How to keep a tidy kitchen while cooking Thanksgiving, according to H&G's home organizer

H&G's home organizing expert Caroline Roberts shares her top tips for containing the chaos when cooking a big meal on Thanksgiving Day

kitchen with island and festive decor
(Image credit: John Lewis of Hungerford)

I may have a well-organized kitchen, but I’m a pretty messy cook. When I’m in the kitchen, ingredients hit the floor, liquids splatter on recipes, and flour ends up on my face. It’s a mess.

Even though I’m a little messy, my organizer brain still works hard to streamline the cooking process. 

This is especially critical when preparing a huge meal on Thanksgiving. 

How to keep a tidy kitchen while cooking Thanksgiving

So, don’t fret if you are also messy in the kitchen. There are lots of ways to organize your kitchen in readiness for entertaining and ways to contain the mess. These five tips will ensure you keep a tidy kitchen while cooking on Thanksgiving Day.

Kitchen Christmas decor ideas with a pine garland running along a shelf above the stove

(Image credit: Harvey Jones)

1. Create a menu and timeline

Think of your menu and timeline as your to-do list. Your menu tells you what you are cooking, and your timeline tells you when. Having both lists will allow you to focus on essential tasks one at a time rather than shuffling too many ingredients and ending up overwhelmed.

Create a menu of what you will serve. Include hors d’oeuvres, beverages, the main dish, side dishes, desserts, etc. Every food served should be on the list.

Once you set the menu, create a timeline for preparing the dishes. You can prepare some dishes weeks in advance and freeze them, while others should be prepared on Thanksgiving Day.

Break down your timeline even further by noting individual steps such as bringing butter to room temperature, chopping ingredients, brining the turkey, etc.

Having a clear plan is a huge step toward keeping kitchen counters clear while cooking.

2. Prepare and cook in advance

kitchen with stainless steel fridge freezer

(Image credit: Future PLC)

There are plenty of dishes that can be prepared and cooked in advance. Determine what dishes can be prepared and frozen for future use, and plan to do that a week or two before Thanksgiving. Make a note in your timeline of when it needs to be thawed so you don’t forget it on Thanksgiving Day.

Even for things I don’t cook in advance, I love to prepare the ingredients beforehand, so I’ve already measured, chopped, etc. I use glass bowls with lids, at Amazon, to stack the prepped, pre-measured ingredients in my refrigerator.

3. Use as few dishes as possible

I’ve used this strategy when cooking for about a year, and I like it. Instead of using a clean dish, see if there is one you can wash or rinse quickly to use for the following recipe. For example, if you are mixing cake batter in a large bowl, and your following recipe is stuffing, then wash the cake batter bowl quickly and use it for the stuffing. Don’t get a new bowl out for the stuffing.

I do this all the time with measuring cups. I try to measure the dry ingredients first so they fall right out, and then all the wet ingredients. If you measure the wet ingredients first, then the dry ingredients stick to the cup.

Similarly, unless you are baking, you can probably use a tablespoon or a one-cup measuring cup for measuring almost anything – simply 'eyeball' whether you have filled it to 1/3 cup, ¼ cup, etc. There is no need for all of the different measuring devices.

4. Wash as you go

white kitchen with copper sink, taps and pendant lights

(Image credit: John Lewis Of Hungerford)

Wash as you go is a classic cooking tip. If you are reusing dishes, as I described above, you are naturally washing as you go and reducing the number of dishes, which is a win-win.

For other items, I try to put them straight into the dishwasher rather than let them pile up in the sink. I wash larger items that need to be hand-washed between recipes or when waiting for the last thing to cook.

Don’t forget that guests want to be helpful! They may not know exactly how to cook something, but they can certainly wash up some dishes! Let them help you.

What three things should you keep on hand to keep a tidy kitchen while cooking?

 Remember how I said I am a fairly messy cook? Keeping a trash bowl, stick vac, and wipe rag handy help so much! Our trashcan is under our sink, so it’s inconvenient for large cooking occasions. I keep a disposable grocery bag or large bowl on the counter so I can toss in scraps and crumbs without opening the trashcan cabinet each time.

Cordless vacuum cleaners are fabulous for quickly cleaning up floor crumbs so you don’t accidentally track them through the kitchen. I also keep a damp cloth handy for wiping the counter between recipes. 

Thanksgiving is a time to eat good food and be with family and friends. Don’t stress over all of the details. Take it step-by-step, ask for help, and enjoy the day.

Caroline Roberts
Contributing expert

Caroline Roberts, a certified KonMari Consultant and professional organizer, founded the organizing agency The Simplified Island in 2019. Caroline believes being organized goes much deeper than pretty bins and can be life-changing. She recognized her organizing and streamlining skills were unique as she ran her marketing agency, Coastal Connections Marketing, and raised her two sons.