One of the most common questions that I get regarding Thanksgiving is….”How do I get everything to be done at the same time”? This question has a lot to do with the menu that you have selected. It also has a lot to do with proper planning and preparation.  Below I have laid out a sample menu and how I would prepare for it. Using this sample menu I have planned out a cooking schedule for my Thanksgiving feast.

Turkey 2014

First – Plan your menu
Write down your menu. Sounds simple but it is nice to organize your thoughts by putting pen to paper.

Sample Menu
FoodPrep TimeCook Time @325FCooking Location
14lb Frozen Turkey1 Minute5 hoursLower Oven Rack
Green Bean Casserole5 Minutes1 hour since chilledUpper Oven Rack
Stuffing15 Minutes1 hour since chilledUpper Oven Rack
Mashed Potatoes30 Minutes45 minutesStove Top Large Burner
Gravy5 Minutes10 MinutesStove Top small Burner
Cranberry Sauce10 Minutes45 Minutes + time to chillRefrigerator
Corn1 Minute8 MinutesStove Top Large Burner
Rolls1 Minute3 Minutes to warmOven while turkey is resting
Sweet Potatoes5 Minutes1 hour since chilledOven Upper Rack

Second – Prepare a time table and shopping list
Once you have your menu down, determine cook times for everything. Organize the menu based on time required to cook. From this we can make a time table.

Cook Times to Eat at 6:00 PM using 325F oven temperature
FoodStart TimeFinish TimeResting/finishing Time
14lb Frozen Turkey12:30 PM5:30 PM30 Minutes
Mashed Potatoes4:15 PM5:15 PM15 to mash and season
Stuffing4:55 PM5:55 PM
Green Bean Casserole4:55 PM5:55 PM
Sweet Potatoes4:55 PM5:55 PM
Gravy5:35 PM6:00 PM
Corn5:50 PM5:58 PM1 minute to season
Rolls5:55 PM5:58 PM
Cranberry Sauce5:58 PMRemove from fridge

Using the list I will then print out recipes, compile a list of needed ingredients and shop.  Make sure to check out all of the store ads this week.  I picked up a Martin’s Turkey for $0.49 a pound.  My turkey ended up being around $7.  You can’t beat that.

I have created a table to determine estimated cook time for fresh and frozen Turkeys.

Estimated Turkey Cook Times @325 degrees
Weight in Pounds8 lbs12 lbs14 lbs18 lbs20 lbs24 lbs
Time for Thawed Turkey2h 45m3h3h 45m4h 15m4h 30m5h
Time for Frozen Turkey4h 10m4h 15m5h6h6h 45m7h 30m

Third – Prep what you can ahead
Once you have your time table for cooking, determine what can be prepped ahead of time. Making green bean casserole, make it the day before and refrigerate. Prepare everything that you can before hand (green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, dressing, etc.). The more you have prepped the less chaotic the cook will be. Note – if you make ahead and refrigerate add time to your cook for each menu item that was refrigerated.

Prep Day Before
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Sauce
Sweet Potatoe Casserole

Fourth – Make sure to plan enough time for prepping on the big day!
For things that have to be prepped the day of, determine the amount of time required to prep.

Based on my time schedule I have almost 4 hours between turkey on and the start of my other food to prep.  Totally enough time.

Fifth – Determine serving dishes and utensils
Determine everything that you will be using for cooking and serving. Set aside the dishes on a spare table or even a folding table. Make sure it is accessible to the kitchen.

Serving Dishes
14lb Frozen TurkeyPlatterServing Forks
Green Bean CasseroleCasserole Dish 1Serving Spoon
StuffingCasserole Dish 2Serving Spoon
Mashed PotatoesServing Bowl 1Serving Spoon
GravyGravy Boat
Cranberry SauceCrystal BowlSmall Serving Spoon
CornServing Bowl 2Slotted Spoon
RollsBread Bowl
Sweet PotatoesCasserole Dish 3Slotted Spoon

Sixth – Follow the plan

You can’t prepare for everything, but stay to the plan and to the schedule.  Remember cooking a Turkey varies based on size, shape and oven.  Therefore, you need to check the temperature near the end of cooking.  The breast should measure 165 degrees and the thigh should measure 180 degrees.  Don’t worry if the turkey comes out early.  All you have to do is cover the turkey in foil and let it rest.  Resting is not a bad thing.  Plus, you need to remember that it will take you 10 to 15 minutes to carve the turkey down to the bone.

Seventh – Relax
If things go bad, stay calm. There is nothing that can’t be fixed. Relax, have a glass of wine and adapt. Everything will be ok.

I will be available all Thursday answering emails and tweets regarding all of your cook questions.  If you have a question you can tweet me @savoryreviews with the hashtag #askrex. Make sure to check back tomorrow for my Turkey Tuesday Round-Up 2014.  It will be full of tips, tricks and recipes.

You can download my sample menu and times Sample Menu Thanksgiving 2014.


Rex is an avid griller, barbecuer and bacon enthusiast. He is the Pitmaster for the Rex BBQ competition team. Rex was also featured on the TV show American Grilled. If you have any questions or wish to have Rex decode your favorite dish, click on the ASK REX link in the menu above.

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