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From the most reliable way to cook turkey to easy appetizers, this advice will make menu planning easy.

Julia Heffelfinger
October 03, 2017

For many people Thanksgiving is the biggest meal of the year. There are a lot of moving parts, from dealing with a house full of relatives to making sure the turkey is done on time. To relieve some of the stress that is bound to come with the holiday, it’s best to plan ahead, especially when it comes to your menu. Maybe you already have a favorite turkey recipe and the side dishes you can’t be without, but whether you’re sticking with what you know to be tried and true or trying something different this year, these Thanksgiving menu planning tips will help make sure that come Thanksgiving Thursday, everything goes smoothly.   

Don’t overcomplicate it.

More sides do not equal a better meal. Try to keep it to 5 side dishes and 2 varieties of pie. You’ll thank yourself later.

Plan to have the turkey in the oven most of the day.

With your turkey taking up most of the oven real estate, you should make sure to pick a few dishes that can be made on the stove top, can be served cold or that can bake while the turkey rests (such as these Spicy Thai Coconut Mini Biscuits)

Spatchcock your turkey.

Spatchcocking involves removing the backbone of the turkey, and by doing that and pressing it flat through the breast bone, the turkey comes out evenly browned and juicy and requires much less time in the oven. This is especially great if you have a big crowd, only one oven and need to roast two birds on the big day. This method also makes carving the turkey a much easier task. You can definitely have your butcher do it, but if you want to try it yourself, check out Paul Kahan’s technique on a chicken—it’ll be essentially the same (if a little more cumbersome) with a turkey.

Resist the beige Thanksgiving.

Yes, I know you have to make your family’s favorite stuffing and people will revolt if there’s no corn pudding, but try mixing in some colorful Caramelized Vegetables with Dijon Butter or this Ombré Potato and Root Vegetable Gratin. After all, Thanksgiving is the most Instagrammed meal of the year.

Make a salad with sturdy greens.

If you like to have a salad on Thanksgiving, choose a sturdy, durable lettuce that can sit for awhile without getting soggy. Think escarole, kale, radicchio, endive—we love this Winter Greens Salad with Buttermilk Dressing from Melissa Clark.

Keep the appetizers light and easy.

You don’t want people spoiling their appetites and you can save yourself some work by ordering online. Try one of these F&W approved apps:

“The Blue Jay” cheese, Deer Creek

Don’t go crazy with a big cheese board – keep it simple and stick to one big wedge of a special cheese. Our pick is this new Wisconsin blue infused with crushed juniper berries. The botanical notes of the juniper are fantastic with the sweet, creamy, funky cheese – it’s perfect for the holiday season.
$4.79 for 5.3 ounces.,wacheese-gifts.com

Maple Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods

Light, crispy and super-snackable, these lightly salted pepitas are sweetened with just the right amount of maple syrup.
$3 for 3 ounces, farmtopeople.com

Olives & Pickles

Pair your favorite olive (we like sweet, meaty Castelvetranos) with these sweet-and-tangy pickled beets from Kansas City Canning Co. spiced with cinnamon, peppercorn and all-spice.
$13 for 24 ounces, kansascitycanningco.com

Walnut Ryecakes, Effie’s

These nutty, slightly sweet crackers are thick and buttery and studded with toasty rye. Munch on them solo, or they’ll pair phenomenally with the creamy blue.
$7.59 for 7.2 ounces., chefshop.com

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