In a perfect world, we’d all have kitchens large enough to comfortably cook everything for Thanksgiving without breaking a sweat. But the reality is that many of us, especially city dwellers, are confined to itty-bitty spaces with hardly enough room for a few guests, let alone all the food, drinks, and decorations that go into hosting a T-Day feast.
When you’re trying to prep everything on one countertop while roasting a turkey and baking a pie and making stuffing all at the same time—not to mention assembling the cocktails, cutlery, and decorations you’ll need—it can be a recipe for disaster. But luckily, there are plenty of New York City–based food experts who are familiar with the challenge, and they have all the tips you need to get through it in one piece.
Victoria James, sommelier and wine director at Cote in New York City, says that it’s never too early to start thinking through your Thanksgiving plan. “There are going to be a ton of moving parts and things you didn’t even consider, so try to run through as much as possible beforehand,” she suggests. This includes everything from the menu to the seating and beyond. Figure out what you want to make well in advance so you know exactly what can be cooked a few days before, what will need to be made the day of, and what you can tell your guests to bring.
Choose a Manageable Menu
Though it would be nice to cook as many classic Thanksgiving dishes as possible, it’s better to say goodbye to some in order to save time and stress in the end, says Jenny Kwak, chef at Haenyeo in Brooklyn. “Have one dish that will be the star and that you know will knock everyone’s socks off, like a delicious turkey and a couple dishes that you can heat up and serve and not cook on the spot—that can get very stressful!” she notes.
Make Certain Dishes in Advance and Freeze Them
Not everything can be made in advance and frozen for later, but there are a lot of classic Thanksgiving sides that hold up well at a cold temperature, says Farideh Sadeghin, culinary director at Munchies. She explains that carb- and liquid-heavy dishes, such as stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy, won’t lose their quality after a few days in the freezer, so you can make them earlier in the week.
Opt for Certain Store-Bought Ingredients
Ina Garten was right: Sometimes store-bought is fine. Sadeghin agrees and suggests buying pretrimmed green beans to save valuable meal-prep time. Alex Koones, founder of Babetown, a Brooklyn-based queer supper club, recommends frozen piecrust and puff pastry for an assortment of different appetizers, like pigs in a blanket. And when it comes to cranberry sauce, Lauren Schaefer, chef and recipe developer, says that nothing is going to be better (or easier) than the stuff from the can.
Play It Safe
“Now is not the time to go crazy with making everything from scratch,” Koones says. When you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed, it just isn’t worth it to spend too much time cooking something you’ve never made before. Save that sweet potato casserole with homemade meringue and marshmallows for a smaller occasion.
Forget About Roasting a Whole Turkey
In small kitchens, Koones recommends cooking smaller pieces of turkey in creative ways, like frying turkey drumsticks carnival-style and confiting the legs and thighs with herbs and spices. Both processes are less involved, but the final products are just as (if not more) delicious than what you’re used to.
Or Skip the Turkey Entirely
“Roast a chicken instead of a turkey,” Sadeghin recommends. “Your fridge or oven might be too small to hold a large bird.” After all, unless you have the time and space to brine a turkey ahead of time, chicken is infinitely moister.
Make It a Potluck
Sadeghin strongly recommends having your guests bring sides to alleviate your workload. Take a look at your menu and hand off whichever dishes you’re least interested in cooking to someone you know won’t mind.
Make Your Cocktails in Big Batches
James says you’ll save yourself a lot of time by premaking your cocktails in big batches. Opt for something seasonal like mulled wine, which will pair perfectly with what you’re serving. Better yet, have a friend do it for you and forget about the task completely.
Keep the Apps Easy
While you’re busy in the kitchen reheating all the sides you prepped and froze earlier in the week, your guests will need something to snack on. Enter easy hors d’oeuvres. Kwak recommends serving a platter of bites that don’t need a lot of maintenance. A cheese-and-charcuterie board is one of her favorite things to present at parties because it’s quick to throw together, festive, and great to nibble on with wine.
Skip Disposable Roasting Pans in Favor of Pretty Usable Pots
“Look for great cookware that doubles as decorative pieces that you can put on the table and not have to worry about replating,” James encourages. She loves the Dutchess from Great Jones, which can be taken straight from the oven to the table.
Serve the Food Buffet-Style
When it comes to how you should present all the food, Koones says it’s best to dispense of Emily Post entertaining etiquette and serve it buffet-style or straight from your kitchen to free up table space.
Or Don’t Serve Everything at Once
You can also pace the evening slowly. “Serve a few appetizers, then the turkey and a few more sides, and then the desserts,” Koones suggests. This way, you’ll have more time to prep the food throughout the night and everyone will have a better chance to savor their food (and digest accordingly).
Take a deep breath—you’ve got this.
See more Thanksgiving ideas:
Is Cabbage the Turkey of the Vegetable World?
10 Genius Meal-Prep Ideas for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers
Try These Twists on Classic Thanksgiving Recipes and Never Look Back