Whether your family has passed you the cooking baton or you’re preparing a spread for your friends, hosting your first Thanksgiving can seem a daunting task—but it doesn’t have to be! With a little bit of strategizing and a foolproof menu, you can pull off the big feast without a fuss. Our menu of classic yet simple recipes and our handy timeline will help you pull off the festivities with ease (and have fun doing it!).

Make your first Thanksgiving dinner manageable by getting ahead with prep. Two weeks before the feast reserve your bird. Whether you’re picking up your turkey from your farmer or grocery store, or ordering online, contact your purveyor and confirm that the bird will be available and when you can collect it or when it will be delivered. The weekend before is the time to buy the bulk of your groceries and to clean the kitchen. Doing this will help keep you organized and create room in your fridge. Toss any expired foods, wipe surfaces, and gather platters and cookware. Also wash and properly store produce and make the cranberry sauce.

Three days before Thanksgiving, you’ll want to assess the bird. If you’re using a frozen turkey, now is the time to thaw it: defrost on a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Allow a full day for every four pounds of turkey being thawed.

You can make the Herb-Marinated Olives and Garden Veggie Dip two days before the dinner. That’s also the day to make the pie dough and refrigerate. And get ahead on dishes you’ll make closer to the dinner by toasting bread for stuffing and pecans for pie; store them separately in airtight containers at room temperature. 

The rest of the meal will be prepared the day before and on Thanksgiving and we’ve outlined what to tackle when on those days on slides at the end of this gallery.

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