6 Ways to Prepare Your Kitchen for Thanksgiving Well Before You Start Cooking

They're all part of planning the lowest-stress holiday ever.

Published Oct. 30, 2019.

It’s never too early to start preparing for the Thanksgiving meal, especially if you’re hosting. Here are some measures you can take to set yourself up for success and make sure your kitchen is ready for the biggest cooking day of the year.

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1. Clean Out Your Fridge and Freezer

A turkey takes up a lot of room. And in most cases, it takes more than shuffling around your fridge contents to find a place for it. So plan ahead. Well in advance of bringing your turkey home, clean out your fridge. And while you’re at it, give your freezer a thorough reorganization and cleaning too, so you’ll be able to pop in any side dishes or desserts (like pies) you make in advance.

If you’re purchasing a frozen turkey, it’s also a good idea to anticipate where you’ll defrost it. Will you have room in the fridge for the turkey (and the sheet pan you should put underneath it to contain any juices), or do you have a cooler you’ll use? And if you’re planning on brining or salting your bird, you can do that in a cooler or bucket, as long as you can keep a steady stream of ice packs in the cooler to keep the temperature below 40 degrees. Get the details in this comprehensive guide to making the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.

2. Take Inventory of the Ingredients You Already Have

Sure, you might only cook Thanksgiving dishes once a year, but you likely use many of their ingredients far more often. Instead of coming home from the supermarket with another jar of TK only to discover you already have a full one in your pantry, check beforehand. Make a list of ingredients and then cross-check it with what you already have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. This is also a good time to get rid of anything you come across, like dusty spices or expired condiments, that you’ll want to replace. 

3. Get Your Equipment Ready for the Big Day

It’s never too early to clean your oven using its self-cleaning setting and the grates on your stovetop so you won’t be without those either of those things in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Having an accurate oven is as important as having a clean oven, and the only reliable way to know if your oven is accurate is to use an oven thermometer. (Even if you’re confident in your oven’s accuracy, you might want to confirm it. When we used a high-tech digital thermometer to take the temperature of five different home ovens preheated to 350 degrees, some missed the mark by as much as 50 degrees.) In our review of oven thermometers, nearly half of the nine products we tested failed to meet our basic criteria for legibility and stability, and three of the models faltered in our accuracy tests. The best oven thermometer, from CDN, was accurate and easy to read.

This is also a good time to purchase any tools or gadgets you’ve been eyeing. Need a new heavy-duty roasting pan that fits your bird or a fat separator that helps you make the most luscious gravy? Want a more reliable instant-read thermometer so you don’t overcook your bird? Don’t wait until after the biggest cooking day of the year to level up your kitchen equipment.

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4. Declutter Your Countertops

Having a tidy workspace is one of the keys to minimizing stress leading up to Thanksgiving. You can go back to the clutter after the holiday.

5. Start Giving Guests Assignments

You may be hosting, but you don’t have to do everything yourself. Once you’ve finalized your guest list, find out if there are any dietary restrictions among the group. Then assign dishes to those guests who you think can handle it, whether that’s because they’re a short drive away or because they’ve expressed the desire to contribute. (If they don’t like to cook, they can always bring the components of a cheese board or something store-bought. Just make sure there will be enough food that everyone can eat, no matter their diet.)

6. Replace Your Sponge!

This is a small but effective step to preparing your kitchen for several days of cooking. A dirty kitchen sponge can breed bacteria and contaminate your kitchen, which is the last thing you want, well, any day, not just around Thanksgiving. Even if you’re diligent about wringing out your kitchen sponge after use, there’s a chance someone else in your house isn’t. And a wet sponge is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. (We ran a test to confirm just how perfect a breeding ground it is.)

But you don’t have to replace your sponge after every use. Regularly cleaning a sponge is essential, and a good rule of thumb is to replace a kitchen sponge every one to two weeks, cleaning it regularly in between uses, and storing it someplace where it can dry. Here are three methods for sanitizing a sponge, approved by the experts at public health and safety organization NSF International.

What are your tricks for getting your kitchen (and yourself!) ready for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments. And check out our Thanksgiving guide for all of the recipes, tips, and equipment you need to pull off a successful meal.

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