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posted November 19, 2020

Planning Thanksgiving Dinner on the BBQ

The countdown is on to Thanksgiving! Are you ready to prepare and make that turkey feast? Planning Thanksgiving dinner on the BBQ can be a bit tricky to plan and execute, but this guide will walk you start-to-finish through the whole process.

Thanksgiving Meal Planning Guide

It’s a week before Thanksgiving. You have the guests invited, the turkey purchased, and the dream of a perfect Thanksgiving. But where to begin? How will you manage to cook all those different dishes that require different cook temperatures and times to have them completed (and still hot!) by dinnertime?

Enter my Thanksgiving meal planning guide! This guide helps you plan not only what to do the day of Thanksgiving, but the week leading up to your dinner.

Susie stands in front of a large piece of butcher paper with a Thanksgiving meal plan written on it.

How to Plan Thanksgiving Dinner on the BBQ

Now, I know this whole process can seem like a lot of work, but it will dramatically help make your Thanksgiving day run smoother. Plus, who wouldn’t like a little more time enjoying their loved ones instead of stressing about that last-minute shopping trip, or not planning enough time to defrost or brine the turkey?

When planning Thanksgiving dinner, I like to break my list into four categories of time: The week before, week of, day before, and day of Thanksgiving.

Week Before

First up, make sure you have your turkey ONE WEEK PRIOR to Thanksgiving. This is super important, as you’ll often need to defrost and/or brine your turkey (which takes extra days of planning).

  1. Menu plan. Need to set your menu. gather ideas plus don’t forget the family traditions. For us, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without rolls and Jell-O salad (it’s a Utah thing). This also helps you assign things for others to bring.
  2. Print out the recipes. Make sure to print out every single recipe you’ll be making. This will help with shopping and coordinating all the prep and cooking.
  3. Make your shopping list. Divide your shopping list into 2 parts. The first includes items you can purchase today, like the turkey, potatoes, non-perishables, seasonings, etc. Make sure and get these beforehand as the stores tend to run out of many popular Thanksgiving items. The second list includes week-of purchases that won’t keep as well.

Susie speaks into the camera with text overlay at the bottom of the image reading: Week Before: Set menu, print recipes, and go shopping.

Week Of

The week of Thanksgiving should still be a relatively chill week where you just have a few things to check off your list. 

  1. Defrost the turkey. As a rule of thumb, plan 1 full day of defrosting for every 5 pounds of turkey. The safest way to defrost your turkey is in the refrigerator to ensure it stays out of the danger zone. You definitely don’t want to send your guests home with food poisoning after all your hard work preparing the turkey.
  2. Last-minute shopping. The week of Thanksgiving head to the store to get your fresh and perishable items.
  3. Make food orders. My family loves to purchase pies from our favorite bakery for Thanksgiving. If you have any similar food orders you need to make, get them in as early the week of Thanksgiving as possible. (I also recommend calling ahead to find out when you need to have your order in so you don’t miss that window).
  4. Clean the smoker. Working with a clean grill is super important to make sure your food comes out tasting great. Refer to my post on How to Clean a Pellet Grill on help cleaning your smoker.

Four illustrated turkeys of increasing size showing when to thaw turkey.

Day Before

Believe it or not, I actually do most of my meal prep (and some cooking) the day before Thanksgiving. My whole goal is to get as much prep out of the way the day before so I can enjoy spending time with my family on the big day.

  1. Brine the turkey. Whether you’re doing a dry brine or a wet brine, you need to plan to brine the turkey the day before Thanksgiving. When using a wet brine like my Apple Spice Turkey Brine, plan for 1 hour per pound of turkey.
  2. Make the sides. Most sides can be assembles or prepared a day in advance, then kept in the refrigerator waiting to cook on Thanksgiving day. These include my Green Bean Casserole, Smoked Sweet Potato Casserole, Smoked Mashed Potatoes, etc. This helps you focus on rolls and turkey that need to be prepped and cooked the day of.
  3. Set the table. Make sure you have all the table space you need, additional chairs are pulled out and cleaned off, and the table is set and ready so you don’t have to worry about it the day of when guests start arriving. Trust me when I say this will help to take the stress off Thanksgiving day itself more than you’ll know.

Susie writes a list of items to complete the week of Thanksgiving on peach butcher paper.

Day Of

When Thanksgiving day rolls around, I recommend planning Thanksgiving dinner hour by hour, so you can ensure all your food cooks fully and is ready at the same time for dinner. 

  1. Cook the turkey! Refer to the recipe for cook time on your turkey, then allow yourself an extra hour for resting, and to give yourself some leeway in case your turkey needs extra time to cook.
  2. Break the day up by hour. Use those printed recipes to plan out exactly what needs to be done each hour of your day. This is crucial to ensure you have time to cook all your various food.
  3. Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner! Here at Hey Grill Hey, our whole focus is to help you make better BBQ, feed the people you love, and become a backyard BBQ hero. We hope this guide has helped ease the stress of planning to feed your loved ones during the holidays so you can sit back and enjoy their company while eating some really good food.


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