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Thanksgiving dinner: 10 plan-ahead tips and tricks

A roast turkey garnished with herbs and autumn

A roast turkey garnished with herbs and autumn fruits. Credit: Doug Young

It’s the night before Thanksgiving and panic is setting in.

Relax. You can do it. Here’s how:

1. Make sure you have an instant-read thermometer. If you don’t, stop reading this and go buy one. Most supermarkets stock them, and Bed Bath & Beyond is open until 10 p.m.

2. Make two lists. The first is a menu that enumerates every single thing you plan to serve, along with the appropriate sauces, dressings and garnishes; the other details every non-culinary task that needs to be done, from bringing the folding chairs in from the garage to arranging the flowers.

3. Post the menu in a prominent place, such as the refrigerator door, so you don’t realize while clearing dessert that you forgot to serve the salad.

4. Make a kitchen timeline using your menu as a guide. The timeline should note, at 30-minute intervals right up to serving time, when every dish needs to be prepared or finished, placed in the oven and removed from the oven. (If you find that certain dishes need to be in the oven at the same time, make sure they need the same temperature and that the oven is large enough to accommodate them all.)

5. Set the table. Setting the table the night before usually has a calming effect on nervous hosts. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough matching pieces, but if you can alternate mismatched sets (e.g., one white napkin, one red napkin), it will look more deliberate.

6. Draft your serving pieces. Go through your menu and take out and set aside all the serving pieces you will need. In each platter or bowl, place the appropriate spoons, forks or tongs. If you have a lot of courses, you may want to label each piece with the dish it is destined to contain.

7. Draft your equipment. Now, turning your attention from dining room to kitchen: Go through the menu again, and this time take out and set aside all the pots, pans and tools you will need. Some of them — the baster, potato masher — you may not have seen for a while.

8. Cook whatever you can the night before. Some dishes, such as casseroles, can be cooked in their entirety and reheated just before serving. Stuffing can be assembled the night before, vegetables can be prepped, cheese can be grated. Wash and dry lettuce and keep it wrapped in a dish towel in the fridge.

9Start making ice. Or assign a dependable guest to pick some up on the way over.

10. Again, relax. You can do it.