Learn how to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with a maximum of enjoyment and a minimum of stress, snafus, and sleeplessness!

Take Control of
Thanksgiving Dinner

Joe Kissell

Joe Kissell trades his trackpad for a whisk and brings his knack for breaking complex topics into simple steps to the task of preparing a full-bore Thanksgiving dinner. With Joe’s help and extensively tested recipes, cooking a complete Thanksgiving feast can be both delicious and stress-free!

All Take Control books are delivered in two ebook formats—PDF and EPUB—and can be read on nearly any device.


Note: This book is slightly outdated. Yes, you still roast a turkey exactly the same way in 2022 as you did in 2012! But while using this book to prepare Thanksgiving dinner in 2022, Joe noticed a bunch of irritating little mistakes and thought of several ways of improving my advice. In addition, the layout and cover really need to be brought into modern times! So it needs a solid refresh, but because of this book’s unique formatting requirements, it will require more effort to pull off than our other titles. We hope, but do not promise, to release a new edition in the third quarter of 2023—well before Thanksgiving in Canada (October 9). (Read more about updates).)

Joe If you’d like your Thanksgiving preparations to go smoothly (and who wouldn’t?), turn to experienced tech writer and foodie Joe Kissell for help. At least half the battle is a good plan, and Joe provides you with a customizable plan that gets you organized, helps you figure out what you need to buy, and prevents last-minute problems. Once the planning and shopping are done, follow Joe’s detailed, tested recipes for Thanksgiving dinner: roast turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

"Thanks for a great guide! I used it to successfully cook my first complete Thanksgiving, almost single-handed. While I can follow recipes, I am nowhere close to ‘a cook’—your guide gave me the confidence to take on this meal!"   —Ed Ruder

Appendixes cover special cases from allergies to vegans, drawings guide you as you work with the turkey, and a special included "Print Me" file provides shopping lists and schedules, as well as versions of the recipes that you can tape up in the kitchen. Although these recipes scale easily for a few more people, they are meant for 8-12 people. The recipes use U.S. and metric units.

Read this ebook to learn the answers to questions such as:

  • What type of turkey should I buy?
  • Is there a fast way to make cranberry relish?
  • What’s the secret behind making perfect gravy?
  • How do you deal with a raw turkey, and which end is the neck?
  • See the FAQ tab (click it slightly above on this Web page) for more questions and some answers.

"I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for longer than I care to admit, and I never would have thought I’d pick up so many good tips! Great book!"     —Trish Huffman

Joe Kissell

About Joe Kissell

Take Control publisher Joe Kissell has written more than 60 books about technology, including many popular Take Control books. He formerly wrote for publications such as Macworld, Wirecutter, and TidBITS. He lives in Saskatoon with his wife, his two children, and his cat.

What’s New in Version 1.2

In version 1.2, I’ve modernized the book’s layout so that it works not only on large screens in PDF format, but also on smaller screens in EPUB and Mobipocket formats. In addition, I did the following:

  • Corrected or removed a handful of links to Web sites that were no longer functional
  • Made a few minor edits to bring the book up to date and fix typos
  • Replaced Figure 1 (formerly a drawing) with a photo to better illustrate the appearance of turkey giblets

What Was New in Version 1.1

Version 1.1 included the following changes from the original release:

  • Mentioned newer models of the Thermapen thermometer; see the sidebar Choosing an Instant-Read Thermometer.
  • Added a note clarifying bread quantities; see Prepare Stuffing.
  • Significantly revised the recipe for candied sweet potatoes, in response to reader feedback, to provide a thicker and more even glaze; see Make the Orange Dish.
  • Mentioned some newfangled gadgets that may help with lacing and trussing a turkey on.

Q: What if I don't want to make everything by hand?
A: You don't have to! Although the book assumes you'll make most things by hand, it also has sidebars that suggest when cutting a corner may the better part of valor and an appendix helps if you have to make Thanksgiving dinner with little prep time.

Q: What about my aunt Martha's stuffing recipe?
A: The book provides recipes that work together in terms of time and temperature, but it also assumes that you may want to swap in a recipe or two of your own.

Q: I love David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methods. Will this book help me have a Getting Things Done Thanksgiving?
A: Yes it will. It walks you right through the planning process with lots of next steps, to-dos, and lists.

Q: How do you recommend preparing the turkey?
A: Joe explains a basic brining technique.

Q: Isn't brining too hard for less-experienced cooks?
A: Joe has a special talent for breaking down complex tasks into simple steps. We think a lot of cooks will be pleased when they see how easy Joe makes it.

Q: I noticed that you don't cover a green vegetable, homemade rolls, or pecan pie.
A: Yes. We limited the book's scope to something we felt could be achieved by normal humans. The book does welcome you to make more dishes, and it links to a few noteworthy recipes for green veggies.

Q: What about vegetarians?
A: The book has a lovely recipe for a polenta-and-cheese based main course for vegetarians, and it even has an appendix on how to accommodate vegans. However, if you plan to cook an all-vegan feast, this isn't the right book for you.

Q: What about the gravy?
A: The gravy recipe is superb. And, Joe splits it so people with less time or experience can go for great gravy, but readers with more time or experience can go for amazingly superb gravy.

Q: What's a computer geek doing writing a cookbook?
A: Joe writes about technology in order to support his habit of eating well, and he was playing with his food long before he started playing with computers. He wields a whisk or a mouse with equal proficiency. Joe realized that the same methods he uses to make seemingly complicated computer tasks seem easy could be applied to seemingly complicated cooking tasks, and this book is the result.

  • Read Me First
  • Introduction
  • Quick Start
  • Traveler, Know Thyself
  • Plan Ahead!
  • Obtain Supplies
  • Obtain Ingredients
  • Follow Your Plan
  • Prepare the Dining Room & Kitchen
  • Prepare the Turkey
  • Prepare the Stuffing
  • Make Gravy
  • Make Cranberry Sauce
  • Make the Orange Dish
  • Bake Pumpkin Pie
  • Roast and Carve the Turkey
  • Make Mashed Potatoes
  • Deal with Leftovers
  • Appendix A: A Vegetarian Main Dish
  • Appendix B: Scaling Recipes
  • Appendix C: Last-Minute Thanksgiving
  • Appendix D: What If?
  • Appendix F: The Schedule
  • About This Ebook
  • Joe Kissell Talks Turkey about His Thanksgiving Ebook

    Posted by Tonya Engst on November 24, 2009

    Get the scoop on Joe’s favorite ebook, Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner. In the MacVoices #9120 podcast episode, Joe and host Chuck Joiner talk about choosing a turkey, baking a moist turkey, making various side dishes, handling logistics, and more. Also, if you know what a turkey “giblet” is, but have always wondered which “giblet” is which organ, check out the Turkey Giblets post from Joe’s The Geeky Gourmet blog.

    November 23, 2022—This book is slightly outdated. Yes, you still roast a turkey exactly the same way in 2022 as you did in 2012! But while using this book to prepare Thanksgiving dinner in 2022, Joe noticed a bunch of irritating little mistakes and thought of several ways of improving my advice. In addition, the layout and cover really need to be brought into modern times! So it needs a solid refresh, but because of this book’s unique formatting requirements, it will require more effort to pull off than our other titles. We hope, but do not promise, to release a new edition in the third quarter of 2023—well before Thanksgiving in Canada (October 9). (Read more about updates.)


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    For your enjoyment, here's an excerpt from the ebook that covers how to make stuffing. The overall ebook has you starting your shopping early, but you can jump in here. Note that this recipe is intended to span 2 days, with you doing some prep work on the day before Thanksgiving. Of course, you can do it all on Thanksgiving day, if necessary.

    The great thing about stuffing is that you can vary the recipe dramatically and still end up with a perfectly delicious end result. The basic ingredients of a turkey stuffing are bread, aromatics (celery and onion), stock or broth, a few spices, and a bit of butter. Of course, lots of stuffings get fancy with sausage, oysters, chestnuts, fruit, cornbread, or any of a zillion other modifications. We're going to stick with the standard (though I provide other suggestions in the Upgrading sidebar [at the end of this excerpt]. If you have a family recipe for another type of stuffing, and your guests expect it, feel free to use it instead.

    IN OR OUT? There are two broad schools of thought about stuffing: one says to cook it inside the turkey (in which case it truly is stuffing) and the other says to cook it separately (in which case it's sometimes called dressing). If you cook the stuffing inside the turkey, it will absorb a good bit of moisture and fat from the turkey—and along with it, lots of flavor. Stuffing the turkey is a (slightly awkward) extra step, as is removing the cooked stuffing, though using a stuffing bag can simplify both greatly.
    But the main argument against stuffing the turkey is that the stuffing takes a long time to heat up, while spending significant time in contact with uncooked meat. That's a recipe for bacterial growth, and of course the last thing you want to do is make your guests sick! However, you can solve this problem quite easily. First, make sure the stuffing is very hot when you put it into the bird. And, second, before you take the turkey out of the oven, check the stuffing's temperature. If it's 160*F (71*C) or higher, you're completely safe.
    Because the taste of genuinely stuffed stuffing is better, we'll be cooking it in the bird. But we'll also make some extra, cooked separately, because you can never have too much stuffing!

    Most of the stuffing preparation should be done the day before Thanksgiving. Just before you put the turkey in the oven, you'll perform the last two steps: combining the wet and dry ingredients, and heating the stuffing.


    • 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsalted butter
    • (1 stick)
    • 4 large celery stalks
    • 1 large onion
    • 1 teaspoon dried sage
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
    • 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground pepper
    • 2 loaves (16 oz./450 g each) white sandwich bread, dried or
    • 2 bags (14oz./400 g) of plain dried bread cubes
    • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
    • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

    Only if upgrading...
    2 medium apples (replacing half the celery)
    1-2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms

    Ingredient Notes

    • A few words about the bread: For the best texture, the bread should be thoroughly dried before you make the stuffing. You can dry fresh bread by laying the slices on a counter or, better yet, wire cooling racks for about 3 days, depending on the humidity. (It'll dry faster if it's already torn into small pieces.) If you are pressed for time, you can tear up the bread, lay the pieces on cookie sheets, and bake them in a 300*F (150*C) oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until thoroughly dry (but not browned). Or you can simply buy packages of plain dried bread cubes.
    • It's a Wonder: Some brands of bread, such as WonderBread, come in 24-ounce loaves rather than 16-ounce loaves. Be sure to check the weight and adjust the quantity accordingly if necessary.
    • As for chicken broth: If you have some homemade chicken or turkey stock, by all means use it. But you'll get dandy results using canned (or boxed) broth from the supermarket, too. For the stuffing (unlike the gravy), you don't absolutely need low-sodium broth, but buying just one kind of broth is easiest. If you have vegetarians at the table, you can substitute vegetable broth—and be sure to serve them the stuffing cooked separately from the turkey.


    1. If you are using fresh bread, tear it up into small (1 inch/2 cm) pieces—they needn't be uniformly shaped—and dry it thoroughly. (Refer to the explanation just previously.)
    2. Chop the onion and celery finely (or ask your helper to).
    3. Separately, chop the parsley finely. (If you have a pair of kitchen shears, you can use those, rather than a knife, to cut the parsley.)
    4. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When it just starts to bubble, add the onion and celery and saute them until very soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. (If the onions begin to brown on the edges, consider them done.)
    5. Stir in all the spices except the parsley (marjoram, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper), and the chicken broth.
    6. Allow this mixture to cool slightly. Then transfer it into a covered container and refrigerate until tomorrow.
    7. In a very large bowl (or two bowls, if you don't have a single bowl large enough), toss together the bread cubes and the chopped parsley. Cover this bowl loosely with a dry towel and set it aside until tomorrow.
    8. When you're ready to stuff the turkey, warm the wet mixture slightly (in a saucepan or in the microwave), just enough to liquefy any fat on the surface. Combine the wet mixture and the dry mixture and mix thoroughly.
    9. Following the directions in Roast and Carve the Turkey (page 69), microwave about 6 cups of the stuffing until it reaches 130 degrees F (54 degrees C). Then spoon it into the turkey (or the stuffing bag). Put the remaining stuffing in a casserole or glass baking dish and cover it, but don't refrigerate (if you think you'll be low on oven space, use a loaf pan instead).
      Better with butter: The stuffing you're baking separately will be extra yummy if, before you put it in the oven, you drizzle the top with about 4 tablespoons (half a stick) of melted, unsalted butter.
    10. When the turkey has been roasting for 2 hours, put the remaining stuffing into the oven alongside or above it, covered with foil or a glass lid. Bake for about an hour, so the stuffing will be ready when the turkey has finished resting after it comes out of the oven.

    Cutting Corners
    Stuffing isn't at all hard to make, but if you're worried about getting everything done, there are always store-bought stuffing mixes. Frankly, I don't think any commercial mix can hold a candle to homemade stuffing, but this is ultimately a lower-priority menu item than, say, turkey or mashed potatoes.

    This stuffing recipe, as it stands, is plenty tasty (especially the portion cooked inside the turkey). But it's also pretty basic. To add some pizzazz, you can try these suggestions:
    * Replace half the celery with two medium-sized apples, peeled and diced into pieces about the same size as the celery.
    * Add 1-2 cups of fresh chopped mushrooms.
    * Look for other stuffing recipes. Among the thousands of stuffing recipes you can find online are ones that use rice or cornbread instead of white bread; ones that include sausage or oysters; ones that add chestnuts for some extra crunch; and numerous other variations. If you're feeling adventurous, substitute any of these recipes for the one here, but be sure to make enough to fill the turkey and an extra baking dish—at least 12 cups (3 l) in all.

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