Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrated by 91% of Americans, is less than two weeks away. This is one celebration that is difficult to throw together at the last minute, so when should people start prepping?

The biggest time-consuming chore is defrosting the turkey. The safest way to defrost one is in the refrigerator, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a day in the ‘fridge for every four to five pounds of turkey. A 16 pound turkey would take four days. The USDA website says the turkey will be safe in the ‘fridge for another two days, so it could be defrosted starting the Friday before Thanksgiving at the earliest.  

Defrosting the turkey in cold water is another option recommended by the USDA. The frozen bird still in the package is submerged in cold water that’s changed every 30 minutes. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound, so to defrost a 16 pound turkey in time to serve Thanksgiving afternoon, you’ll have to start at about 4 a.m. Click here for more thawing information, including what to do if the turkey is still frozen at cooking time.

Once the bird has been managed, it’s time to figure out everything else. The Iowa State Extension Office has these suggestions for getting everything done in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Finalize what will be served so you can figure out the order dishes should be prepared. It’s easier to delay cooking some items rather than trying to keep them warm. Don’t forget to include any dishes the guests may bring; sometimes they need time in the oven or on the stove.
  • Clean the refrigerator and the rest of the house a couple of days before T-Day. Space will be at a premium with all the dishes needing to be chilled and cleaning much earlier will result in having to do it all over again. Set the table in advance if you can.
  • Cut up fresh vegetables the day before and peel potatoes on Thanksgiving morning.
  • Measure out ingredients and spices in advance, what chefs call “mise en place” (French for “gather” or “putting in place). Gather the measurable items in small bowls in advance so when it’s time to make the recipe, you can just dump the contents into the mixing bowl.

Click here for more ideas on preparing for Thanksgiving.