How to Cook a Thanksgiving Meal in a Small Kitchen

Yes, you can do it. Follow these tips on how to succeed within your tiny quarters. 

Published Nov. 7, 2023.

Let’s face it. Cooking a Thanksgiving meal can be chaotic. Countertop space is at a minimum, the oven is working overtime, and wait, what was that timer set for? Who knows.

But tackling Thanksgiving in a small kitchen? With a dinky oven? And little to no room to prep? Now that’s the ultimate challenge. 

It’s a problem many of us face. But have no fear. Follow these tips to help ease the stress and you’ll be well on your way.

Remember: You've got this.

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1. Set Up a Game Plan

An organized timeline sets you up for success. Now is the time to get started! Finalize your menu. Take stock of what you already have. Opt for disposable plates and silverware. Gather as much produce as you’re able to store in the fridge. 

And don't even bother unpacking some of the grocery bags—no need to put away dry goods such as flour or sugar. You’ll use them soon enough.

2. Know That Store-Bought Really Is Fine

It’s nice to have your guests noshing as they arrive, and fortunately grocery stores have really upped their appetizer game. Take starters off your to-do list with premade dips, crackers, cheeses, and platters. (And why not take some shortcuts for the main meal, too?)

Or simply take the assist from store-bought items and zhuzh them up a bit. Try these prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, marinated feta, or Greek layer dip.

3. Focus on the Make-Ahead

One great thing about a Thanksgiving menu is that it’s very make-ahead friendly. Green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and even gravy can all be made up to three days in advance. Plan your week accordingly so that you’re not overwhelmed on the big day.

4. Chop Ahead, While You’re At It

Days prior is a great time to put your knife to work. Chop all your mirepoix, herbs, and sturdy vegetables such as brussels sprouts and squash ahead of time. Even the cocktail garnishes! Store them in zipper-lock bags in your refrigerator until you need them. We assure you, you’ll be grateful.

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Take boards beyond cheese and crackers. Show off your effortless entertaining style with showstopping spreads that will impress your guests but give you the flexibility to make or buy components as you choose.

5. “Pull Out” Your Counter Space

Finding room to clean, prep, and chop can have you feeling defeated. Make more space for yourself by pulling out your drawers. Place a rimmed baking sheet or large cutting board on top of the open drawer and voila. More space to chop ingredients, store cleaned produce, or simply get things out of your way.

6. Clean As You Go

There’s no denying dirty dishes are half the battle. Especially if you don’t have a dishwasher. Avoid feeling overwhelmed and do your best to wash and dry in batches as you start to see them piling up. Even better: “marinate” your dishes to make cleanup go a whole lot faster.

7. Spatchcock Your Turkey

This “flattening” method is one of our favorites. Spatchcocked turkey cuts the cook time to just a couple hours and produces tender meat with supremely crisp skin. Plus, it’ll only take up one shelf in your oven. 

Never done it before? Cook’s Illustrated’s Erica Turner will walk you through it.

Watch Cook's Illustrated's Erica Turner demonstrate how to spatchcock a turkey.

8. Utilize the Microwave

There are so many things you can use your microwave for—it’s not just for reheating! Treat your microwave like a secondary oven. Make fully cooked sides such as mashed butternut squash and tender beets. You can even make crispy garnishes like fried shallots, capers, and olives.

9. Answer “What Can I Bring?”

Allow your friends and loved ones to chip in. Having them bring a dessert, snacks, or a side dish takes a lot off your plate, so to speak. Other good options: a cooler for wine and seltzer, extra serving dishes, a good playlist, and a game to play after dinner.

Our favorite? Have them bring their own reusable food storage containers to fill with all the leftovers that won’t fit in your fridge.

10. MacGyver Your Serving Dishes

Don’t have a gravy boat? Or fancy serving platters? Who needs 'em! Use what you have. Sheet pans, cutting boards, saucepans, coffee mugs, mixing bowls, and loaf pans are all perfectly appropriate vessels for serving food.

11. Locate All Your Heat Sources

A small slow cooker is a helpful gadget to keep mashed potatoes warm. A toaster oven can reheat roasted veggies. Remember your burners, oven, and microwave will be working overtime. Use everything you’ve got.

12. Think Big in Your Small Space

No dining room? No problem. Designate the biggest space you have for eating. If need be, phone a friend to help move the coffee table out of the way for the evening. The more open the better!

The food takes up a lot of room on the table, so opt for buffet dining instead. This “make a plate and sit” style takes the hassle out of bumping elbows and passing heavy dishes. Utilize all your flat surfaces and stack your dishes on kitchen counters, TV stands, bookshelves, and the coffee table you already pushed out of the way.

13. Make a Cocktail

You know what doesn’t take up a lot of space? Shaking up a good drink. And you deserve it. Use up leftover celery and try our Celery Gimlet. Or try our favorite November cocktail, the Holiday Spritz

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