Navigating your first Thanksgiving

Food is the focal point of Thanksgiving Day. Most health professionals say to enjoy it, but in moderation.

Food is the focal point of Thanksgiving Day. Most health professionals say to enjoy it, but in moderation.


Lawrence Journal-World

We know it’s hard to believe, but once upon a time, your grandmother held her first Thanksgiving dinner.

Yep, it happened.

Waaaaay back then, your grandmother (or father/mother/aunt/family martyr or whomever it is who traditionally hosted your annual turkey day) was a total novice at running a huge family holiday. It’s hard to picture, but everybody’s got to start somewhere.

And, every once in a blue moon those family duties shift and suddenly you find yourself staring down a 22-pound bird that’s not defrosting fast enough.

It does happen, and if you’re a Thanksgiving first-timer (or a many-timer looking to streamline things) we’re here to help. We’ve got a Thanksgiving guide full of the kinds of checklists that can take some (not all, sorry!) of the stress out of the holiday.

So, pull up a chair and read it through. Then, keep this guide handy the day of and we’re pretty sure things will go off without a hitch.

And if they don’t? Who cares? It’s a holiday. Have fun, relax and don’t stress if your bird needs to go in for an extra hour or the pie crust burns.

It’s just Thanksgiving.

Turkey how-to: Better know a bird

Chicken about turkey? Don’t know your livers from your gizzards? Not sure how to defrost the bird? (Pro tip: If you haven’t started, you might want to begin defrosting that sucker NOW).

There’s one place to get all those answers and more: Butterball. These folks have been doing turkey forever — OK, since 1954 — but what matters is that they have people on hand who can answer your questions.

They’ve got a hotline! Videos! Calculators! A mobile site! In fact, it’s almost too much.

So, here’s what we recommend for a first-timer:


“How to Thaw a Turkey”

“How to Roast a Turkey”

Don’t have time to watch? Here are a few highlights:

  • Thaw breast side up.
  • Refrigerator thawing takes 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey. (So, you need 5 whole days for a 20-pound bird)
  • Cold water thawing takes 30 minutes for every pound. Change the water every now and then to speed up the process.
  • Place thawed turkey, breast-side up, on a flat rack in a shallow, open pan, about 2 inches deep.
  • Don’t forget the meat thermometer — place it in the lower portion of the bird’s thigh, being careful not to touch the bone.
  • Cook the turkey in a 325-degree oven. The turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees.

Extra credit

Check out the portions calculator. Or, if you plan on frying your turkey, try this method.

Emergency contact: 1-800-Butterball;; @butterball on Twitter

Work and plan ahead

Remember those kids who would do their homework on Friday night so they’d have the rest of their weekends to themselves? Yes, we know they’re dorks and all, but they were on to something, especially as it translates to Thanksgiving. The more you plan or do ahead of time, the better.

Planning hints:

  • Compile your recipes.
  • Create a grocery list for all items in those recipes except for the turkey (which should be defrosting NOW).
  • Construct a timeline for turkey day — know when you need to do what so dinner happens on time.
  • Figure out what you can make ahead. Some things to try: Rolls, casseroles (green bean and sweet potato), dressing, cranberry sauce and pie.
  • Or, plan on what your guests are bringing and double-check to make sure it’s happening.

Note: Some things, like mashed potatoes, are best made the day of, but at least you can plan to boil and mash them rather then using up valuable oven space by baking a casserole the day of.

Extra credit

Try baking from scratch the day before. For bread ideas, check King Arthur Flour. For ideas on pie, see our story on desert alternatives.

Emergency contacts: Check out Whole Foods for an entire section of “Thanksgiving Favorites” recipes.

Forget something? Know when the stores close.

Did you or a guest forget butter, cranberries or (gulp) the turkey? Here’s a list of Lawrence’s major groceries and their hours on Thanksgiving Day:

  • Hy-Vee: Open until 2 p.m.
  • Dillons: Normal hours, though some departments will be closed, or close early
  • Checkers: Normal hours.
  • The Merc: Closed. But open normal hours the day before.

Emergency contacts

Hy-Vee, 3504 Clinton Parkway, 832-0044

Hy-Vee, 4000 W. Sixth St., 832-9449

Dillons, 1740 Mass., 842-2942

Dillons, 3000 W. Sixth St., 843-0652

Dillons, 1015 W. 23rd St., 841-3366

Dillons, 4701 W. Sixth St., 838-0100

Checkers, 2300 La., 843-0023

The Merc, 901 S. Iowa, 843-8544

Count on your table manners

What do you need to set the table? You probably have most everything on hand, but you may want to pick up a few extra things for the big event.

Table basics:

  • Dinner plates
  • Glasses
  • Place mats
  • Napkins (Paper or cloth)
  • Silverware: Forks, spoons, knives
  • Towels, trivets or cloth napkins for each hot item
  • Bowls or plates for each item in the meal (turkey, green bean casserole, cranberries, bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, dressing, etc.)
  • Chairs enough for everyone
  • And table space for everyone, too. Ask for guests to bring a card table if you think it might be a bit too tight.
  • Ice enough for everyone. Take care not to run out.

Extra credit

l Salad plates

Bread plates

Silverware: Salad forks

Gravy boat

Fancy carving knives

Butter dish

Sugar bowl

Bread basket

Wine glasses

Table cloth

Pitcher for ice water (or sangria, if that’s how your Thanksgivings roll)

Emergency contacts

Try locally owned stores to get something unique for your holiday table:

Weaver’s Department Store, 901 Mass., 843-6360

The Bay Leaf, 717 Mass., 842-4544

In the kitchen

What you need in the kitchen may be more than what you use daily for things like boiling pasta water and making stir-fry. Take inventory of what you have and figure out what you absolutely need to get and what you can do with out.

Basic cooking tools:

  • Meat thermometer
  • Roasting pan/rack
  • Basting brush
  • Hot pads/oven mitts
  • Potato masher/hand beater
  • Cookie sheets (for warming/baking rolls)
  • Wooden spoons
  • Ladles
  • Measuring spoons, cups
  • Pans, pots
  • Knife large enough for carving
  • Pie pans

Extra credit

Turkey roaster

Stand mixer

Oven-to-table stoneware

Emergency contacts

Big box stores will have any of the kitchen or table items you’re missing:

Bed Bath and Beyond, 3106 S. Iowa, 842-4439

Target, 3201 S. Iowa, 832-0660

Wal-Mart, 3300 S. Iowa, 832-8600

Wal-Mart, 550 Congressional Drive, 841-1700

Wrangling leftovers

For health and safety reasons, your leftovers should be headed to the fridge within 2 hours of you sitting down to dinner. Got lots? Here’s how to handle them:

  • Make sure to have paper plates or cheap Tupperware to send food home with guests.
  • Use shallow Tupperware for dense items — deep Tupperware can be a breeding ground for food-borne illness.
  • Be nice to your drains and disposals. Roto-Rooter advises never to put fats or cooking oils down the drain as they solidify in pipes. Also, avoid putting poultry skins, celery, fruit and potato peels in the garbage disposal, as they won’t be sufficiently broken down because of their stringy, fibrous and starchy natures.
  • Freeze what you don’t think you’ll be able to eat by the end of the weekend.

Emergency contacts

Douglas County Extension Services, 2110 Harper St., 843-7058. Or checkout our leftover guide.

Need a game to watch?

Unfortunately, the KU men’s basketball team doesn’t start its Thanksgiving tournament until Friday night (check for more), but there are three NFL games for you to chose from on turkey day:

NFL Games

  • Patriots at Lions, 11:30 a.m., CBS
  • Saints at Cowboys, 3:15 p.m., FOX
  • Bengals at Jets, 7:20 p.m., NFLN

Emergency contact

911 for the Lions, Cowboys and Bengals, who are in last place in the NFC North, NFC East and AFC North, respectively.

— Staff writer Sarah Henning can be reached at 832-7187.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.