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Thanksgiving Guide


12 Tips for Staying Sane When Hosting a Crowd for Thanksgiving

by Adriana Velez on November 15, 2012 at 9:49 AM

thanksgiving dinnerMany of us are having a few people over for Thanksgiving -- maybe five or six guests. And then there are the generous, ambitious hosts who are having many, many more guests than that. As in ... 20 people! How do you manage a Thanksgiving circus like that? So much potential for chaos and food poisoning.

I've been having this conversation with a group of friends, and some of them came up with advice so creative and useful I just had to pass it on. Take it from a few women who have hosted massive dinners (not me!): This is how you organize a BIG Thanksgiving dinner without losing your mind.

1. Plan out what you can do ahead of time, and then write out a detailed to-do list for each day. Things that can be done ahead: Setting the tables, baking pies, making gravy (buy turkey wings and/or necks), making soup. Some sides can be done ahead, too.

2. If you're cooking a frozen turkey, start thawing it out in the refrigerator on Sunday.

3. Hide all of your serving utensils (so no one can use them for random stirring, etc.) until you're ready to actually serve. Make sure you reserve (and hide!) a clean set for dessert.

More from The Stir: Keep Your Bird Juicy: 5 Tips From the Pros

4. If people are contributing sides, ask them to do all their cooking at home. Encourage people to bring dishes in Crock-Pots, which you can plug in immediately to keep dishes warm. Or, wrap hot dishes in towels. If it's in the budget, this might be a good time to invest in a hot plate.

5. Have a pot ready to receive the turkey carcass so you can start your turkey stock right after dinner.

6. Put sticky notes on each cooking appliance with its respective cooking schedule. For example, for the oven: "Stuffing 3:00-5:00." That way no one removes your half-done stuffing to warm up their green beans.

7. Make two to three times more gravy than you think you'll need. (Or if someone else is making it, you make some, too.) Hot gravy can improve lukewarm side dishes. And really, you can never, ever have too much gravy.

8. Have a plan for storing leftovers. Not mentioned in that post I link to: Line any Crock-Pots you're using to keep sides warm (see above) with plastic bags for quick storage later on.

9. Keep a sense of humor. I recommend sipping a little wine throughout the day -- and snacking -- to help. A friend of mine freezes bourbon into little ice cubes and lets them dissolve into her Coke. Either way, you'll want to be moderate. No good getting roaring drunk under these circumstances. Not that you would ever!

10. Place gravy, cranberry sauce, butter, and other condiments in several smaller containers all around the table (instead of setting just one or two of each) to make passing easier.

11. Try to get a loaded dishwasher running during dinner so that the dishes you have to deal with after dinner are from the dinner itself.

12. Relax! People will flake on assignments. Dishes will be broken. Sides may not turn out perfectly. Prepare your patient, indulgent "Oh that's all right!" facial expression and expect to use it often.

What's the largest group of people you've hosted for a holiday meal?


Image via Philms/Flickr

Filed Under: thanksgiving, themed, traditions, dinner


  • nates...


    November 15, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    I have had 15 people at my house for a meal.

  • mrswi...


    November 15, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    10 is the largest i've hoseted for thanksgiving but I have hosted larger parties.

  • sukainah


    November 15, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Great suggestions.  I've never hosted a big party and actually I'm very glad LOL

  • Three...


    November 15, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    I once hosted a party for 16 adults and 8 children.  That was the largest that I actually cooked for.

  • count...


    November 15, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Those are all great tips!  I have never hosted a party that large but there is that many of us or more at my sister's house for Thanksgiving but we all bring different dishes and she just does the turkey and stuffing so it makes it easier on all of us. 

  • the4m...


    November 15, 2012 at 12:21 PM
    I've had very large dinner parties. 25ppl at the biggest. I never read a single tip on how to do it, but these are basically what I do. Except the notes. Nobody would ever DARE to touch my stove, oven, or cooking utensils. Its the only place in my house that I do not allow guests to piddle around, and everyone knows it lol
  • DNewman


    November 15, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    I have done both huge get togethers and small. I enjoy the huge ones, because I do only 4 things. Roast the turkey and stuffing and make mashed potatoes and gravy.

    I ask everyone to bring their favorite part of the meal that they would totally miss. (I also have categories for them to choose from, like desserts, relishes, vegetable sides, rolls & breads)

    We usually end up with an awesome variety and everyone takes home their dishes.... after we all help in the kitchen

  • Rushn311


    November 15, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    I think I've had 15 people tops in my house for Xmas Eve. I do a lot of prepping two weeks before, then a lot two days before. I write lists and everything. It keeps me organized.

  • coppe...


    November 15, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    Those are great tips, thanks! The most I have hosted a holiday meal for is 17 :)

  • LuLuRex


    November 15, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    I haven't hosted a big meal yet, I think the most I had was 9 lol.

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