Hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time? One word to the wise: Give up the dream of cooking the perfect meal; let’s set the bar a little lower, shall we, and just try not to have any royal screw-ups on the big day. To help, we informally polled some of the most experienced turkey day hosts we know — people who have been doing this for decades — and asked them to share the worst mistakes they made back when they were starting out. According to them, here are the top eight things you want to avoid.
1. Forgetting those darned bags of giblets inside the turkey.
Gross but true: Most turkeys come with not one but two bags of innards that have to be removed before cooking — or else you risk your guests coming across the unappetizing sight later, right at your beautifully decorated Thanksgiving table. Look for one package (containing the heart, liver, and gizzards) in the ribcage and another in the neck of the turkey. We know, we know: It’s disgusting, and no one wants to do it. In fact, it’s probably why you got stuck with hosting in the first place.
2. Trying to put potato and carrot peelings in the garbage disposal.
Want to avoid an emergency call to the plumber on Thanksgiving morning? Don’t put large amounts of thick veggie peels down your drain all at once or you risk clogging your system and winding up elbow-deep in mucky water just as your company is walking in. Keep it simple and use a trash bag.
3. Forgetting to fully defrost the turkey.
This one’s a doozy. Depending on the size of your bird, it needs to defrost for two, three, four or sometimes even more days before it’s ready to go in the oven. Nothing’s worse than checking on your meal’s main attraction and realizing that the deep insides of the turkey are still icy, cold, and raw. Sure, there are last-minute-workarounds, but who needs that kind of added stress?
4. Not having enough chairs.
Chairs are easy to overlook, but crucial — especially if you wind up with extra guests you hadn’t planned on. (Side note: There will always be extra guests you hadn’t planned on.) To avoid having to eat in shifts, borrow a few seats from a neighbor in advance — or be ready to yank the beach chairs out of the basement as people are walking in. Really, this is one of the golden rules of hosting: Extras of everything are always a good idea.
5. Waiting to do the dishes until after dinner.
We regret to inform you: Dishes, dishes, and more dirty dishes are in your very near future. Speed up the process of cleaning every pot, pan, and piece of silverware in the house by cleaning as you go all morning and having your dishwasher ready and waiting at the time the actual meal is served. And don’t be afraid to revert to paper or fancy plasticware once dessert rolls around; at that point, people are (hopefully) feeling stuffed, happy, and non-judgmental.
6. Leaving lumps in your gravy.
Most of us have never needed to know how to make gravy until this fateful moment. And in the mad rush to make sure every dish is ready to go on the table at the same time, you’ll probably put off the gravy until the last minute. And it’ll probably be so thick you can stand a fork in it. And you’ll chuckle along with your guests because that’s how a good hostess handles these things (see No. 8), but you’ll also never forget about the time you made a perfect Thanksgiving dinner — except for the gravy. To avoid this embarrassing memory, get ready to stir… and stir… and stir. Better yet, order quarts of gravy from a nearby restaurant. We won’t tell.
7. Forgetting the cranberry sauce.
For some reason, everyone forgets this dish. (Another easily forgotten food we heard again and again? Dinner rolls.) Love it or hate it, this gooey, reddish concoction has had a place on nearly every Thanksgiving table since the dawn of time, and you don’t want to mess with tradition. People will be looking for it, so be prepared — even if you have to fake the real thing it by scooping gunk out of a can and throwing a few fresh cranberries on top.
8. Not laughing through the inevitable mishaps.
Our veteran Thanksgiving hostesses all agreed with this one: You’ve gotta learn to laugh at your blunders. Because this, too, shall pass, and then you’ll just be left with hilarious stories to tell. What’s a few minutes of embarrassment in exchange for adding an LOL-worthy anecdote or two to the family lore? After all, a Pinterest-worthy meal is not why most people showed up in the first place. As one of our hostesses quipped, “Everyone is just glad to be together.” Corny, but true.