4 Tips for Planning Thanksgiving on Vacation

Coastal Holiday Planning

It’s become a family tradition to gather the extended family at Las Brisas, our beach house in Galveston, for Thanksgiving. My sister in law has a place in the same neighborhood, so there is plenty of room for the 13 + that celebrate together.

Planning Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, including the cooking timeline and a bonus example of a DIY craft - a gingerbread turkey!

Family togetherness – planning the gingerbread lighthouse.

Planning a large holiday meal for a crowd takes some forethought and planning for one in a vacation home, even more so. Here are a few tips for pulling it off beautifully.

1. Find out about the kitchen
Ask the owner about baking dishes etc. Our vacation homes sleep a lot of folks and are well stocked to prepare meals for a crowd. I set the kitchens up in Galveston and Port Aransas so I could cook a holiday meal in each of them – lots of pots and pans and baking dishes. Alternatively, if the kitchen you are in is limited in its cookware, use disposable foil baking pans.

2. Bring the turkey
I buy a frozen turkey and bring it with us. We are fortunate that the kids have the whole week off, so I buy the turkey prior to heading out of town and stick it in a cooler, still frozen, for the drive. If you are arriving on a Wednesday and expect to cook the turkey on Thursday, make sure it’s thawed before you get to the vacation home!

3. Decide the ‘must have’ foods
At home, I have a double oven, so cooking a wide variety of foods is easy. With the single oven at the beach house kitchen, things need to be a bit more streamlined. When we started this tradition, I asked the family members what they needed on the table for it to be Thanksgiving, to make sure the meal met everyone’s expectations. Luckily, some of the must haves overlapped! I list our typical menu below.

4. Plan the cooking of the meal
What time will the dinner be eaten? How long will the turkey take to cook? Plan the rest of the meal backwards from there. It’s easier to make a few things the day before if possible.

Every year I debate about cooking the pies the day ahead of Thanksgiving. I’m doing it this year 🙂 and if we dig in a day early, so be it.

Here is my usual timeline. I’ve saved an electronic version of this as well as a shopping list so I can access it every year. I use the large turkey instructions from The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry and the Dry Brine from Williams Sonoma. Can’t beat it!
Thanksgiving 2014 Plan – Eat at 4:30 pm

Roast Turkey
Dad’s Homemade Gravy
Steamed and Buttered Green Beans – 20 minutes, stove top
Sweet Potato Casserole – 45 minutes @ 350
Mashed Potatoes – peel, boil and mash
Broccoli Casserole – 45 minutes @ 350
Corn Bread Stuffing – 45 minutes @ 350
Crescent Rolls
Pecan Pie – 1 hour @ 325
Apple Crisp – 35 minutes @ 350

Pecan pie, Stuffing, Cranberries


10 am: Bake Broccoli Casserole and Sweet Potato Casserole
12 pm: Turkey in oven (3 1/2 to 4 hours plus 20 minutes rest)
3 pm: Start Mashed Potatoes
4 pm: Finish Gravy and reheat Casseroles
4:30 pm – Apple Crisp

I was thinking about Thanksgiving this weekend and couldn’t resist making some cornbread dressing. I stuffed a pork tenderloin with it. I admit, this is my favorite culinary season of the year. Although Summer BBQ runs a close second 🙂

Best of luck with your travel and holiday meal plans!!

Planning Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, including a cooking timeline and a bonus DIY craft - a gingerbread turkey


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