Last Minute Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas

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It’s only three days until Thanksgiving and if you are cooking you should not be panicked. I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the thirty years and today I am sharing all of my last-minute Thanksgiving dinner ideas and tips. Enjoy and have fun because your dinner is going to be amazing!

thanksgiving dinner tips

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It is a wonderful holiday to celebrate with family and I get to do my two favorite things: cook and entertain.  Contrary to popular belief, the dinner is not that hard to cook. I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner for over thirty years and today I am hoping to share some Thanksgiving dinner ideas and tips to make the day much easier for you too!

Thanksgiving Dinner Time Saving Tips

thanksgiving dinner

Pot Luck

Pot luck is a really brilliant way to make your Thanksgiving dinner more enjoyable. Ask family members to bring the mashed potatoes, pies, rolls, cranberry sauce and wine. If you are a control freak like me and want to make sure the family recipes are included, don’t be shy about passing along a recipe too. For Friendsgiving last year I asked my girlfriend to bring sweet potatoes and gave her our favorite recipe. She was thrilled I made it easier for her!

We are hosting 34 this year for Thanksgiving and I have all of my sisters and sisters-in-law bringing most of the meal. All I have to do is set the tables, cook the turkeys and make the dressing and gravy. How wonderfully smart is that?

thanksgiving dinner tips

Set the Table in Advance

I always set my Thanksgiving table at least two days in advance. It’s so much easier to set the table in advance and there is no reason to wait. It’s also a great way to realize if you have forgotten anything for your table. 

Fall dining table

Buy Your Turkey Today

Fresh turkeys are in the stores now so buy your turkey today! If you end up with a frozen turkey, don’t forget to allow time for it to thaw.

How to Thaw a Turkey

All frozen turkeys need to be thawed in advance. It takes a lot longer to thaw a turkey than most people realize. 

Slow Method: Thaw time in the refrigerator requires about 24 hours for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at about 40° F. That means a 20lb. turkey takes FOUR days to thaw. Leave the turkey in its original packaging to thaw.

Faster but “Kind of a Hassle” Method: Thaw time in cold water requires about 30 minutes per pound in cold water, refreshed every 30 minutes. This is kind of a hassle because you do need to change the water every thirty minutes and you also need to cook it fairly soon after the turkey has thawed. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping, and place it in a larger, leak-proof plastic bag. Squeeze out extra air and seal the bag. You need to change the water every 30 minutes or else the water will be too cold. 

Fastest and Most Desperate Because You Forgot to Thaw the Turkey Method: This is my least recommended method but some times desperate measures are needed. This method is to thaw it in the microwave. Obviously, this only works if you have a large microwave. Look on the internet for the manual of your microwave to get instructions for thawing a frozen turkey. Times and power settings will differ from model to model. It could take an hour or more on the defrost setting, depending on the size of the turkey. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

So what happens if it’s Thanksgiving morning and you forget to thaw your turkey? You can still cook it! Check out this step by step method to cook a frozen turkey.

cornbread stuffing recipe

Cook in Advance

There are a lot of things you can cook in advance for Thanksgiving. If your stuffing recipe calls for cornbread make it the day before. My recipe also calls for dried white bread so I also dry it out the day before. My sweet potato recipe can also be made in advance. Cranberry sauce and apple butter can be made the day before too. I make my pies the morning of Thanksgiving but I know a lot of people that also make them ahead of time.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes

Every year I use the same recipes so I am sharing my favorites with you today.

Yield: 12 servings

Mom's Cornbread Stuffing

Thanksgiving Dinner recipes

This is my favorite stuffing recipe ever! The cornbread is so delicious and Thanksgiving would never be the same without it,

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes


  • One 16 oz. package of cornbread mix
  • 10 slices white bread, stale or dried in the oven
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6 TBL butter
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth


  1. Make cornbread according to the recipe on the box.
  2. Toast the bread on the oven rack at 350 degrees for three minutes per side until crusty. Crumble.
  3. Cook celery and onions in butter until soft, about eight minutes.
  4. Combine all ingredients.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees until warm, about 30 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings

Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar Pecan Topping

Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar Pecan Topping Recipe

These are the best sweet potatoes in the world. You might want to double the topping recipe because everyone eats it before I can get it into the pan!

Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes


  • Sweet potatoes
  • • 22 ounces red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams; about 4 large), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • • 1 large egg
  • • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • • Pinch of salt
  • Topping
  • • 1 1/2 cups cornflakes, crushed
  • • 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cook sweet potatoes in a large pot of boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain; transfer potatoes to a large bowl and add butter.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add egg, sugar, spice, and salt; beat to blend.
  4. Transfer mixture to an 8” x 8” baking dish. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.)
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the topping and mix together all ingredients in a medium bowl.
  6. Spoon topping evenly over potatoes.
  7. Bake until beginning to brown around edges and slightly puffed, about 25 minutes.

Yield: 10 serrvings

Homemade Apple Butter

Homemade Apple Butter Recipe
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes


  • 5 medium cooking apples, peeled, quartered, cored and sliced
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice


  1. Prepare apples. Heat apples and water over medium heat. When the mixture starts to boil. reduce heat and simmer for about ten minutes until tender.
  2. Stir in brown sugar and spices. Heat to boiling and stir until apples are soft.
  3. Cool apple butter and place in mason jar and store in the refrigerator.
Yield: 8 servings

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce Recipe
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


  • One 12-oz package (4 cups) of cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice


  1. Wash and pick over cranberries. In a saucepan bring to boil water, orange juice, and sugar, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cranberries and return to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes until cranberries burst.
  3. Remove from heat. Cool completely at room temperature and then chill in the refrigerator. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.

how to cook a turkey

How to Cook a Turkey

how to smoke a turkey
Photographer Greg DuPree, Food Stylist Torie Cox, Prop Stylist Kay E. Clarke

How to Smoke a Turkey

We have smoked our turkey for the last fifteen years and in my opinion, it’s the best turkey ever. The recipe can be found in my post How to Smoke a Turkey.

how to cook a turkey in the oven

How to Cook a Turkey in the Oven

It is so easy to cook a turkey in the oven. The first thing you need to do is take off the plastic. Next, you need to remove the bagged items (which are the giblets) from one end of the turkey and the neck from the other end. You kind of need to tug the neck to get it out. Don’t forget to take these out! You can use the giblets and neck to make homemade gravy. I use the Williams Sonoma gravy base because it’s unbelievably easy and good and a smoked turkey doesn’t leave the best good drippings for homemade gravy. If you want a good recipe to make your own, try this homemade gravy recipe.

I don’t stuff my turkey with dressing. Rather, I make my stuffing on the side. To cook a non-stuffed turkey, cut two apples and one onion into quarters and place them in the turkey cavity.

Cooking time for a turkey is easy to calculate. It usually takes 13 minutes of cooking time for every pound of turkey (if roasting non-stuffed) and 15 minutes per pound if stuffed. Preheat the oven to 450°F, then drop the temperature to 350°F when putting the turkey into the oven.

Baste the turkey every thirty to 45 minutes. Using a baster, squeeze the turkey juices from the bottom of the pan and drizzle over the top of the turkey. 

The turkey is done when it registers a 165 – 170° in the thickest part of the thigh. The turkey will continue to cook for a while so don’t cook it to a higher temperature of 180° (like the meat thermometer says). Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving. And that’s it!

thanksgiving dinner

The Best Tradition

My last tip is the best. When our kids were in junior high school we started a new tradition. When the Thanksgiving dinner was over, all of the kids were sent to the kitchen to do the dishes. We loved it when they turned up the music and had fun! Now they seem to also drink quite a bit of the wine but we are fine with that too! It’s a great tradition and it allows yours truly enjoy the meal even a little bit longer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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  1. Your dressing and sweet potato recipes look very similar to ours. I think traditional and simple are the best! I don’t know how to share these to my Pinterest account but would love to do so. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends.

  2. Yummy! As per usual, I am very thankful for my 100 year old home, Leslie and all the tips and recipes! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!! Can’t wait to hand the kids a speaker and browse the Black Friday ads with my sisters and cousins while they do the dishes!!!

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