How to Prepare Your Thanksgiving Dinner Without Cooking Up Trouble

November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Cooking tips

Famous playwright Oscar Wilde once said that after eating a good dinner we should be so content we could forgive anybody for anything, even our own family members.

With Thanksgiving coming up, that's an optimistic message. But the secret, as we all know, is being able to conjure up what is probably the biggest and most complicated meal of the year while all those family members wait around in noisy anticipation!

It's not just about being a good cook and a great practitioner of the art of culinary juggling, but also about being able to do so safely in the toughest of circumstances!

But Thanksgiving safety begins long before you pop the turkey in the oven, as we'll explain with our Thanksgiving safety tips.

There are two main hazards that should be uppermost in your mind as you go about preparing your Thanksgiving dinner: kitchen safety and food safety.

Tips for Thanksgiving Kitchen Safety

Thanksgiving is the biggest day of the year for fires that involve cooking equipment -- three times as many as on an average day. And Turkey-day spillages or burns also send thousands of people to the ER every year.

Here are 10 things you should do to boost your Thanksgiving safety in the kitchen.

  • Be prepared for fire by testing your smoke alarm before the cooking operation starts. And know how to deal with a kitchen fire if one breaks out. Never use water to quell a fire -- it just makes it worse! Check out this guide: Also, make sure you have an evacuation plan with at least two escape routes.
  • Keep the floor and counter-tops clear of clutter, so you can avoid trips and have plenty of workspace. Make sure there are no electric cords trailing over counter edges.
  • Never leave your stove unattended. Being away from it is the main cause of cooking fires. Stand by your pan!
  • Keep children and pets away from the stove. They should be at least three feet away but ideally, they should be totally out of range, under the supervision of another adult.
  • Actually, it's a good idea to keep everyone out of the kitchen who isn't involved in the meal preparation. Overcrowding, especially by people in high spirits, is a big hazard.
  • You or anyone else involved in cooking should avoid wearing loose clothing that could catch fire or get caught on cooking implements.
  • Turn pan handles away from the front of your cook-top
  • Use a turkey fryer outside the home -- not inside or in a garage or porch -- and ensure it's attended at all times.
  • Have a secure area where you can safely store used pots and pans until the big wash-up starts. Put them in an area where they won't get in your way.
  • When you're ready to serve, ensure the dining table area is clear of kids, celebrating adults, pets and trip hazards before you start the meal delivery service.

Finally, in case of minor cuts or burns, keep a first aid kit close to hand. For burns, use this guide to decide how to deal with the incident:

Cooking Tips for Thanksgiving Food Safety

What could be worse than putting all that effort into preparing your Thanksgiving dinner only to inflict food poisoning on your guests? They certainly won't be thanking you for that.

Because of the lengthy preparation time and the large varieties of food involved, the risks of bacterial infection are high. They call for stringent precautions in storing, handling and cooking all those ingredients.

So, here are another 10 precautions you can take to eliminate or reduce the risk of food-borne illness at Thanksgiving.

  • If the turkey is frozen, it should be safely thawed in a refrigerator -- over a couple of days or more if necessary -- in a microwave with a thaw setting, or in a sink of cold water, changed every half hour. Refrigerated thawing is best. Never thaw it by just leaving it out at room temperature.
  • A thawed or fresh turkey should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40 degrees. It should always be kept separated from other foods,
  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises against buying a fresh pre-stuffed bird because of the risk of bacterial infection. Frozen pre-stuffed birds are okay but they should be cooked from frozen, now thawed.
  • Thoroughly clean all work surfaces and kitchen tools before starting out, reserving different tools for vegetables and meat. And wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before each new task.
  • But don't wash the turkey! This only spreads food bugs. Cooking the bird is the only way to kill bacteria.
  • Cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Experts say you should test the temperature in at least three places -- the breast, the inner thigh and an inner wing.
  • If you have to prepare other foods in stages because of limited cook-top spaces, cover any prepared vegetables once they're cooked. Likewise, bread rolls and other foods already on the dining table should be covered until you're ready to serve.
  • If there are leftovers -- and who doesn't love them? -- put them in the fridge within two hours of cooking. Discard food from your guests' plates though. You can place leftovers in shallow pans, which shortens the amount of time needed for cooling.
  • Don't store stuffing inside the leftover turkey carcass. Take it out and store it separately.
  • Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten within three or four days. Anything you plan to eat later than that should go in the freezer. And if you're generously planning to allow guests to take leftovers with them, offer them a cooler, with ice, if they're likely to take more than a couple of hours to get home.

For more information about preparing and cooking your turkey, check out this guide from the USDA:


Happy families are the goal for anyone hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. You may not be able to do much to smooth over the squabbles that always seem to happen in some households, but by following our Holiday cooking safety tips, you can do a lot to a protect your guests -- and hopefully fulfill Oscar Wilde's observations about forgiveness.

Have a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving!