How to Cook a Big Thanksgiving Dinner in a Small Kitchen

Published September 12, 2022
Woman Prepares to Carve Turkey for Holiday Meal

Hosting a crowd in your tiny kitchen? Not everyone has a luxurious kitchen with tons of counter space and a double oven to make your Thanksgiving meal. If you're short on space but need to cook a big holiday dinner, don't despair. There are lots of ways to successfully cook your Thanksgiving dinner in a small kitchen, no matter how many people you're hosting. It's all about planning, time management, and staying calm.

Plan Your Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Ahead of Time

Hosting Thanksgiving always requires lots of planning, but it's even more important when you have a small kitchen. Start by making a list of the foods you want to have on the table. These may include traditional Thanksgiving dishes like roast turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pies. You'll probably also want to have some sort of appetizer, and you'll need Thanksgiving cocktails or mocktails too.

Writing a list of everything you want on the menu will help you prioritize your time and cooking space. You may not be able to make everything at once in a small kitchen, but with the right plan, you can still have it all.

Take Stock of Your Small Kitchen Space

Next, look around your kitchen and figure out what resources you have at your disposal. When it comes to making Thanksgiving dinner, small kitchens require careful assessment. Think about the following.

  • Oven - Do you have an oven? How big is it? Having a small oven will affect how many things you can have in it at a time. If you don't have an oven, you'll need an alternate method for cooking the turkey.
  • Stovetop - Many Thanksgiving dishes require cooking on top of the stove. How many burners do you have? This will affect how many things you can cook at a time.
  • Refrigerator - You'll definitely need to keep things cold, especially if you are cooking some dishes ahead. A frozen turkey also needs to thaw in the fridge for several days. If your fridge is small, you might need a backup cooler in another room.
  • Microwave - How big is your microwave? You'll be making some of the side dishes ahead, so don't put them in anything that's too big to fit in the microwave.
  • Work space - Do you have some counter space to work on? If there's not enough, consider bringing a folding card table or your dining table into the kitchen temporarily.

Identify Thanksgiving Foods You Can Make Ahead

If you try to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a small kitchen at one time, you're setting yourself up for disaster. However, if you cook the meal in stages, you won't run into space problems. Take some time to look at your menu and identify the foods you can make ahead of time. This can help keep your oven, stovetop, and work surfaces free for the big day. These are some of the traditional dishes you can do in advance:

  • Green bean casserole - Whether you're making a from-scratch green bean casserole or using canned soup and a base, you can make this part of your Thanksgiving dinner a day or two before. Assemble the casserole ahead of time, and then reheat it in the microwave. You can toast the top of it in the oven after the turkey comes out.
  • Cranberry sauce - Canned cranberry sauce doesn't take any time or space, but if you're making your own cranberry sauce, make it a few days in advance. It can sit in your fridge or cooler until you're ready to put it on the table.
  • Pies - It's always a good idea to make the pies before the big day, even if you don't have a small kitchen. If you do, plan to make the pies a day or two ahead and keep them in the refrigerator until it's time for dessert. If you want your fruit pies to be warm, you can put them in a warm oven after the turkey comes out.
  • Mashed potatoes - Although potatoes don't take up oven space, they can take up a lot of kitchen real estate with all the peeling, boiling, and mashing that needs to happen. Cook the potatoes a day or two ahead and then plan to warm them up in the microwave just before you eat.

Adjust Your Turkey Plan as Needed

Preparing stuffed turkey with vegetables and other ingredients for holidays

A turkey is a classic part of the Thanksgiving meal, but it's also requires more space and time than anything else you're going to cook for the feast. Work around some of the issues with these turkey problem-solvers:

  • Buy fresh. - Most people buy their frozen Thanksgiving turkey a week or more ahead of time and allow the turkey to thaw for several days in the fridge. This won't work if you're dealing with a small refrigerator or need to have other dishes in there. Instead of buying frozen, order a fresh turkey you can pick up the day before Thanksgiving.
  • Consider spactchcocking. - If you have a small oven in your kitchen, this can also affect your Thanksgiving Day turkey preparations. Consider spatchcocking the turkey or asking your butcher to do it. This involves cutting out the backbone and creating a flatter, more space-efficient roast. It also takes less time to cook.
  • Keep it small. - If you're not hosting a huge crowd, you can go for a very small turkey that will take up less time and space in your oven. You could also cook a chicken, a duck, or an alternative main dish if you don't have room for a turkey.
  • Try a slow cooker. - You can cook your turkey in a slow cooker instead of the oven if you have a fairly small turkey (eight to ten pounds) and a fairly large crock pot. Simply place the cleaned turkey on a bed of vegetables, season it as desired, and cook it for six to eight hours. At the end, you can broil it for a few minutes in your oven (if you have one).

Get Creative With Storage

Just as you may need to be creative with work space by dragging a table into the kitchen for another prep surface, you may need to think outside the box with storage, too. Having extra food and dishes in your small kitchen can make it harder to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. The key is to keep everything you can out of the kitchen. You can grab what you need for a specific dish when you're ready to make it.

  • Cold storage - Borrow a cooler or mini fridge from friends if you are short on fridge space. You can put the backup cool storage in a bedroom and just keep finished side dishes in there before the big day.
  • Dry storage - Dry or canned ingredients, such as canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce, potatoes, flour, and other items can go in a cardboard box or milk crate and be stashed under a bed or in a closet until you need them.
  • Extra item storage - You may have things in your kitchen you don't need for Thanksgiving dinner. Before you start cooking, make a quick pass and move anything you won't need to another room.

Focus on the Priorities and Buy the Rest

While you might want to cook an entire from-scratch Thanksgiving dinner, small kitchens can demand a few adjustments. You can make the most important parts of the dinner from scratch and buy some items to complete the meal. Pies, in particular, are a good thing to buy instead of make if your space is limited. You can pick them up the day before Thanksgiving or even the morning of the feast if your bakery will be open.

Plan to Minimize Thanksgiving Dinner Clean-Up

Even though cooking in a small kitchen can be a challenge, cleaning up afterward can be even more difficult. Limited counter space can quickly fill with dirty pots, pans, and dinnerware. If you don't have a dishwasher, getting everything clean can feel overwhelming - especially if you're tired from cooking a big meal and socializing with friends and family.

Make an effort to wash dishes and put things away as you cook. You'll have less clutter and mess in the kitchen after dinner. Also consider disposable plates and cups instead of the traditional china and crystal.

A Successful Thanksgiving Dinner in a Small Kitchen

When it comes to cooking and hosting Thanksgiving dinner, a small kitchen doesn't have to stand in your way. Plan ahead and try to keep the clutter out of the kitchen, and you'll find that your small space feels much larger. When everyone arrives and enjoys your beautiful feast, they won't even think about the size of the space you used to create it.

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How to Cook a Big Thanksgiving Dinner in a Small Kitchen