While the holidays are rightly celebrated as a time of cheer and festivity, everyone knows they can also be downright stressful.
Between the fear of getting fat after missing one too many workouts, surviving awkward family encounters, and the pressure of entering true adulthood by hosting a Thanksgiving or holiday party for the very first time, there’s plenty that could drive any mortal man to hurl a dumbbell and/or overcooked turkey carcass across the room.
And while we can’t help you dodge questions about your love life from your overbearing aunts, we can at least ease the anxiety of inviting people over and feeding them.
Here to help: Australian chef Curtis Stone, a best-selling cookbook author and restaurateur. This guy knows a thing or two about putting together a family-style feast—particularly one even the host will enjoy. Just in time for Thanksgiving, here are five of his go-to tips, tricks, and the one piece of essential gear you’ll need to plan a seasonal bash without a hitch.
1. Start by asking the experts
Mom always knows best, so don’t be afraid to reach out to her (or your grandmother or aunt) to ask for help planning the menu or preparing that secret family recipe. She not only has years of experience when it comes to prepping for the holidays (and plenty of widsom to impart), but also “there’s something really nice about keeping those family traditions alive,” says Stone.
And if Mom has only ever made a tradition out of undercooked turkeys and briquette cookies, then there’s no shame in getting some pro tips from another pro entertainer you know. Throwing a holiday party requires a surprising amount of planning and forethought, so don’t wait until the last minute.
2. Go for homemade
When it comes to cooking during the holidays, you should “always serve something homemade,” says Stone. One super-easy dish to make from scratch, according to Stone, is cranberry sauce, which is three ingredients—Ocean Spray cranberries, sugar, and water.
3. Get organized and delegate
Before you let yourself get overwhelmed with all the crap you need to do (remember to brine the turkey!), simply make yourself a to-do list. Note which dishes can be made ahead of time, like salad dressing or gravy, and have those done in advance. Having a few things already checked off your list before anyone even steps through your front door is always a good feeling, and will make the day-of that much more relaxed.
Furthermore: If you’re the head chef, then you need a staff. “There’s nothing wrong with allocating jobs—whether that’s asking someone to help with the wine, someone to do the playlist, someone to bring a side dish,” Stone says. It’ll take the stress off your guests wondering what to bring and make them feel “like they belong”.
4. Invest in a digital-read thermometer
For such a ubiquitous dish, turkey is surprisingly difficult to cook, especially for culinary novices who aren’t accustomed to roasting such a massive bird. Thawing, temperature, timing, brining, stuffing—it’s a project without much margin for error. “You don’t want to cut into that turkey and be like, ‘Damn, it’s undercooked,'” Stone says.
So do what chefs do and take the guesswork out of the equation with a digital thermometer (which doesn’t require piercing the turkey and letting all the juices escape). “You can literally probe the turkey and it’ll tell you the exact ‘doneness,'” Stone says.
5. Have fun
Ever show up to a party and discover that your normally cheery host has dissolved into a bundle of nerves over pumpkin pie and Brussels sprouts? Nobody enjoys those parties.
So this season, when you’re up to your elbows in pie crust, or you realize that your cat has decided to sample the entire shrimp cocktail appetizer, take a deep breath and remember why you’re throwing a party in the first place. “The best hosts are always the ones that have the most fun, and that’s important to remember,” Stone says. “Your guests will feed off your energy.”