner table today. It will save you a lot of time.
  6. Bake pies, cakes, cookies, etc.

Wednesday Afternoon

  1. If the desserts (e.g.: pies, cakes, cheesecakes, etc.) are done and cooled down, put them in the fridge.
  2. Make ahead time-consuming side dishes such as mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes or green bean casserole. Allow them to cool completely, and refrigerate.

Wednesday is a long day! And if you decide to bake from scratch, be ready for a long night. But, you will be so glad you did all the hard work today! 

Things to do on Thanksgiving Morning

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.

Congratulations, you made it to Thanksgiving day! If you have followed all the steps on the previous days, you are off to a great start today. You won’t feel overwhelmed or pressed with time. Here’s what you have to do today.

Thanksgiving Morning

  1. Early in the morning, pull the turkey out of the refrigerator. Discard the brine, and rinse it off of the turkey’s skin. Let it rest to come down to room temperature. Wash the roasting pan.
  2. Place the turkey on a flat cookie sheet and season it. Usually a rub of oil, butter, herbs. Do this according to the recipe you are following. 
  3. Place a roasting rack inside of the roasting pan. Place the turkey on top of the rack. A roasting rack is great because it prevents the turkey from sticking to the pan, the fat drips stay on the bottom avoiding the turkey from becoming soggy underneath.  It is especially helpful when it’s time to pull the turkey out of the roasting pan.
  4. Depending on the size of your turkey, calculate the time it will take for it to cook thoroughly. Always allow an extra hour for the turkey to rest on a counter (covered in tin foil) before carving.
  5. Count the hours you need before serving Thanksgiving dinner and place the turkey in the oven. We usually serve Thanksgiving dinner between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., so I usually place the turkey in the oven around 11:00 a.m.

When roasting a turkey, you must baste it often with its own juices in order to keep it from drying out. Set a timer every 30-45 min. to do so, and keep an eye on the internal temperature to guarantee a fully cooked turkey. 

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.
Stainless steel roasting pan with rack

-Turkey Cooking Times chart: check out this handy turkey cooking times infographic from Real Simple.

Thanksgiving Day from Noon til’ Dinner Time

I would love to tell you that you don’t have to move a finger on Thanksgiving day, but unfortunately, this is a hands-on, spend-the-day-in-the-kitchen kind of day. But believe me, if you don’t work a little bit each day starting the Monday before, you will be stressed and overwhelmed all day Thursday.

With that said, dress comfortably and prepare yourself to spend the day in the kitchen finishing off all of your side dishes and other details. At least, by noon, the turkey is out of your way and hopefully cooking in the oven.

Here is a list of things to do while the turkey bakes.

Please note: these tasks will vary depending on the menu you have planned on, but it goes somewhat like this:

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.
  1. Steam or cook other vegetables of your choice such as broccoli for broccoli casserole, or winter squash.
  2. Sautee all vegetables the stuffing recipe calls for (usually a mix of carrots, onion, celery, and herbs). Add ground meat (or sausage) and other ingredients. Once completely cooked, set aside.
  3. Bring chicken stock to boil and have it ready to prepare the breadcrumbs for the stuffing. 
  4. Mix stuffing (ingredients from step 2 with 3), put on the serving platter. Cover and refrigerate if needed.
  5. Prepare sweet yams. I personally follow the -very easy- recipe that is on the back of the can of the sweet yams can. Again, this is a personal preference. 

You can let the side dishes rest over or near the warm stove until you’re ready to serve dinner. If you consider that some dishes should be refrigerated, allow them to cool down before doing so.

Plan ahead: keep in mind that you will need to reheat (whether in the microwave or in the oven) all the food made ahead that is refrigerated. Allow time in your schedule to do so once dinnertime approaches.

As dinnertime draws closer ( 1 – 2 hours before) do this:

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.
  1. Plate appetizers. Since Thanksgiving is a bountiful and very filling meal, keep the appetizers simple. Dip, crackers, olives, and a few crudites should hold off your guests until dinner time.
  2. Prepare drinks and cocktails such as spiced cider, or eggnog. Place them on the bar cart or drink station.
  3. Make last-minute adjustments to the dinner table,
  4. Clean up kitchen counters, just leave out what’s necessary to finish off some dishes, and plating.
  5. Clean the kitchen floors if necessary.
  6. At this point, you would like to take a quick shower, and get yourself ready!

An Hour Before Serving Thanksgiving Dinner

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.

One hour before serving dinner! Your guests have most likely arrived, they’re having some drinks, appetizers, fun, and probably watching some football too :). Now it’s time to make the gravy and reheat all the side dishes.

Reheating food tip: make sure that all the dishes, casseroles, or containers you’re using to reheat the food on, are microwave and/or oven-proof. Glass casseroles are good for both, microwave and conventional ovens. And disposable aluminum foil pans are good for conventional ovens only.

Below are the last few things you have to do at T-1 hour:

  1. Remove turkey from the oven. Once the turkey is ready (around 1 hour before you plan to serve dinner), remove it from the roasting pan (here’s where that roasting rack comes in handy) and save the pan drippings for the gravy.
  2. Place the turkey on the serving platter you are bringing to the dinner table. I like to plate my turkey with an arrangement of fruits (oranges, grapes, lemons, apples, etc.) and take some pictures before carving. 🙂
  3. Let the turkey rest on the counter, covered in aluminum foil. Allow the juices to set inside before carving.
  4. Make the gravy according to your recipe instructions. 
    If you are planning to make the gravy from scratch, strain all pan drippings and place the juices inside a fat separator.
  5. Reheat all side dishes. Pull out all side dishes from the fridge and start reheating them. Some dishes such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet yams, green beans or broccoli casserole, etc. can be placed in the oven for a quick warm-up (or gratin if you’d like) until it’s time to serve dinner.

A note about gravy: per my experience, the pan drippings, a few herbs like sage and rosemary, some butter and flour to make a roux, and water are all the ingredients you need to make your gravy. A brined turkey will make the pan drippings savory so you don’t need to add chicken broth or stock, nevertheless salt.

If your turkey is ready, your gravy is thickening on the stove and the side dishes are all heated up and plated, you are done! Now you can sit with your family and enjoy a beautiful evening!

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving feast.

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Thankful, Grateful, and Blessed!

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Follow this step-by-step guide for a stress-free homemade Thanksgiving.

Last but not least, don’t forget to ‘say Grace’ and acknowledge all the blessings and the bounty on your Thanksgiving dinner table.

Nothing is more special than sharing this dinner with your loved ones. Remember that regardless of how much money, time, and effort you spend on making a Thanksgiving dinner, regardless of the size of your table, or regardless of the beauty of your tablescape, just be thankful for living the moment with your family and friends!

happy organizing, Flavia


  1. What a great timeline, Flavia! Planning and working ahead of time makes Thanksgiving so much more enjoyable. I’m always thankful for making my side dishes they day before.

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