How to Host an Incredible Thanksgiving Without Losing Your Mind

Advice and strategies from experts who know how to serve a crowd.

Thanksgiving table spread
Photo: Iain Bagwell/Getty Images

The shopping, the chopping, the cooking, the serving. You feed a crowd a couple times a year—but chefs and caterers do it almost every night of the week. So who better to ask for advice about throwing a holiday feast? A few of our favorite hosts weigh in with clever strategies to get you through Thanksgiving with minimal stress and maximum pleasure.

Renee Erickson

James Beard-nominated chef-owner of The Whale Wins, Boat Street Café, The Walrus and the Carpenter, and Barnacle—all in Seattle, Washington—and author of the cookbook, "A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories."

Prep: "One of my favorite side dishes is roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon and mint—but I always make sure to parboil the sprouts first. That's because 1) undercooked Brussels sprouts are the worst. And 2) when you roast them afterward, the centers get so soft they're like little creamed cabbages."

Drinks: "Stick to sparkling wine—especially Vouvray from the Loire—and you can't go wrong. For reds, Gamay—which is the primary grape of Beaujolais—is a Thanksgiving classic. I especially love Morgon, which is a little richer than village-level Beaujolais, but still a great value."

Dinner: "I really like cornbread stuffing. And it works especially well when you add a little spicy sausage—the texture and sweetness of the corn is such a nice counterpoint."

Dessert: "Traditional Thanksgiving dishes are great because we eat them so rarely. Still, now and then it's fun to switch things up a little. For instance, instead of pecan pie, sometimes I make a walnut version."

Jill Donenfeld

Founder of the private chef service, The Culinistas, and author of "Party Like a Culinista: Fresh Recipes, Bold Flavors, and Good Friends."

Prep: "When people ask what they can bring, I always say: ice. You can never have enough! And when the refrigerator is packed with food, it's great to have plenty on hand for filling ice buckets."

Drinks: "Make a pot of mulled wine in advance and heat it up on the stove just before your guests start arriving. It's easy, it smells amazing, and never fails to impress."

Dinner: "These days every gathering seems to include someone vegan or gluten-free. That's why I always roast lots of extra vegetables—turnips, radishes, squash, pumpkin, potatoes—so, no matter what my guests' dietary preferences are, they'll be able to assemble a hearty, colorful meal. Also: Consider trying ingredients that you usually serve roasted, raw—like shaved Brussels sprouts or a fresh green bean salad with raw cranberry vinaigrette. Or the opposite, try cooking things you usually wouldn't—like a baked cheese plate or grilled lettuce wedges."

Decor: "Instead of traditional autumn colors, I like to set the table all in white—white flowers, white linens, white plates. It complements the colorful food and feels like a precursor to the 'winter wonderland' that's coming."

Jeremy Sewall

Chef-owner of Boston's Island Creek Oyster Bar, Lineage, and Row 34 and author of "The New England Kitchen."

Prep: "The key is that you want to enjoy the day with your friends and family, you shouldn't be stuck in the kitchen. So plan and get as much done ahead of time as you can. Soups and most of the accompaniments—from cranberry sauce to gravy to stuffing—can be made ahead, and actually usually tastes even better when it is."

Drinks: "Rather than setting up a bar, which can be really cumbersome in a house, I make a punch or festive cocktail that can be done in batches. I also take a label maker and label everyone's glasses with their name so it doesn't turn into a free for all!"

Dinner: "Always feed the kids first and then get them in front of a movie so the adults can really enjoy sitting down together. This is a guy with three kids talking."

Dessert: "If you're not comfortable making a pumpkin pie from scratch, find someone who is. There are so many great things available at bakeries and specialty markets these days—never feel guilty about knowing what not to do yourself."

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