America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo

7 Tips for Hosting the Best Friendsgiving Ever

Top tips from a nine-time Friendsgiving host.

Published Nov. 5, 2019.

If you’re considering hosting a Friendsgiving—a Thanksgiving celebration with friends, typically held before or after the main holiday—I’m here to be your Friendsgiving spirit guide.

This will be my ninth year as Friendsgiving host and I’ve learned a lot along the way. There have been mishaps (the year I forgot to thaw the turkey), atypical celebrations (the year a neighborhood fire derailed our plans so we ate Chinese food in a hotel room), failed activities (no one is game for touch football after a big meal), and failed recipes (turns out, vanilla almond milk does not make a good substitute for cream in mashed potatoes).

Despite many misadventures, Friendsgiving is one of the days my friends and I look forward to most every year. It’s all the best parts of Thanksgiving—good food and great company—without any of the awful traffic or tense political debates with random cousins at the dinner table. After nearly a decade of hosting Friendsgiving, these are my top tips for throwing the best Friendsgiving ever.

1. Remember that Friendsgiving is a group effort.

For everyone’s sanity, keep things potluck style. The host makes a maximum of two dishes and guests each bring at least one. While an effort should be made to round out the menu, everyone should ultimately bring a dish they’re passionate about. Even if that means you have five stuffings and no turkey. (Pro tip: Google Sheets is great for coordinating who brings what, though I personally feel like you can never have too many stuffings.)

2. Set yourself up for easy cleanup.

Do yourself a favor and opt for paper plates and disposable silverware. We love Hefty Super Strong Paper Plates because they’re sturdy, reliable, and cheap, but you can also find disposable plates that look like glass, plastic flatware that masquerades as silverware, and materials that are recyclable or compostable. I really love butcher paper for a table covering: it’s rustic, you can write labels for all the dishes right on the paper, and it cleans up super quickly. It’s also a good idea to stock up on trash bags, paper towels, sponges, and dish soap.

Our favorite paper plates

Hefty Super Strong Paper Plates

An 8-inch eating surface and hearty construction means you can cram more food onto your Friendsgiving plate.  
Buy on Amazon
The Best Paper Towels

Bounty Paper Towels

Super absorbant for wiping up spills; doubles as a napkin.   
Buy on Amazon
Our favorite dish soap

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap, Lavender

Fond is great for gravy, not so great when you're the one scrubbing the dishes. We found that this soap actually gets grime off faster.   
Buy on Amazon

3. There’s no shame in shortcuts.

Have some guests that can’t distinguish a skillet from a stockpot? That’s OK! They can still contribute. If you can boil water, you can prepare instant mashed potatoes or boxed stuffing—and there’s no shame in either. For some people, Thanksgiving isn’t complete without boxed stuffing, and we actually think Stovetop Chicken Stuffing Mix makes a tasty side dish in a pinch. 

While not necessarily Test Kitchen-endorsed, I think potato flakes are great for creating huge batches of silky smooth potatoes (hey, you’re going to douse them in gravy anyway, right?) without tons of peeling or mashing. Need something even easier? Our favorite frozen dinner rolls need only a few minutes in the oven and can pass for homemade.

4. Don’t be afraid to try something new, or get wild.

FriendsgivingFriendsgiving dishes
Scenes from Friendsgivings past. Left: Tennessee pulled turkey took over as our main dish in 2016. Right: A sushi boat made an appearance in 2014.

The whole point is that this is not your mama’s Thanksgiving meal. My friends and I take this principle to heart. (One pal even brought a sushi boat to Friendsgiving one year. It was a surprisingly big hit.) While you don’t have to go as far as ordering $100 worth of sushi, now is the time to try out those recipes that buck tradition a bit, like Amish Potato Filling (mashed potatoes and stuffing all in one dish!) or the smoked turkey from Tennessee Pulled Turkey Sandwiches. The latter was a dish we tried out for the first time at a Friendsgiving three years ago. At the time, we served it alongside a regular roast turkey, but it was such a crowd-pleaser that it has now fully replaced the large roast. It’s smoky and flavorful, cooks quicker than a whole turkey, goes great with gravy or white barbecue sauce (we offer both), and—best of all—frees up your oven.

Cook's Illustrated

25 Thanksgiving Main Courses That Aren't Turkey

This year, dare to be different.   
Read Now
Cook's Country

The 25 Best Non-Traditional Recipes for Your Friendsgiving

Friendsgiving is the perfect time to buck Thanksgiving traditions. These fun and crowd-pleasing recipes might just start new ones.  
Read Now

5. Be prepared to confront the turkey.

I’ll let you in on a secret: cooking the turkey is the best job because it scores you all the brownie points, but it’s actually relatively easy—if you’re prepared. 

If you’ve been entrusted with the centerpiece roast, come armed with a roasting pan and rack, an instant-read thermometer, a carving board, and either a well-sharpened chef’s knife or an electric knife. A disposable roasting pan will work in a pinch, but a sturdy, stainless roaster like the Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Roasting Pan with Rack is a better bet, especially if you’re building your gravy in the pan. Those pop-up thermometers embedded in the turkey are useless, so a reliable instant-read thermometer like the Thermoworks ThermoPop is essential for judging when the turkey is done. 

When it comes time to carve the beast, brush up on the technique, breathe a few deep breaths, and just go for it. Your trusty old chef’s knife will work just fine for carving, but if you really want to impress, our favorite electric knife is only $20 and makes picture-perfect cuts. Oh, and don’t forget that the majority of turkeys sold in supermarkets are frozen not fresh, so buy your turkey early and give it ample time to thaw safely.

Our favorite roasting pan

Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Roasting Pan with Rack

The top-of-the-line option if you want to show your friends just how profesh you are.   
Buy on Amazon
Our best buy roasting pan

Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Stainless 16" Roasting Pan with Rack

Still way fancier than a disposable roasting pan, at a more afforable price.  
Buy on Amazon
Best Inexpensive Thermometer

Thermoworks ThermoPop

Those pop-up thermometers in the turkey are terrible; for about $30 this instant-read thermometer will give you much more accurate results--and a better-tasting turkey.   
Buy on Thermoworks
Our favorite electric knife

Black + Decker ComfortGrip 9” Electric Knife

Your grandma was right: electric knives really do make the best-looking turkey slices.   
Buy on Amazon

6. Make your own traditions.

Friendsgiving has become such a sacred ritual that even though our friends are now spread across the east coast, everyone makes the journey so Friendsgiving can happen each winter. For us, it’s as much of a tradition as regular Thanksgiving. Along the way we’ve picked up a few quirks that make the celebration unique to us, like dancing in the kitchen to Cee-Lo’s Christmas album while we cook and cuddling up in pajamas for an after-dinner movie. We have some weirder traditions too—one of our friends would tell the same story every year about how his childhood Thanksgiving was ruined because he slathered a red goo across his entire plate of food, thinking it was cranberry sauce, but turned out to be pickled beets. So now we always include pickled beets in some form on the Friendsgiving table and attempt to trick him into eating them.

7. Napping is entirely acceptable.

Everyone is encouraged to bring stretchy pants or pjs for lounging after the meal. The Friendsgiving food coma is real. 

Are you hosting a Friendsgiving this year? Leave us a comment with your favorite Friendsgiving tips and traditions. 

This is a members' feature.