How much to make ahead this Thanksgiving

I’m hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at my house, with relatives coming from out of state and staying a few days, so I’ve already started planning. I’d just rather have as much as can reasonably (and tasty-ly) be prepared ahead of time done, so that I don’t spend the day in the kitchen, I spend it visiting with everyone. Or watching classic TV. Or shopping at the early Black Friday deals that start Thursday (I’m looking at you, Old Navy! and a few others). Or preparing for my Black Friday shopping. So, the stuff that holds up well frozen, is getting done now and will be frozen and ready to heat and go on the day of.

Also, I have some serious time/space/appliance concerns. With only 3 exceptions, everything is BAKED instead of cooked stovetop, and I have two ovens, but I’m baking 9 items (at last count) plus one oven will be roasting a turkey all day, so oven space is not possible for most of this stuff on the day of. I found a couple of things that made this possible:

A Black and Decker extra large countertop oven, model #CTO4300B. The picture on the cover shows it roasting two full size chickens side by side, so it should be able to handle a few side dishes at a time. The capacity vs. price paid for this was great! I researched it in person first to be sure it had the size I wanted and also had a sturdy feel to it and appeared easy to use. I saw it in person at Sears, checked prices at Sears, Lowe’s, Amazon, Target, and a few places online. Most expensive was $93, most prices were clustered around $55 to $60 (depending on shipping costs or whatever). Then, by wonderful coincidence, I had to go to the nearly outlet stores for a particular present for a family member with a birthday, and I went to the Kitchen Collection store there. I had a 20% off one item coupon. There, in the Clearance area, was one of these for $42.99. Unopened box, never used, wasn’t returned, wasn’t damaged, still had factory warranty, just a model in which they had newer ones come in and this one was clearing out. So, I got it at what seems to be the best possible price, didn’t have to wait for shipping, it’s right here and ready to use. If you want to buy it for yourself … you won’t be able to get the exact same deal that I got because mine was on clearance, but the next lowest price I found was on Amazon at Black & Decker CTO4300B Broil Countertop Oven for $54.99 and free shipping. I read a lot of the reviews on this item, it is also available in white at CTO4300W, and the reviews ranged from “defective, hate it” to “had it for years, love it and use it all the time”. Interesting. For as little as I paid for it, I’m not expecting much. I needed the capacity, and the ability to handle reheating foods that are already cooked. The majority of the negative reviews seemed to mostly point to a defective product, which hopefully I’ll find out before crunch time. Also, there were problems with things like liquid foods and toast the most. I am not planning on using it for either so I don’t see myself having the same issues.

A 3-tiered cooking rack. Prices on those ranged from under $20 to over $100, likely the more expensive ones are made of better materials and are higher quality, but again I’m just using mine for extra space and to re-heat, so durability is less important to me. I needed to make the most of the smaller oven in my kitchen because the turkey will be in the largest oven. If you are interested in these products, depending on how often you will use them and how important quality is to you, here are some choices. The one I picked was this for $16.99 – I noticed today when I checked the link, it said “out of stock”, but there are others available Nifty Home Products Oven Companion 3-Tier Oven Rack. This one seems slightly better and it’s available, and only a little more at $22 Nifty 3-in-1 Oven Baking Rack. This one is a very simple add-a-shelf for $9 Handy Gourmet JB6442 Oven Add-a-Shelf Rack.

So, between adding the extra countertop oven for reheating, and the 3-tiered rack for my small oven, it will be okay to have the big oven tied up with roasting the turkey all day. My only decision left was how much stuff to make ahead and freeze. So far:

  • Stuffing has been chopped and prepped, which took a LONG time because I did the whole thing from scratch. Celery, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, baked bread, everything but the actual turkey drippings. Since that won’t be possible until the day of, it’s good that stuffing doesn’t take long to cook. I’m just getting it all ready and having the pans ready and having the ingredients frozen and labeled and ready to just dump in a pan, soak with drippings, and cook.
  • Sweet potato casseroles are done and cooked and in the freezer. Those will be thawed and re-heated on the day of.
  • I bought frozen roll dough as a backup plan, depending on how quickly we go through my homemade bread.
  • Hashbrown casseroles will be next, those can be made and cooked ahead of time and frozen, no problem.
  • Same with macaroni and cheese, those are also on the make-ahead list.
  • I have frozen broccoli, will make cheese sauce and freeze it ahead of time. I have relatives that like the broccoli steamed both with and without sauce, so I’m serving that in a separate dish.
  • Cranberry orange relish can be made ahead of time and frozen.
  • Of course, lots of cookies, breakfast muffins, coffee cake, pies, and finger foods (like cut cheese, some dips, crudites) can be prepped and frozen.
  • Mashed potatoes can be mashed and frozen ahead of time.
  • I have my own special rub for roast turkey or chicken using butter and fresh cut herbs that I rub the whole bird with, then try to get as much under the skin as possible without tearing the skin. It’s a messy process, you can use plastic food prep gloves if you don’t want your hands to smell like seasoned butter all day. I can make the rub ahead of time and freeze it.
  • I stuff inside the turkey with bundles of fresh herbs, a cut up orange, a cut up onion, a few cloves of garlic, and a cut up apple. Since it all has to be fresh, I can’t really do that ahead of time because freezing them will change them. So … I’ll just be sure to be prepared the day before.

Looks like the only things I’m going to have to do on the day of is stuff the turkey with aromatics, roast the turkey, then at the right time extract enough drippings to saturate the stuffing and cook that, and make the gravy. Everything else will be cooked, just needs to be thawed and reheated.

Plenty of time for visiting, watching TV, preparing my shopping list, serving snacks.

Since we are still 2 weeks out, and since I already have the large turkey frozen and committed to Thanksgiving, I am actually considering cheating and buying a smaller one now (at 59 cents a pound!!) and roasting it to get the drippings so I can make the gravy and stuffing ahead of time. Haven’t exactly decided but I’ll decide by tomorrow. Then, the day of Thanksgiving, the drippings off of THAT turkey will be reserved for leftovers, made into gravy, used to soak the cut meat in containers, and frozen for future use.

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