Timing Is Everything

Today is prep day for tomorrow’s feast.  Since I’m busy doing many other things (including praying the pending snow storm misses us), I’m reposting my Thanksgiving screed from 2008.  Not much has changed in the intervening 6 years about my approach to the task at hand.  It’s also a decent observation on the value of planning and attention to detail.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I had an assistant once who developed the concept of “the Ritter factor” when estimating time.  The basic concept was that if I said something would take a certain amount of time, that amount needed to be multiplied by 4.5 to determine the actual time required.  While not admitting to the accuracy or even existence of this factor, I can state that Thanksgiving‘s biggest challenge is time. “Time?” you’re thinking, “that’s the biggest challenge?  HA!  This idiot has really lost it!”  I’m sure you could put together a list of this week’s challenges which would contain items such as where to stash all the coats, how to fit 25 people around a table made for 12, and how to step over Uncle Elmer to get to the bathroom without waking him up.  However, as the conductor of the Thanksgiving orchestra around old Rancho Deluxe here, let me assure you that the primary challenge of the day is delivering all 39 items on the menu to the table at the same time, appropriately hot or cold as required.

The key to the entire day is a timed checklist.  Seriously.  I take enormous amount of crap from everyone who sees mine each year until they realize that the meal is being served at exactly the time requested by the Mrs. which happens to coincide nicely with halftime of the football game.  This list is created by using back timing – something TV and radio producers do all the time.  Beginning at the desired end time and factoring in the availability of necessary facilities (ovens, stove burners, etc.), you work backwards and piece together the time required for each dish until you have a road map.  Anything I can knock off ahead of time (baking, prepping all the dressings, parboiling vegetables) is done up to 24 hours in advance.  It even gets down to resting time for the turkeys before carving and the time it takes for the oil to heat up in the fryer.  In fact, we’ve started frying a turkey in part because it frees up an oven late in the process.  This sounds like a silly bit of overkill to get the meal ready, but it prevents you from leaving the soup in the refrigerator or forgetting you were serving carrots and finding a 20lb bag the next morning.

I’d be happy to share my list with you but it really would only help you a bit.  The cooking facilities here are pretty damn good although we spent the money on them instead of indoor toilets (kidding).  You have to tie your back-timed list to the menu, the facilities you have available to you, and your cooking skills.  Even though my former assistant (who comes most years for the Thanksgiving meal) thinks I’m chronologically challenged, I’ve got 25 full bellies Thursday evening that think otherwise.

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