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How to Keep Thanksgiving Dinner Warm- My Family Tradition

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be intimidating, even for the most confident and seasoned of cooks. That is why it is important to know how to keep thanksgiving dinner warm for that perfect thanksgiving experience. I know, because despite many years of sweating it out in the kitchen and finally mastering the turkey, there is the (small) matter of serving the rest of the dishes, hot. Yes, cold creamy mash and soup don’t quite cut it!

My friends struggle with this too. How do you manage to serve your thanksgiving dinner while it’s still hot, considering the numerous side dishes you have to prepare? Oh, and don’t forget the extra dish or two that your guests were so gracious to bring, that require heating up too!

Well, similar to how you plan your daily schedule, plan your Thanksgiving meal preparation, cooking and serving. Choose your meal idea, when you should prepare it, how much time you’ll require for each food item or course, and allow you to have a craze- less day. Oh, give thanks!

To give you an idea of how seamless preparing your Thanksgiving dinner can be, we’ll look at a simple plan.

Select Your Menu

Choose you meal plan wisely. It is easy to be tempted to go overboard, but simplicity means manageability.

Your Thanksgiving feast will, of course, include turkey, gravy, stuffing, one or two vegetables, mashed potato or sweet potato dish (or both), cranberry sauce and a couple desserts. You might also include a soup or salad, if you feel the meal itself is incomplete without these, and probably some biting for your guests first arrive.

You’ll be in luck if one of your guests offers to bring a dish. For this, dessert is a great addition as you can never have too much of it, and adds no extra effort or time, if it doesn’t require heating up.

Your meal plan should ideally be based on recipes that will complement the time, energy, kitchen equipment and space that you have. With the turkey taking up most of these, you may want to go with side dishes that require no cooking, can be made on the stove top or in a crockpot, can be made ahead of time and will only require heating just before dinner, or require a short baking time on d- day.

Choose a Balance of Simple, Easy to Make Recipes and One Show-Stopper

The turkey will take the center stage in your meal, both in preparation and serving. A good idea would be to prepare it the good old- fashioned roast way. You might be a seasoned cook, but choosing to deep- fry your turkey can be quite messy and time consuming, and doesn’t quite give you its full flavor. Roast turkey gives you that lovely, crispy skin and moist, tender meat when cooked correctly.

You can opt to showcase your culinary skills with a statement dessert.

Organize Your Table

Ring our and place all your serving dishes, plates, bowls and other utensils, ahead of time. You can make this easier by placing labels, like post- it notes, for easy identification of the dishes, platters and utensils. Make this even more interesting by having names places, for an exciting dining experience for your guests.

Organizing your table not only save you time and makes the dinner service flawless. It also means you will be able to identify any work that might have been overlooked- silverware that might require a quick polish, or a dish that may need some fast glue to hold together a wobbly handle.

Prepare Your Thanksgiving Meal

As earlier discussed, a great stress and time buster is a menu that is balanced in terms of ingredients, time, and effort- all for a tantalizing feast. It also helps that you can prepare some of your dishes some days in advance.

Cup of coffee beside you, sit down with pen and paper and carefully consider what ingredients you will require for your meal. Write down how long each dish will take to prepare, and when you shall prepare it, whether before or on Thanksgiving Day.

Below is a sample menu that makes your Thanksgiving meal preparation a stress free delight, and what the preparation looks like.

Butternut Soup with Pesto Dollop

Turkey

Gravy

Herb-Roasted Turkey

Cranberry Orange Sauce

Sweet Potato Casserole

Brussels sprouts with Bacon

Green Beans and Glazed Onions

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Apple Crisp

Meal Preparation

Below is My Menu for this years Thanksgiving dinner! Try it and enjoy it with me. Shall we?

This menu does not have any appetizers, but cocktails can be made a few minutes before your guests arrive. This will not be time or energy consuming, as most of your meals will already be prepped, or cooking away.

3-5 Days to Thanksgiving

Prepare Pumpkin Cheesecake and Apple Crisp. Freeze.

1- 2 Days to Thanksgiving

Prepare cranberry sauce, Refrigerate

Prepare turkey stuffing, Refrigerate

Prepare Sweet Potato Casserole, Bake, Let Cool, Refrigerate

Prepare Green Beans- Clean and Trim

Prepare Glazed Onions, Refrigerate

Set table

Thanksgiving Day:

10:00 AM             Survey you kitchen working space and declutter

10:15 AM             Toast stuffing bread crumbs

11:00 AM             Prep turkey

11:30 AM             Put turkey in oven

12:30 AM             Prepare butternut soup and place in refrigerator.

Have a cup of coffee

2:00 PM                Cook Brussels sprouts with Bacon, Green Beans and Glazed Onions.

2:30 PM                Remove turkey from the oven to rest. Put stuffing in the oven. Make gravy and keep warm on stove top.

Remove Cranberry Orange Sauce from Refrigerator.

3.00 PM                Guests arrive. Serve Cocktails.

3:30 PM                Carve turkey. Heat butternut soup and Sweet Potato Casserole

3:45 PM                Take stuffing out of oven and cover. Warm Apple Crisp in Oven

Turn on coffee maker.

Remove Pumpkin Cheesecake from Refrigerator or freezer.

4:00 PM                Serve Thanksgiving meal

5:00 PM                Serve coffee and dessert

There you have it- your food will be hot when you serve it, and if they do get late- blame it on winter traffic, here are a few tips on how to keep your thanksgiving dinner warm.

How To Keep Thanksgiving Dinner Warm

  1. Stack casseroles in a cooler

Similar to the way a cooler keeps drinks cold, a cooler’s insulation will keep your food warm for up to an hour by trapping in the heat.

With care, stack your hot casseroles or baking dishes straight from the oven into the cooler, cover it, and this will hold for about 20 minutes without losing significant heat.

To avoid squishing, place baking sheets between different sized dishes.  

Here is tip of of a great thanksgiving gift idea for someone who likes to cook. If you have been invited for a potluck, you could get them this wonderful stainless steel slow cooker and if you are considering carrying casseroles, you should pack it in the casserole dish with insulated carrier to ensure the food is warm.

  1. Make use of your grill.

Fire up your grill to the lowest temperature using indirect heat by turning on half the burners, or turning the burners to their lowest setting. Place your covered heat proof casseroles or baking dishes on the opposite side of grill- not over the burners, and cover the grill. Be warned though, your food might develop a slight smoky flavor.

  1. Use your slow cooker or counter top pressure cooker

The “low” settings on slow cookers can keep your sides, such as mashed potatoes, corn, gravy or vegetables, warm for up to an hour. You will need to moisten your food a little as slow cookers can dry it out while keeping it warm.

The “keep warm” setting on your countertop pressure cookers) can also keep your side dishes warm for an extended period of time. In the event that you prepared your dishes much earlier, these can also be used to reheat them.

  1. Chafing Dishes

This seems like an obvious solution, since chafing dishes are the perfect way to keep food warm on a buffet, especially your mashed potatoes, casseroles and stuffing.

You could glam up your food display by getting yourself some fancy versions- you are spoilt for choice with these.

  1. Electric Steamer

The advantages of an electric steamer include its keep warm functions and its dual steaming baskets. These allow you to keep multiple dishes warm, such as soups, vegetables and mash, much like a chafing dish would.

This should however not be used on foods that you’d want to keep brown and crispy, like roasted brussels sprouts or sourdough stuffing.

  1. Thermal Carafe or Thermos

A superb way to keep your soups and purees warm is by using your insulated coffee containers or thermal coffeemaker carafes. When ready to serve, pour it out into the soup bowls.

  1. Bread Warmer

Preheat your bread warmer in the oven, and you have warm dinner rolls and biscuits to serve in the basket. And you are spoilt for choice with the numerous beautifully vintage varieties that have made their comeback.

  1. Oven Drawer

You know that drawer that’s under your oven? It is more than just storage space! When the oven is hot, the drawer is warm, making it a perfectly warm holding place for your casseroles or roasting pans.

  1. Aluminum foil wrapped bricks

Sounds a little wacky, but it works. Wrap bricks in aluminum foil and put them in the oven at 375°F. When hot, place them along the bottom of your cooler box. Lay your side dishes, pies and anything else that finds no space in your oven, put the lid back on, and voila! Don’t forget the baking sheets to create layers.

A note to remember, don’t leave any warm foods at room temperature, for longer than two hours. Always hold your hot foods at above 140ºF, and when reheating, bring it up to 165ºF.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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