Thanksgiving food made easy and safe

It can be challenging to host a large meal, especially at the holiday time. If you are the host for a big Thanksgiving meal, break the tasks down to have a fun and safe gathering.

It is never too early to “talk turkey” about the holiday food preparation. With some thought and planning you can have an enjoyable, stress-free Thanksgiving or other major food holiday.

If you are eating at someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, there are not many things to think about except how you might pack your dish to pass or bring leftovers home. If you are bringing a cold dish, be sure the food is chilled prior to transporting and transport the dish in a cooler with ice. If you live close to the host and are bringing a dish right out of the oven, wrap the covered dish in clean towels and layers of newspaper or a clean blanket for transporting. The dish can be put in a cooler without ice to help keep the heat in the dish. If you are traveling a long distance, make your hot dish ahead of time, chill it, then transport it and reheat it just before serving. If you are planning on bringing leftovers home, pack a cooler and plan for ice so you can safely transport those leftovers. Refrigerate them as soon as you get home and enjoy for the next couple of days.

If you are hosting a large number of guests for Thanksgiving you might be wondering how best to make the event as easy, safe and stress-free as possible. Use the following tips in planning:

  1. Look at the number of people you are having for the meal and how they will fit into your space.
  2. Plan your menu and decide if you will prepare all the food or if it will be pot luck. If it is to be pot luck, will you assign types of dishes or let the people decide what to bring. Often, for holiday pot luck, especially if it is family, people have a certain dish that they like to bring. You also need to think about oven and stove space.
  3. Once you have the menu planned, make a shopping list and watch the ads for specials. Some things can be made ahead of time, froze then thawed for reheating. Squash is a great example of something to make ahead. The more that can be done ahead, the easier it will be for you.
  4. If you are having turkey, plan on about one pound per person. If you are having 10 people, you would want a 10 pound turkey or a little more to have leftovers. For just two or three people, a 10 pound turkey will give you lots of leftovers. Allow about 24 hours of thaw time per four or five pounds of turkey. A 10 pound turkey would take about two or three days to thaw in the refrigerator. Turkey should not be thawed on the counter because of the danger of food bacteria.
  5. When you are getting ready to roast your bird, be sure to check the cavities for the giblets, neck and extra fat. You will want to remove those items. If you enjoy the heart, liver and gizzard, you can roast or boil those items separately. It is much easier and safer to roast the turkey unstuffed. The stuffing is dense and does not get hot enough quickly inside the turkey, pathogenic bacteria could grow in the stuffing which could cause foodborne illness. Stuffing can be made and baked in a baking dish. If you like the stuffing extra moist, it can be basted with turkey broth. Turkey should be roasted at 325 degrees until it reaches an internal temperature on 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh and thickest part of the breast. A 10 pound turkey would take about two hours and 45 minutes. The turkey should rest about 15 minutes before carving.
  6. If you are making gravy, be sure it is kept hot. Pathogenic bacteria in gravies multiply quickly when gravies are not kept hot, (above 135 degree F.).
  7. You can arrange the table the night before. Kids can help with table setting and decorating.
  8. After you enjoy your feast, get the food packaged and put away. Food should not be out any more than two hours. It is best to remove any remaining turkey from the bones and refrigerate in a shallow pan. Save the bone for making soup. Any other items should be put away before the traditional “after turkey nap.” The pumpkin pie should be kept in the refrigerator.
  9. The holiday time should be for feasting and fun, so enjoy both.

To learn more about food safety during the holidays, visit: The United States Department of Agriculture also has information on food safety. The web site to access their information is:

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources