Transporting a cooked turkey doesn’t work. So if you’re hosting, you’re doing the turkey. Use Alton Brown’s recipe. It’s a classic. Keep in mind that you need to start the whole process of buying, thawing, and maybe brining at least four days in advance. For real. And you’ll need stuff: a 5-gallon bucket for brining, a roasting pan and rack, a meat thermometer, a board to carve it on, and a platter to serve it on.
2. And therefore the host makes the gravy.
Technically a guest could make the gravy and bring it, but this is a very essential component and since the host is already getting the bird parts, he or she should go ahead and make this Shortcut Turkey Stock, then use it to make gravy. (Step-by-step instructions for gravy here.) (And maybe get a gravy boat?)
3. The host cooks nothing else. Otherwise he or she might get overwhelmed.
Having a bunch of hungry, thirsty people in your home is overwhelming. Host: Don’t overcommit yourself. And so…
Host: Email the guests with the categories of dishes necessary (see below), and make it clear that there can’t be too many repeated flavors. Meaning, the first person or two who responds “I’ll do sweet potatoes” gets to bring them, and no one else does. And yes, some of you have to make a salad and that’s that.
5. The host will ensure that there are some vegetarian, vegan, or allergy-conscious options if any guests require them.
This includes gluten-free options. Ask guests to tell you if they have any special diet restrictions when they RSVP, and make sure those people have at least three things to put on their plate that make a good meal.
6. The most reliable friend should be assigned snacky hors d’oeuvres.
Assign this to people who can be trusted to arrive early. Snacks are essential while the rest of the meal is being heated up, otherwise people might freak out from hunger or black out from booze. Food and Wine has a great list of 30-Minute Thanksgiving Hors D’Oeuvres to choose from. Also: A cheese ball seems essential to me.
7. There should be potatoes.
Mashed potatoes are just very important. But you can have more: sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (holla!), potato-root veg gratin, roasted fingerlings with herbs, baked potatoes, whatever. Yum. Find some options among these 60 Thanksgiving Side Dishes To Make Absolutely Everyone Happy.
8. There must be vegetables that aren’t part of a creamy casserole.
There will be plenty of cheesy casseroles. The host needs to make sure there are also some bright, fresh veggies things that aren’t covered in creamy sauce and breadcrumbs. These dishes cut through the richness of everything else — so think acidic salads, steamed or sauteed veggies with citrus, etc.
9. There must be stuffing. The more kinds the better.
Having more than one kind of stuffing at Thanksgiving is THE BEST. Don’t hold back. Cornbread stuffing, challah stuffing, rye bread stuffing, rice stuffing. (If you think wild rice stuffing is boring then you haven’t made it using homemade turkey stock.) Here are lots of options.
10. If no one wants to make cranberry sauce, this will absolutely suffice:
It’s easy enough to make cranberry sauce from scratch. But canned cranberry sauce rules too.
11. So many desserts.
Classic pie is essential. But when you consider that you could have a SPREAD, aim for some variation on top of pie — cheesecakes, cupcakes, crisps, cobblers, bread puddings, bar cookies) — as well as a variety of flavors (pumpkin, apple, pear, cranberry, pecan) and you will be very happy.
Real napkins, a tablecloth, wine glasses, water glasses. Maybe even make place cards and separate couples (because that’s proper etiquette and more fun). Flowers are nice. Candles are nice. Set out a pitcher of ice water on the table so people can stay hydrated.
…and consider the necessity of serving bowls and platters.
Putting the food your guests worked hard to make into a nice bowl or on a platter makes it look infinitely better and is such a nice gesture. You may have to buy or borrow some serving pieces to have enough, though. You can also just serve everything in the Tupperware that guests bring it in, which is totally fine.
13. Everyone shall contribute wine. One guest should bring a bottle of whiskey.
The host should ask a few people to bring dry aromatic whites, like gewurtraminer or riesling, ask a few people to bring light-bodied reds like sangiovese and gamay, and a few other people to bring jammy, fruity reds like zinfandel. Also, dry hard cider is a great wine alternative.
14. The host shall provide ice — lots of it — and water.
When you have people over, you need ice. For water, for cocktails, for stuff. Just have a big bag of it in the freezer.
15. If guests arrive with their ingredients expecting to cook or assemble in the host’s kitchen they might get slapped.
The host should have speakers.