While Thanksgiving has long been a group effort, with family and friends carrying over various side dishes to fill the table and baking their best pies, this year looks a lot different. For many of us, we’ll be left to tackle the full holiday meal ourselves for our immediate family at home. Even if you’re the most experienced cook, that might feel a bit overwhelming.
This step-by-step timeline will provide the tips, tricks, and confidence you need to take on the full meal. Better yet, you don’t need to toil away in your kitchen for days to accomplish it. In just four hours, you can have everything from the turkey and stuffing to the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce ready to go. The one thing this timeline doesn’t account for is dessert. Rather than overextend yourself, we vote for supporting your local bakery: Order a pie or two to cap off your Thanksgiving dinner.
Ready to get started? Here’s the plan!
For the turkey:
1 12-pound turkey
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth, water, or other liquid
2 sticks (1 cup) melted unsalted butter or oil, for basting (optional)
For the stuffing:
1 (18-ounce, 8-inch round) loaf rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 large yellow onions (about 1 pound total), diced
4 large stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage leaves
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups low-sodium turkey, chicken, or vegetable broth
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For the cranberry sauce:
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (about 3 cups)
For the sweet potatoes:
4 pounds sweet potatoes (5 to 6 medium or 4 large)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups half-and-half or whole milk, plus more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the gravy:
Pan drippings from a 12- to 14-pound roast turkey
1 to 2 cups low-sodium broth or water, divided
Vegetable oil or butter, as needed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional extras: splash of sherry, splash of wine, teaspoon of minced herbs like rosemary, thyme, or sage
The 4-Hour Thanksgiving Plan
There are two secrets to preparing a whole Thanksgiving dinner in just four hours: Stay organized and embrace the meanwhile. This timeline makes it easy to stay organized, as it provides steps down to the minute. We suggest keeping a timer running to act as a time checker. To embrace the meanwhile means using every minute of the four hours: While the turkey roasts, busy yourself by tackling the stuffing or the sweet potatoes. Putting these spare moments to use is exactly how you’ll get an entire meal on your table faster than you think.
Don’t forget to defrost your turkey in the refrigerator. A frozen turkey needs 24 hours thawing time for every five pounds of turkey. For quicker thawing, place the turkey in a cold water bath (it’s not safe to thaw a turkey with warm water) and change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed, about 30 minutes per pound.
00:00: Take a (12-pound) turkey out of the fridge, remove any packaging/giblets inside, and place it breast-side up on a roasting rack set inside a roasting pan. You’ll be using this recipe to roast it. Let the turkey sit out on the counter to take the chill off while you prepare the stuffing using this recipe.
00:05: Heat the oven to 450°F, cut 1 (18-ounce) loaf rustic bread into 1-inch cubes, spread them out on a baking sheet, and bake, tossing halfway through, until dry and pale-golden, 5 to 7 minutes.
00:15: Prepare the rest of the stuffing ingredients. Dice 2 large onions and 4 large celery stalks, mince 4 garlic cloves, finely chop sage to get 1/4 cup, and remove thyme leaves from 4 stems. Also, have 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth, and 2 large eggs ready to go.
00:30: Season the turkey all over with salt and pepper, pour 2 cups of water or low-sodium chicken broth into the roasting pan, and transfer to the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. This helps brown the skin without drying out the meat.
00:35: Melt 4 of the 6 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and sauté the onions, celery, and garlic for the stuffing until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the herbs and sauté until fragrant, 2 minutes more.
00:50: Combine the bread cubes and onion mixture in a large bowl. Whisk together the reserved chicken broth and eggs in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, then pour it over the bread mixture and stir until evenly combined. Transfer the stuffing to a glass baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle it over the top. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and transfer it to the oven with the turkey. Bake for 30 minutes while you make the cranberry sauce using this recipe.
00:55: Bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add 12 ounces of cranberries and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the cranberries burst, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the cranberry sauce cool while you make the sweet potatoes.
01:15: Baste the turkey.
01:20: Remove the foil covering the stuffing and continue to bake it, uncovered, until the top is golden-brown, about 15 minutes more. Meanwhile, prepare the sweet potatoes using this recipe.
01:35: Remove the stuffing from the oven.
01:40: Melt 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the sweet potatoes and sauté until they just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Pour in 2 cups of milk and season with salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
02:00: Baste the turkey.
02:05: Transfer the stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce to individual serving dishes. Cover and keep the stuffing and sweet potatoes warm. Cover and refrigerate the cranberry sauce.
02:45: Baste the turkey.
03:15: Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey’s thigh, not touching bone, to check that the turkey’s internal temperature is 165°F. (More tips on how to use a meat thermometer here.) Remove the turkey in its roasting pan from the oven using oven mitts, then carefully lift and transfer the turkey to a clean carving and cutting board, and let it rest while you make the gravy using this recipe.
03:20: Deglaze the pan drippings in the roasting pan by placing the pan on the stove, pouring in 1 cup of low-sodium chicken broth, and scraping up any browned bits. Pour these drippings into a fat separator and measure out 1/4 cup of fat and 1 cup of broth.
03:30: Heat the fat in a medium saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and whisk to combine into a thick paste. Finish the gravy by whisking in a 1/2 cup of broth. You can add more broth for a thinner gravy or let the gravy cook a few minutes for a thicker gravy. Season with salt and pepper.
03:45: Carve the turkey with a knife and transfer to a serving platter.
04:00: You did it! It’s time to sit down and eat.
Now, it’s time to tackle the full meal with confidence. With a little bit of planning and the right Thanksgiving tools, you can get a complete Thanksgiving dinner on the table in four hours. For more Thanksgiving recipes, such as great options for vegetarians at the table and flavor injector recipes for the turkey, read more on the blog.