Holidays bring lots of friends and family to the table, sometimes more than you were planning on. A large holiday dinner takes a bit more planning, but with a few basics, you can serve 2 or 20 with style. Our Thanksgiving experts have compiled the common questions and informative answers when cooking for a crowd. You can also check out our handy Serving Calculator for estimating the right amounts of food to serve.
Help! I’m not ready for the holidays!
Take time now to think about the busy holiday season ahead. Make a master "to do" list to take you through the holiday season (gifts, greeting cards, decorating, entertaining). Having a plan will help you breathe easier and enable you to savor the holiday.
Think of things that can double up between the two holidays, such as decorating, making extra pies to freeze, keeping plenty of heavy-duty dinner napkins on hand, stocking up on aluminum foil, baking supplies, cranberries, etc.
How much food do I serve?
Planning ahead is the best way to cook for a crowd. Use our serving calculator to help plan quantities to feed your guests (and still have some leftovers if you want them).
Take into consideration the age and appetite of your guests, and how many leftovers you’re planning on.
When serving a crowd, use your imagination for serving bigger-than-life quantities. That big roaster you use only for ham can hold a lot of salad. A clean, new plastic bucket can hold punch or rolls.
How big of a bird do I need?
Click here to access our serving calculator. You’ll learn how big your turkey should be, how many appetizers and sides to prepare whether you’re serving 4, or 24.
If a lot of people are coming, I can just double or triple my recipes, can’t I?
Not all recipes are easy to double or triple. A better approach is to make the same dish twice. Keep a duplicate dish in reserve so as you run out of one, you can substitute a fresh dish on the buffet or table. Or vary the selection by making two different kinds of stuffing or several side dishes. Keep in mind that the more different dishes you serve, the smaller the serving portions.
Where am I going to put all these people?
Go casual and serve dinner buffet style. A buffet is friendly and informal and encourages more mingling and mixing than when guests are stuck in one spot at a table.
Set up extra seating throughout the house where guests can sit comfortably pre- and post- dinner.
Borrow or rent extra chairs, if necessary. Nice, clean patio furniture can provide extra seating in a pinch.
A folding or card table provides additional space for eating or as a buffet. Once it is dressed in a long tablecloth, your guests won’t know the difference.
If you live in a part of the country that’s nice and warm in November, don’t overlook a porch, patio or deck. A festive holiday gathering outside is great especially if you’re grilling the turkey.
Is it OK to ask my guests to bring something?
The happy holiday host shares the cooking and cleaning. Just about everyone likes to help, so don’t feel guilty about taking someone up on their offer to help out. Assign dishes (a side dish, dessert or baked item) to good cooks on your guest list.
Guests like to bring something to a gathering; it makes them feel included. What’s the first thing most people ask: “What can I bring?” Take them up on their offer! Ask guests that like to cook to bring one of their specialties, or to bring some nice bread, a bottle of wine, rolls, a pie or an easy appetizer.
Assign clean up tasks to willing volunteers like wrapping up leftovers, doing the dishes, refreshing cocktails or even gathering and taking out the trash. List non-cooks on the clean-up crew and have specific tasks for everyone, including the kids.
Should I add more menu items if I’m adding more guests?
For an expandable menu that’s pleasing to both eye and palate, it’s smart to add dishes if you’re adding guests. Just make sure you have enough of the old favorites. Click here to use our handy Serving Calculator to determine the proper amounts.
If serving a large number of people, consider serving a turkey and a ham for variety, or instead of one large turkey, roast a full turkey and a turkey breast.
I’m running out of ideas. How can I make my menu a little more exciting?
Start your menu plan with time-honored favorite dishes your family won’t do without (like stuffing and potatoes), then supplement it with some fresh ideas.
Check out our menu suggestions for delicious complete menus that include convenient grocery shopping lists.
Can I make my cranberry sauce ahead of time and freeze it?
We normally don’t suggest freezing cranberry sauce. After thawing, it may become too watery.
We do suggest making sauce ahead of time and storing it in an air-tight container in your refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.
Can I prepare a cranberry bread recipe and bake it as muffins instead (or vice versa)?
Yes. A bread recipe will yield approximately 1 dozen muffins, depending on the size of the individual muffins. Use the same oven temperature as indicated in the recipe for baking bread, but reduce your baking time to 25 - 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.
How do I prepare cranberries for cooking?
First sort out any soft berries and stems. Rinse berries in cold water, drain well and use as the recipe directs. There are three cups of cranberries in a 12 oz. bag of Ocean Spray® Fresh Cranberries. If using frozen cranberries, do not thaw them before using.
Your recipe should specify whether to use chopped cranberries or not. If it doesn’t, be sure to measure your cranberries before chopping them. Follow this guide:
If the recipe says to use “1 cup chopped cranberries” chop the cranberries first, then measure them.
If the recipe says to use “1 cup cranberries, chopped” measure the cranberries first, then chop them.
How long can I store fresh cranberries in the refrigerator? In the freezer?
Fresh cranberries stored in the refrigerator are usually good for up to 2 weeks. We suggest freezing them if you are not going to use them within two weeks.
Cranberries will freeze nicely and last up to one year.
Can I substitute Ocean Spray® Craisins® Dried Cranberries for fresh cranberries?
Yes, Craisins® Dried Cranberries work well in baked goods; however, there is a 1/4 cup difference in measurement. If a recipe calls for one cup of fresh cranberries you should use 3/4 cup of Craisins® Dried Cranberries.
Craisins® Dried Cranberries should not be used in cooked sauces. Since they are a dried fruit, they do not contain the pectin necessary for the sauce to gel.
Why won’t my cranberry sauce gel?
Boiling is critical to release pectin, the key gelling ingredient, from the cranberry. You must cook the sauce for at least 10 minutes at a full boil for the pectin to react with the sugar and create the proper gelled texture. It is also important to let the cranberry sauce cool at room temperature. Moving it to the refrigerator too soon may also affect the gel.
If you have followed these instructions, and for some reason the sauce still won’t gel, add 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin to the sauce and bring to a hard boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-high; cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely at room temperature before refrigerating.
Can I double the recipe to make more than one batch of cranberry sauce at a time?
We don’t recommend doubling the recipe. There are too many variables, including cooking time, temperature, and pan size, that may affect the sauce’s ability to gel.
Can I use less sugar in my cranberry sauce?
Yes, but your finished product will not be as firm as if it were made with the full amount of sugar. A firm gel depends on bonds with water, sugar and pectin. If you’re interested in a lower sugar recipe, try our recipe for Low Calorie Cranberry Sauce.
Do I need to soak or plump Craisins® Dried Cranberries before using in baked recipes?
No. Craisins® Dried Cranberries can be used right out of the bag.
You can substitute Craisins® Dried Cranberries for fresh or frozen cranberries. If a recipe calls for one cup of fresh cranberries you should use 3/4 cup of Craisins® Dried Cranberries.
How will I fit everything into the oven?
Think of dishes that can be cooked or kept warm in the slow cooker (green beans, corn, potatoes, gravy, hot apple cider). Consider using warming trays or chafing dishes.
Light up the grill! Use the charcoal grill to cook the turkey, freeing up oven space. Or set the gas grill to low to reheat premade dishes.
Select dishes that can be heated at the same oven temperature (for example, baked goods or roasted vegetables/stuffing) to maximize efficiency.
Choose oven-to-table cooking and serving containers and measure to make sure all will fit in the oven.
Plan some side dishes that can be served cold or at room temperature and don’t need to be piping hot (like salads, olives, cranberry sauce and marinated vegetables).
Some dishes can be cooked and reheated or partially-cooked and “finished” right before serving.
You’ll want to let the turkey “rest” for at least 30 minutes before carving, so that’s your chance to reheat stuffing, vegetables, pie or rolls.
My refrigerator is bursting at the seams!
Use coolers or, temperature permitting, the screened-in back porch or garage for keeping some dishes chilled before serving (vegetables and vegetable dishes without dairy products, molded salads, homemade cranberry sauce/relish and marinated vegetables).
Use large plastic coolers, tubs or buckets to ice down sodas and wine. Serve party punch in a bowl or drink dispenser with a large ice ring or serve warm punch or wassail in coffee carafes.
Think about investing in a second (perhaps used) refrigerator for the basement or garage. It will pay for itself in convenience through the holiday season and throughout the year!
Help! My turkey is always so dry.
The key to delicious turkey is to avoid over cooking. Calculate the approximate cooking time based on the size of your bird. (For example, an unstuffed 8 to 12 pound turkey will take approximately 2 3/4 to 3 hours in a 325°F oven; see chart below.) Use a meat thermometer to ensure the proper internal temperature. Insert meat thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh (do not let thermometer touch bone) and roast until thermometer reaches 180°F. Remove turkey from oven and let stand at least 20 minutes to let juices settle in the meat before carving.
For a very tasty and juicy bird, consider brining. Soaking poultry in seasoned, salted broth infuses the meat with delicious flavor and moisture. Our White Cranberry Brined Turkey combines White Cranberry Juice Drink, salt and herbs in a unique brine for prepping the turkey prior to roasting.
The following information is provided by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service web site, regarding the timetable for cooking a fresh or thawed turkey in a preheated 325°F oven. These times are approximate and should always be used in conjunction with a properly placed thermometer.
8 to 12 pounds
2 3/4 to 3 hours
3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds
3 to 3 3/4 hours
3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds
3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds
4 1/2 to 5 hours
4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours
Everyone gathers in the kitchen. How do I control traffic?
People love to be in the kitchen, so let them lend a helping hand. Have kids help set the table or make place cards. Have adults pour drinks, mix cocktails or pass appetizers.
To help move people out of the kitchen, set up board and card games (or coloring books) in another room.
Gather kids in one space to do a cranberry craft.
Light a fire and move some chairs adjacent to the fireplace—it’s sure to be a people-magnet.
Have someone pick up and pass the appetizers, out of the kitchen. People will usually move to where the food is.
Encourage everyone to take a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. This is a great way to move around after a heavy meal and gets everyone ready for dessert. This also clears the house out so you can clean up. Better yet, leave the mess (have the teenagers begin to clear and wash dishes) and go on a walk yourself. You deserve time out of the kitchen, too.
What can I do? We can’t all be together this year.
Remember absent and distant loved ones with a phone call or video conference. Pass the phone around at a prearranged time.
Take photos to send to distant loved ones.
Send a care package. For a faraway friend or loved one, Cranberry Nut Bars and Cranberry Shortbread Cookies hold up nicely when shipped or brought along on a trip. Package in a decorative tin, separating stacks of cookies with paper baking cups.
I always end up with so much leftover food. How can I get it just right?
Take into consideration the age and appetite of your guests and how many leftovers you’re willing to store. And remember, the more dishes you serve, the smaller portions you should plan, and remind everyone to save room for dessert. Use our handy Serving Calculator to to determine the right amounts for your number of guests. And if you really count on leftovers, roast an extra turkey or turkey breast to have plenty of sandwich fixings or make extra of any dish your family loves as leftovers.
What am I going to do with all these leftovers?
Give them to guests
Where can I buy Cran•Raspberry® Jellied Cranberry Raspberry Sauce and Cran•Fruit Cranberry Sauces?
Unfortunately we are no longer producing CRAN•FRUIT™ or Cran•Raspberry® Jellied Cranberry Raspberry Sauces. We’re sorry we don’t have better news!
You can make homemade versions of your favorite flavored versions though – learn how here.