12 Thanksgiving Mistakes To Avoid While Hosting Your First Dinner

Whether you are cooking your first Thanksgiving dinner, or you have been doing this for years, there are a few classic Thanksgiving mistakes to avoid while prepping the big meal. It is a big task to prepare all the food, get your house looking festive, and make sure everyone is entertained — so you definitely don’t want anything tripping you up. Unfortunately, sometimes trip-ups are inevitable, but with a little prep beforehand, you can make sure the day goes off without a hitch.

Our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends have probably made Thanksgiving look so darn easy. But even the most accomplished Turkey Day host had to start somewhere. You think we all just pop out knowing exactly how to cook a turkey, or make gravy from scratch? Heck no. It takes time, practice, and knowledge that accumulates over many years. But like I said — everyone has to start somewhere. My best advice is to not panic. Your friends and family know this is your first crack at it, and will be eternally grateful for all your efforts, even if everything doesn’t turn out perfectly.

As long as you plan ahead, do your research, and take a breather, your first Thanksgiving will be one you’ll cherish forever — or, at least, until next year.

1. You're not giving yourself enough time

Thanksgiving pros know that depending on how many people you have coming, Thanksgiving can be an all-day thing. Of course, a big portion of the day involves cooking, but it can also involve football, entertaining guests, picking up people from the airport — not to mention getting yourself and your house ready. You do not want to underestimate the time it will take to cook a turkey and curl your hair.

How to avoid it:

My best advice is to plan ahead, and keep an eye on the time. Are there any dishes that can be made ahead of time and heated up right before serving? Google exactly how long it will take to cook the poundage of turkey you have. Make sure everyone is up for your morning football game early, so that they have plenty of time to shower, nap, and get ready for dinner later. If you’re really on top of it, you could post a Thanksgiving schedule for yourself so your cooking and planning will be on time.

2. You're buying the wrong turkey

The first thing you have to learn about cooking a turkey is how to pick the right one for your gathering. It will be bad news if you don’t have enough turkey for everyone, or your turkey doesn’t turn out exactly how you planned. Also, there are plenty of things that make cooking your turkey more complicated than you initially thought — for instance, some turkeys are self-basting, giblet-free, or come with stuffing.

How to avoid it:

Read the labels carefully, and buy your turkey based on your specific needs. If you’re going to be using grandma’s tried-and-true recipe, get a plain turkey so that you can baste and stuff it yourself. If you’re not skilled in the kitchen, you might want to go with a pre-cooked or self-basting brand so you don’t have to worry about it. You’ll also want to calculate how many pounds of turkey you’ll need to feed all your guests — accounting for one to one and a half pounds per person is a good estimate.

3. You're not cooking the turkey long enough

Waiting literal hours for a turkey to cook can seem like torture, but you definitely want a bird that is cooked properly. This is where giving yourself enough time really comes in. If you have a 15-pound turkey, expect to have that bad boy in the oven for a long time. Trust me — your guests will be perfectly content to wait as long as the turkey is fully cooked.

How to avoid it:

You’ll want to research how long your specific poundage of turkey should take to cook, of course, but you’ll also want to invest in a meat thermometer. You can get them at the grocery store, and they are a sure-fire way to make sure your turkey is fully cooked, and is the right temperature for serving.

4. You're carving the turkey into oblivion

I think most of us are used to having our parents or grandparents carve the turkey — and it can be scary to do it on your own for the first time. If the meat tastes good, people probably won’t care what the pieces look like, but I’m sure we’re all more satisfied with nice, even cuts.

How to avoid it:

You can follow a handy carving guide that will show you exactly where and when to cut your turkey. You could also practice on a whole chicken, like one of those pre-made, store-bought kinds you can buy hot and ready.

5. You're making your dishes too complicated

If this is your first time preparing the Thanksgiving meal, don’t make the rookie mistake of making your dishes too complicated. Learning to make a perfectly cooked turkey is hard enough; you don’t need to attempt to make every other dish a culinary masterpiece.

How to avoid it:

Keep things simple, but scrumptious. Thanksgiving is about hearty comfort food, so you don’t need to add a bunch of fancy ingredients into the mix to try and impress people. Your family and friends will already be impressed enough that you pulled the turkey off on your first try — believe me.

6. You don't eat until the big meal

I know you’re going to be busy cooking and mingling on Thanksgiving day, but make sure you eat something. Dinner won’t get finished if you collapse from hunger, and your guests won’t have a good time if you’re a hangry mess.

How to avoid it:

Get yourself something easy and premade you can just grab and eat. You’re already spending most of the day cooking, so I know you don’t want to cook something else. Even a salad or sandwich should hold you over until dinner — and don’t forget to have breakfast either!

7. You're making too much food

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a feast, and you’re supposed to have leftovers, but having too much food can also be a problem. Planning to cook a turkey plus multiple side dishes plus dessert will probably drive you crazy — hosting a meal with your family and friends is supposed to be enjoyable, after all.

How to avoid it:

If you’re hosting a big group for the first time, ask a few guests to bring something to share. That way, you’ll still have enough food for everyone, but you won’t have to be the one who makes it all. And if you’re having a small gathering, stick with the turkey and two easy Thanksgiving favorites like mashed potatoes and green beans.

8. You try to do everything yourself

Just because you're having Thanksgiving at your place this year doesn’t mean you also have to do literally everything else, too. This will just make you stressed out and probably a bit bitter toward all your guests who got to sit around and drink wine and watch football.

How to avoid it:

Have a game plan on what needs to be done, and delegate some jobs. Ask your boyfriend to make sure the house is clean, ask your little cousins to set the table, ask your mom to open all the bottles of wine for the table. People will want to help you — so let them!

9. You expect everything to be hot at dinnertime

My apartment has one oven with two racks, so there are only so many things I can cook at a time. If you’re in the same situation, you can’t really expect everything you make to be piping hot when it goes to the table.

How to avoid it:

Be mindful of what dishes you want to make, and plan accordingly. Obviously, the turkey should still be hot when you serve it, but rolls don't have to be fresh out of the oven. And don’t freak out if things that are supposed to be hot aren’t — that’s what gravy is for. So as long as your turkey and gravy are hot, you’ll be good to go.

10. You're not using your pan drippings for gravy

Speaking of gravy — do not throw out your pan drippings. I know that the brown, caramelized stuff at the bottom of your turkey pan looks kind of gross, but it’s the main ingredient in homemade gravy. Most Thanksgiving newbies will throw this away and try to make gravy from a pouch or a jar, but you can do so much better.

How to avoid it:

It's pretty simple — don’t automatically put your turkey pan in the sink. You can follow a super easy pan dripping gravy recipe, and then brag about how you made it from scratch all by yourself.

11. You don't give your guests anything to do

Your friends and family will only tolerate not getting to eat all the delicious food you're preparing immediately because they're sufficently occupied. But if they get bored, they might riot.

How to avoid it:

If you don't have access to the football games (or your guests don't care), put on a good holiday movie or some fun music. Heck, leave out a few board games for everyone to play while they wait for dinner. And when all else fails, set out a few bottles of booze — that'll keep them occupied for a while.

12. You're eating too early, or too late

Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a dinner affair. I know a lot of people have to split time between families, but your Thanksgiving has to be your priority, even if it's not everyone else's. If you plan more of a lunch, your guests will be hungry again by dinnertime. If you eat too late, everyone will be really tired and full, and will probably just want to bounce off to bed instead of hanging out.

How to avoid it:

If you do have to accommodate for people needing to be elsewhere on Thanksgiving, set a pretty neutral time for your dinner. Five o'clock is pretty standard, and will allow people to slip in or out and still make it for dessert.

Images: Stacy/Flickr; Giphy (10)