Real Simple readers reveal their best time-saving tips.
Cut a Few Corners
For our first Thanksgiving away from home, my friend and I ordered, unbeknownst to us, a precooked turkey. We searched inside it for the gizzards, and my friend started laughing. There were no innards to pull out, of course, as the bird was cooked―a great shortcut.
Fort Lewis, Washington
After years of dealing with last-minute homemade gravy for a crowd of 20 people, I came up with a new approach. I mix several different types of store-bought turkey gravy, then I destroy all the evidence before anyone gets to the house. It's a hit every year.
San Diego, California
I love baking, but recently my family informed me that I'm really not good at it. My shortcut? We have a baker in our neighborhood who will happily make apple pie in my mother's glass dish, pumpkin in Grandma's, and mincemeat in one we got as a wedding present, and all much better than I could.
My trick is pseudo-homemade stuffing. I jazz up boxed stuffing a bit with chicken broth instead of most of the water the instructions call for. I also take some of the carrots, celery, and onions from the bottom of the turkey roasting pan, dice them up in the food processor, and add them to the mix.
Go to your sister-in-law's gourmet Thanksgiving Day feast, bring bread and flowers, and offer to help with the dishes.
Nashua, New Hampshire
My most reliable Thanksgiving shortcut is having my husband cook the turkey and letting his stepmom bring everything else. Last year I made the crescent rolls. I love Thanksgiving.
Ringwood, New Jersey
Potluck. I roast a large turkey and provide the festive table setting and a warm oven for friends and family. Everyone has a dish to share that's part of a personal Thanksgiving tradition. There are always oohs and ahhs, recipe sharing, and stories of past holidays.
It's so time-consuming peeling 10 pounds of potatoes on Thanksgiving Day when there are so many other things to cook. Delegate the mashed potatoes to another family member.
Thanksgiving is about sharing the workload as well as the fun and the food. I list all the dinner-preparation jobs by time slot and invite everyone to help with specific tasks. No one feels as if he is "slacking" when it's his time to be out of the kitchen, and no one has to be the kitchen martyr. Children can help with simple jobs. Anyone who hasn't helped before dinner is assigned to kitchen-cleanup duty, after which dessert is served.
I make lasagna the week before Thanksgiving and freeze it. Although I'm not Italian, I figure Amerigo Vespucci was here before the Pilgrims―plus it's easy.
I cut, slice, dice, and peel all the vegetables a day or two prior to Thanksgiving, place them in zipper bags, and stack them flat in the refrigerator on top of one another or on top of other items, which saves space. Then, when Thanksgiving Day comes, all I need to do is place them in their pots, pans, or baking dishes for cooking. Because all the tedious work has been done in advance, I can concentrate on the turkey.
Alpine, New Jersey
I have had years where I was scrambling for my 10th linen napkin or something was missing, like a salad fork, moments before my company arrived. The best shortcut for me, which always alleviates a lot of stress, is to set the table a couple of days early. It's nice to wake up on Thanksgiving morning and come out to see the table looking beautiful. Even if your turkey is still frozen and you have 14 pounds of Brie but no butter for the mashed potatoes, it makes you feel as if you did something right.
Albany, New York
Cook the turkey the day before. All the stress of having the perfect turkey can make you crazy, so I cook it a day ahead, when I have plenty of time. I carve the meat and put it in a dish with turkey or chicken stock poured over it to keep it moist. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, all I have to do is reheat it. Saves a ton of time―you can get up at 7 a.m. instead of 5.
A day or two before Thanksgiving, I prepare the dinner table and I get out all the platters, serving bowls, and utensils that will be used. I label them with slips of paper: mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc. This keeps me organized in the last few minutes before serving everything, and it makes things easier for my kitchen helpers. It also prevents the need for last-minute searches for the right bowl or utensil.
Elma, New York
Over the years, I have collected recipes from friends and various cookbooks to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. I scanned all my favorite recipes and made a PDF so that instead of trying to find them every year, I can just print them out. It makes writing my grocery list easy and helps me time the dinner to come together all at once. I never forget a vital ingredient, and when someone wants a recipe, it's simple to print out.
My most reliable Thanksgiving shortcut is to prepare all my side dishes a couple of days ahead in pretty casserole dishes. An hour before the turkey is ready, I start to bring the casseroles to room temperature. While the turkey is resting out of the oven and I'm preparing the gravy, I heat the casseroles. They go from oven to table―no last-minute potatoes to mash or extra serving dishes to find.
I make the mashed potatoes early in the morning. I peel, cook, and mash them, then put half a cup of milk in the bottom of my Crock-Pot and keep my potatoes in there. A few hours before eating, I turn on the Crock-Pot; the potatoes come out fluffy and hot.
Know Some Turkey Tricks
I bake the turkey upside down so all the juices seep to the breast. It doesn't look as pretty when you take it out of the oven, but the meat falls off the bone―and melts in your mouth.
Spartanburg, South Carolina
For the past 25 years, we've cooked our turkey on the grill. It's my husband's special part of the holiday, and he goes all out. This method frees up my oven, and I'm able to prepare the remainder of the meal without stressing over the bird. We're in the Midwest, but even in a blizzard, he still loves to grill that turkey.
I use celery, carrots, and onions instead of a rack for the turkey. When the turkey is done, the vegetables are, too.
I always buy a fresh, not frozen, turkey, so I don't have to remember to thaw it days in advance. It's ready to stuff and roast on Thanksgiving morning, and I don't have to stress, worrying if it's still a poultry Popsicle.
Don't Make Everything From Scratch
I like to dress up a store-bought pumpkin pie. I place pecans around the edge and add a dollop of scrumptious cinnamon whipped cream in the center.
Stop & Shop's Boston Market Thanksgiving dinner to go. Everything comes in one big box. All I have to do is make my own salad.
I always make my mashed potatoes and apple pie from scratch. But for a foolproof meal that actually tastes good, I rely on a fully cooked organic turkey from Whole Foods. It takes only a few hours to heat, but it looks as if I've spent the whole day cooking.
Order "homemade" gravy from the local market and just reheat. No more fretting over lumpy gravy when everything else is ready.
Get Out of the House
Last year my husband and I went to Cancun, Mexico. We didn't have to fuss about relatives or overcooking the bird. The resort served us turkey, potatoes, and margaritas―poolside.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
My shortcut is straight up Route 15, from Maryland to Pennsylvania, to my folks' house, where a warm turkey, family, and fire welcome us.
Gretchen "Gigi" Goodhart
I live next door to my grandma, who makes the most delicious Thanksgiving meal. The only shortcut I take is the one I take through her yard.
San Diego, California
I volunteer to serve at the local homeless shelter and eat a meal with the residents.
Don't cook. Take your family and friends to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, in Manhattan.
Edison, New Jersey
Reservations...at a nearby restaurant.