21 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner can be just a teensy bit overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be! Breeze through the big day (and impress your guests) with these clever ideas.

Part of: Thanksgiving: Hosting Tips

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Tip #1: Start with something fun

Win Thanksgiving while watching your family and friends' jaws drop when they get a load of this incredible Turkey Day veggie centerpiece.

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Tip #2: Plan your menu

Thanksgiving will be here before you know it, and you need a plan of attack. The first step? Figuring out which dishes to make this year.

Allyoop asks: "I'm looking for new ideas — what foods must appear on the Thanksgiving table?"

Three no-fail classics to get you started:

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Tip #3: Make those sides early, too

Sides are especially easy to prep before the big day; just be sure to make extras — they're that good.

TXCHIK says: "I made the dough two days in advance and used it for two meals. They were great both times. Everyone loved them."

Try these To Die-For Crescent Rolls
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Tip #4: Do a gravy practice run

Want guaranteed lump-free gravy? Test out your recipe on an earlier turkey or chicken dinner.

Or, take a cue from Chicagoland Chef du Jour: "Buy a good jar of gravy just in case. Even the best cooks can screw up. I add a little wine to it, a diced shallot and presto."

Winning gravy recipes to try:

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Tip #5: Prep your dough ahead of time

Making pie dough on Thanksgiving morning is asking for trouble when more urgent matters will be at hand. Make it early and pop the plastic-wrapped dough discs in the freezer until you're ready to thaw and roll them out.

Set yourself up for success with:

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Tip #6: Serve what you really love

Turkey and mashed potatoes are classic Thanksgiving dishes, but why not start your own tasty tradition?

chiclet says: "We eat lasagna. Every year. No matter what. Sometimes there's turkey too, or maybe ham, but ALWAYS lasagna."

Try one of these recipes:

Find a new family favorite
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Tip #7: Bring a travel-friendly dish

If it's not your turn to host the big meal, help out by toting along a beloved side or dessert.

To transport food with ease, choose recipes you can heat in the oven or microwave and serve in the same pan in which you prepared them.

Three road warriors:

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Tip #8: Try a new cooking method

Always roast your bird? Surprise the family this year by slow-cooking or deep-frying it instead.

Or, give StaceyLee's method a shot: "For a juicier and tastier turkey, brine before cooking."

New turkey techniques:

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Tip #9: Jazz up boxed stuffing

Add the right touches to your favorite store-bought stuffing mix and your guests will never know it's not from scratch.

A confession from Aroostook: "Last year I used my method of making stuffing with the packaged mix. My family never knew the difference."

Easy breezy stuffings:

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Tip #10: Upgrade your favorite staples

It doesn't cost much to punch up popular Thanksgiving items like green bean casserole and pie crust. Simply turn to common herbs and spices in your kitchen cabinets.

Spiffy seasonings:

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Tip #11: Save oven space

Your oven is the place to be on Thanksgiving day, but you can sidestep gridlock by prepping a few sides on the stove.

Smart time savers:

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Tip #12: Put your oven on double duty

Tons of Thanksgiving sides and appetizers cook at 350 degrees — so go ahead and toss in more than one dish at a time. Just be sure to program separate timers and add extra minutes to account for the oven door opening.

Kill two birds with one stone:

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Tip #13: Offer drinks for all ages

Festive thirst quenchers like Sparkling Cranberry Punch will make all of your guests happy.

Rita~ says: "This punch is festive and yummy, and you don't feel deprived of a drink! It's also great for children who enjoy toasting with the family."

Try these non-alcoholic options:

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Tip #14: The right apple makes all the difference

Apples are apples, right? Not so fast: Some recipes call for a specific type of apple to ensure a balanced flavor.

Bayhill says: "This was delicious! We loved the combination of the tart fruit with the sweet topping."

How about these apples:

Try this Cranberry Apple Crisp
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Tip #15: Celebrate store-bought

The fewer minutes you spend in the kitchen, the more time you have to enjoy with your family. To speed up dinner prep, rely on recipes that feature packaged goods.

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Tip #16: Offer snacks before dinner

Tasty appetizers benefit the cook as much as the guests — they stay busy munching while you finish up in the kitchen!

A tip from KPD: "I made these spirals ahead of time and then placed them in a large Ziploc bag until Thanksgiving day."

Easy appetizers:

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Tip #17: Serve up comforting cocktails

Don't get bogged down by playing bartender during the Thanksgiving meal. Instead, make drinks you can serve in big batches.

FloridaNative shares the secret ingredient in her Hot Buttered Bourbon: A spiceful blend of creamy butter and seasonal spices, like nutmeg.

Try this and more boozy delights:

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Tip #18: Keep the kids busy

For children, it seems like Thanksgiving dinner takes foreveeeer to land on the table. Keep 'em occupied with cute and crafty desserts they can assemble with a favorite relative.

More creative remixes:

Try these Thanksgiving Desserts for Kids
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Tip #19: End on a high note

Making memorable desserts doesn't have to be hard.

Try these short and sweet desserts:

Impress guests by dishing up one of these 23 Shortcut Pies.
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Tip #20: Get creative with leftovers

Whew! Thanksgiving has come and gone, and your guests are still marveling over your kitchen know-how. Your reward? Leftovers!

More creative remixes:

10 Clever Recipes for Leftovers
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Tip #21: Come bearing gifts

Send your guests home with goodies they can savor long after the holiday meal is over.

Not hosting this year? Up the ante and present your favorite Thanksgiving chef with a homemade treat.

Fun gift ideas:

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