How To Host Your First Thanksgiving, With Tips From The Beekman Boys

For most of us, the idea of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is daunting and anxiety-inducing, and those of us who've tried our hand once may still be mustering up the courage to do it again. But figuring out how to host your first Thanksgiving? That can feel downright terrifying. Few dinner occasions match the magnitude of Thanksgiving in terms of dishes and servings and number of things that can go awry. Even more seasoned hosts can find themselves stressed out while executing the evening, so it's always a good idea to have a few tricks up your sleeve. If this year you're trying your hand at hosting your first Thanksgiving, here are a handful of tips from the Beekman Boys.

Originally city boys, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his husband Brent Ridge purchased the historic Beekman 1802 farm in 2007 as a weekend retreat from their hectic New York City lives. With the recession the following year, both lost their jobs. Without their main means of income and facing possible foreclosure on the farm, they had to find a way to make their upstate getaway profitable. The two began producing soaps and cheese after taking in their neighbor, "Farmer John," and his herd of dairy goats. They worked with other neighboring farmers and artisans who taught them the ways of the land, and in turn, the men were able to teach them city savvy, like marketing their goods. Eventually, their village was hosting seasonal festivals and the press took notice, resulting in the reality show The Fabulous Beekman Boys, that follows the journey of the men as they learn how to become farmers and create their lifestyle brand, Beekman 1802 Farm Pantry.

On Nov. 1, the Beekman Boys launched a new product line with Target grocery that encompasses the Farm to Shelf Revolution, a brave venture that sources from small farmers, with a percentage of all profits going back to help small American farms. Thanksgiving came early this year when I sat down with the Beekman Boys at a press dinner for the launch of their new line. They presented their delicious and easy-to-use products, and gave some pointers to those hosting their own Thanksgivings. Of course, these tips won't guarantee a completely stress-free holiday, but they will make things easier where possible so you can survive the nitty-gritty and get to focusing on your guests and enjoying the delicious dinner you've cooked up. A bonus tip from the Beekman Boys? Dress accordingly. If all goes according to plan, you'll have a heartwarmingly filling meal ahead of you. As Brent exclaimed shortly after dessert, "I'm glad I wore my elastic pants. My Thanksgiving pants."

1. Keep It Simple

The most delicious dishes don't have to be painstakingly complicated. Find recipes you feel comfortable replicating. Even the culinary centerpiece of the meal, the turkey, can be a straightforward task that yields delectable results. Don't shy away from products that cut down the work for you, like packaged turkey brine, chicken rub, or mixes — no one's judging!  The press dinner started off with the Beekman's "7 Sisters' Antique Bean & Barley Soup," which no one could believe came from a mix. Brent eagerly acknowledged the simple beginnings that produced such depth of flavor. "Just dump and stir. Dump and stir," he repeated. While every bit of the evening's lineup was appetizing, the "Savory Cornbread Bread Pudding" stole the show. Again, no one could believe it came from a mix.

2. Give It Something Meaningful

Before the dinner, guests got to nibble on cheese plates featuring a selection straight from the Beekman Boys' farm. Freshly picked apples, also from their farm, served as entryway decor and doubled as tasty party favors on the way out. Follow suit, and add personal touches to the evening that makes the meal meaningful to you and your guests. While you likely can't offer up a cut of cheese crafted from your very own dairy goats, you can choose cheese or produce with origins meaningful to you — where you were raised, or the state where you went to college and met the friends who are now your guests. Schedule your orchard outing so you can hold on to some of your haul to spruce up your space. Whatever isn't used to make a Golden Delicious treat will look rustic chic as a centerpiece in the right basket.

3. Plan Ahead

As much as possible, cut down on the number of things you have to do on the big day, and save yourself the time — and the avoidable stress. The Beekman Boys suggest pre-cutting ingredients, like herbs, spices, and veggies, and storing them in the fridge. This is especially important if you don't have a sous chef around the day of, and helps to streamline the process and save yourself some sanity in the kitchen.

4. Buy Pre-Packaged Spices

Especially for small apartments and kitchen spaces shared with roommates, it's important to keep excess ingredients to a minimum. Follow the advice from the Beekman Boys, and buy pre-packaged spices "that get the job done with one pour." Many of these flavors won't be needed until the holidays are back around next year, so there's no point in holding on to larger batches just to collect dust until next Thanksgiving. Going the pre-packaged route will save you the headache of additional clean up, and also save time with measuring and eventual storage. Whoever you share your kitchen with will thank you.

5. "Make-Ahead" Where You Can

Don't save it all for the big day, when you'll be working on a time crunch and your kitchen will be in utter disarray. Where you can, look for "make-ahead recipes" that allow you to cross things off your list in advance. The Beekman Boys' "Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes" will give you that much more time to give your attention to more important day-of tasks, like the turkey, when the time comes. 

6. Ask Guests To Bring Dessert

Make the last course of the meal potluck style. Not only does it save you from another round of kitchen duties once the meal is made, but it's a great chance to bring together a mix of flavors. Everyone grew up with their household recipes, so it's a fun opportunity to try other variations of pumpkin pie or apple crisp. Furthermore, your oven will be full with the juicy turkey, and might not have room to house additional works in progress. The BYOD option ensures "a larger variety and more delicious leftovers."

7. Most Importantly, Remember It's About The Memories

During the inevitable scramble to get everything prepared in time for the big feast (and the consequent kitchen chaos), it's easy to lose sight of what the holiday is really about. When I asked Josh what piece of advice he'd give to first-timers hosting their own Thanksgiving, if he could boil it down to one thing, he responded, "It's not about the food, it's about the potential for memories."

So no matter how well the turkey turns out, or how many of the sides survived in your single stove studio kitchen, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the holiday is a time for coming together and enjoying the company of loved ones and friends. (Though this is best done over food. See tips one through six.)

Images: Pexels; The Beekman Boys (6)

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