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steam oven pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Prep and Planning for Steam Oven Cooks

This Thanksgiving prep and planning timeline is designed to alleviate those feelings of cooking overwhelm, particularly with your steam oven in mind. Because, let’s be honest: even for those of us who truly love cooking, back-to-back(-to-back) meals for extra mouths over an entire holiday weekend can be daunting and exhausting.

This is kind of a hybrid plan, if you will: it takes the most useful things I’ve found from general holiday meal plans and blends them with a good dose of ‘how to incorporate your steam oven to make it better’. Basically, it assumes that along with your steam oven, you’re also making use of your kitchen at large in the days before and during Thanksgiving. 

Would you like to print this plan and have it, ready to scrawl notes on and accompany you to the store, over the next couple of weeks? Grab the printable version right here!

This article is part of the Steam Oven Insiders newsletter, Volume 10. Read the full newsletter here or go to this issue’s linked recipe for Hasselback Potatoes.

What can you use your steam oven for at Thanksgiving?

There are lots of ways I rely on my steam oven to lessen the burden of entertaining when it comes to the food side of things, and I want you to do the same.

Almost all your classic Thanksgiving favorites are perfect candidates for the steam oven. Steam oven turkey is the obvious hero, but most other Thanksgiving dishes are improved with combi steam or steam settings too. From stuffing to sides and sauce to dessert, you can really put your oven to good use.

Here are all the classic Thanksgiving dishes I can think of which will go well in your steam oven. I’m sure there are more, though!

But it’s not just about knowing you can cook these dishes, or having great recipes to do so. Where your steam oven really becomes helpful is in the prep, in the days and weeks ahead of the big meal. 

Prep, prep, prep

I’ve been cooking and serving multi-course meals to large groups of people for a long time now. It doesn’t have to be a stressful nightmare, but you do have to think ahead. 

Getting your menu planned and shopped for, and as much prep work as possible done ahead of time, is the key. Good prep is not going to magically take away that hour before dinner where the kitchen is chaos, but I promise you’ll be calmer and cooler among the chaos.

I’ve broken down the basics of a Thanksgiving menu into a time plan below; starting from now and leading through to the big day. I’ve noted wherever it’s beneficial to use your steam oven for the prep and cooking parts of the day. 

If you’d prefer, you can download and print the plan, so you can add your own notes and keep it handy in the kitchen over the next couple of weeks. 

The Thanksgiving Plan 

Print the entire plan so you don’t have to keep using your phone to look at it!

2 weeks before Thanksgiving (now!)

  • Plan your menu if you haven’t already. Think about your available oven and stove space on the day of and adjust your menu accordingly. If you have only one oven, it’s essential to have a mix of dishes that are served hot, cold, or at room temperature.
  • For an heirloom or special farm turkey, order right now if you haven’t done so. Most small scale growers need a few weeks lead time to guarantee your order. This is also the time to place any other advance food orders at your local market, for salads, sides and desserts you plan to purchase.

Need to determine what size turkey you should buy? 

To serve 10–12, choose a 12–15 pound bird. 

To serve 15–18, choose a 14–16 pound bird. 

To serve 18–22, choose a 20–22 pound bird or cook two smaller ones*

*Honestly, I prefer not to cook a turkey that’s more than about 15 pounds. It’s heavy and hard to move around, and harder to cook evenly by any method, even in a steam oven). If you do want to go larger, it’s worth noting you can fit up to about a 15 pound turkey into a 24 inch steam oven. Beyond that you’ll need a larger oven.

  • Assign dishes to willing guests. I never refuse offers to bring a dish. Even though your instinct might be to say, ‘oh, just bring yourself!’, don’t. Most people are offering because they genuinely want to help. And it’s absolutely fine to be specific about what you’d like. Let the person know what you’re making already, and what they can add to enhance the menu. You don’t have to go as far as giving them an exact recipe (although you can if you like!), but being vague and ending up with both them and you adding mashed potatoes or the same pie to the table doesn’t help anyone.
creamy mashed potatoes in a bowl
  • Make certain you have all the equipment you need. I like to go dish-by-dish, thinking about what I need for each recipe and locating all necessary pots, pans, dishes, and serving platters. If you have room, set them aside somewhere within easy reach to grab and use as you prep over the next couple of weeks.
  • Check your spices and pantry staples. If any spices are old, the flavor may not be as potent, so replace or add to the ones you need to. 
  • Check staple ingredients and supplies such as butter, flour, salt, sugar, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and storage containers. 

One week before Thanksgiving

  • Create three shopping lists:
    • A list for shelf-stable items you can buy now (canned, bottled and boxed foods); 
    • A list for relatively non-perishable items you can buy a little later (dairy items, root veg); 
    • And a final list for delicate items to buy a few days prior to Thanksgiving (fresh fruit, salad leaves and highly perishable vegetables).
  • Make pie dough for all the pies you’ll need. If you have freezer space and enough pie dishes, line each dish, wrap well with plastic wrap and then foil, and freeze. If not, pat each crust into a 4 inch disk, wrap tightly and freeze.
  • If you want to get further ahead on pie, you can assemble entire pecan or apple pies and freeze, unbaked. Do not attempt to freeze pumpkin pie, though, as the filling won’t thaw well. For frozen, unbaked pies, you can bake from frozen on Thanksgiving day.
  • Make, cook and freeze stuffing. I like to cook mine until it’s a little less browned than usual, it’ll finish off perfectly in the steam oven when it’s time to reheat. 
  • Prepare and freeze gravy. I know this is controversial and you’re ‘supposed’ to make gravy after the turkey is cooked, but it’s a pain of a job to be doing at the most critical time when you’re about to serve dinner. I prefer to make it ahead and just stir in some pan drippings when I reheat it (in the steam oven) for serving. I like this recipe for brown gravy from my friend Clare.

The weekend before Thanksgiving

  • Do a good clear-out of your fridge and freezer, to free up as much space as you can. 
  • Have you got a frozen turkey? Time to defrost. Plan on the bird taking one day for every 4 pounds in weight, and to finish defrosting the day before roasting.
  • Finish the bulk of your shopping. You want to get everything that will keep until Thanksgiving, leaving just a few delicate vegetables, greens, herbs and pre-prepared dishes for the day or two beforehand. 
  • Buy your drinks and store them in an easy to reach place (not the back of the fridge where food will get piled in front!).
  • Make and freeze dinner rolls (I like potato rolls, you might want pumpkin ones). Refreshing fully baked rolls using your steam oven on the day will taste every bit as good as freshly baked.
  • Make cranberry sauce. I like this super easy sous vide one, you don’t need to seal it in a bag if you do it in your steam oven. Just put everything into a non-reactive (stainless steel or glass) dish, cover and cook. When it’s done, pop it in an airtight container in the fridge, where it’ll keep until Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Make and freeze any pureed soups you’ve got on the menu.

Two days before Thanksgiving

  • Make dips, salad dressings and relishes now, most will keep just fine in the fridge.
  • If you made your pie dough in advance, thaw in the fridge to be ready for baking tomorrow or the next day. If not, make your dough (or any crumb crusts) now and keep it chilled.
  • Some salads can be fully or partially prepared ahead; think potato salad (steam the potatoes in your steam oven), slaw (keep the dressing separate), or roasted root vegetables for warm salads (combi steam is perfect for roasting those veggies faster).
  • Cook any sweet potato or squash casseroles and refrigerate. I recommend cooking these using the same temperature as usual, but on a combi steam setting using 50%/medium steam. Drop the cooking time by up to a third to account for the humidity making things faster. 
  • Finish shopping for delicate vegetables, greens, and herbs. If you ordered a fresh turkey, collect that now.
  • Wash, dry and store your greens. It seems like such a small thing but I love knowing I can just grab them, ready to go for salads and veg dishes over the next two days. 

The day before Thanksgiving

  • Do any required turkey prep, depending on your recipe. This could mean brining or seasoning, or if you’re doing sous vide turkey, you can fully complete the sous vide part of the cook, then chill for finishing tomorrow. 
  • Thaw your pre-made stuffing in the fridge, or make and refrigerate it today.
close up sausage and herb stuffing pan

  • Thaw frozen gravy in the refrigerator.
  • Make pumpkin pie or other custard pies (or creme caramel, creme brulees etc). My friend Rachel, who is my pie guru, says you don’t need to refrigerate a pumpkin pie if you make it the day before and keep it at a cool room temperature. I agree with her that the texture of a non-refrigerated pie is lighter and generally nicer, plus it frees up valuable space in the fridge!
steam oven pumpkin pie

  • Make your mashed potatoes and store in the fridge.
  • Cook and refrigerate potato gratin, or assemble and store, uncooked, in the fridge for cooking fresh. You can use your steam oven to cook gratin, using the same temperature as usual, but on a combi steam setting using 30%/low steam. Drop the cooking time by up to a third to account for the humidity making things faster. I also recommend reducing the liquid in your gratin by about half, as it won’t evaporate away as much.
  • Wash and chop Brussels sprouts, beans and carrots, ready for cooking tomorrow. 
  • Set out crockery and cutlery, platters, serving utensils and table decorations. I do this last thing the evening before; it lets me quietly consider what we’ll actually need, and mostly saves people jumping up and down from the table to grab a pair of tongs or another fork during dinner.
roasted brussels sprouts with cream

Thanksgiving Day

  • Chill any beverages that need to be served cold. 
  • Bake frozen, unbaked pies (apple or pecan) in the morning. To do so using combi steam, drop the usual baking temperature by 25 degrees and use a combi steam setting on 20-30%/low steam. Cooking time will be variable but I generally add a little extra time to account for the frozen start. 
  • Prepare on-the-day vegetable dishes like salads, beans, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and carrots. Potatoes, sprouts and carrots can be cooked up to a couple of hours ahead and popped back in the oven for a few minutes to warm through if necessary, or served warm rather than hot. 
  • Cook your turkey. Allow 2-2½ hours if you’re making my steamed-then-roasted turkey as written; a little longer if you have a bird larger than 8 or 9 pounds. Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer; the thickest part of the breast should register 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s done, the turkey should rest, covered in a warm place, for at least half an hour. It’ll be fine for up to an hour or so, though. 

A white oval platter with a roasted turkey and a halved head of garlic resting on a bed of rosemary sprigs

  • Once the turkey is out of the oven, reheat or cook the stuffing and any other remaining dishes that need to go in the oven.
    • For ‘crispy’ reheated dishes like frozen rolls, refrigerated stuffing or gratin, I like 320 degrees Fahrenheit, combi steam setting and 30%/low steam until the food is hot through. 
    • For mash or gravy, reheat at 250 degrees Fahrenheit and 50%/medium steam. If oven space is at a premium, reheat gravy in a saucepan over low heat. Add drippings now if desired. 
  • Carve the turkey (or, better, have someone else do it), and plate up. 
  • Gently warm any pre-baked pies during dinner, if need be. Set a timer so you don’t forget them!

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