23 Tips For Hosting Thanksgiving In The Tiniest Of Apartments

Thanksgiving dinner can be a daunting task for anyone, but it's especially intimidating in your average New York City apartment. With diminutive stoves, limited fridge space, and no dedicated dining area, many urbanites may shy away from the prospect of hosting altogether. Here, the city's best chefs and small-space experts share their tips for throwing a successful (and delicious) feast, even in the tiniest of cribs.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Keep It Simple:
"When people want to throw a dinner party, they do too many things," says Amanda Elliott, private chef and cofounder of Rustic Supper. "I even have a tendency to overdo it." Elliott recommends sticking to just four homemade dishes (including the turkey) if you live in a small apartment.
Make Your Menu Work For Your Space:
When planning your meal, think about the oven and stovetop space. Your turkey is likely to dominate the oven in the hours just before the meal, so opt for dishes that can be made ahead and reheated in the oven just before serving, or ones that can be prepared entirely on the stovetop. Better still are sides that can be served at room temperature, like a green salad or a wild-rice salad.
Strategize Your Shopping:
The materials for a Thanksgiving feast can easily overwhelm a small kitchen. Make a list of all your ingredients first, then make a battle plan for your shopping. If you're going to use a delivery service like Fresh Direct or Peapod, reserve your time slot now; desirable pre-holiday spots will fill up quickly. Then plan when and where you’ll shop for the rest.
Ask For Help — But Be Specific:
There’s no shame in asking your guests to contribute to the meal. However, you must be specific with your request, advises Elizabeth Karmel, founding executive chef of Hill Country Barbecue and cofounder of Carolina Cue To Go. "If you just say, 'Bring whatever you want,' you could end up with four potato dishes," she warns. Whereas, if you ask one guest to bring a dessert and another to provide an appetizer, you’ll be able to strategize around plates.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Get Ready For The Turkey:
A frozen turkey can take three days to defrost in a refrigerator. Buy yours by Sunday morning, at the latest, to make sure it’ll be ready on the big day. In the meantime, clean out the fridge to make space for the bird. That jar of banana peppers with just two peppers left? Toss it. Make it a goal to cook and eat other odds and ends to clear as much space as possible. Got a fire escape or patio? Karmel says you can also defrost your turkey in a cooler and brine it at the same time.
Or, Ditch The Bird. Really!
The turkey is a huge space hog in both the fridge and the oven. If you’re not bound by tradition, consider skipping the whole turkey. Elliott makes a turkey osso bucco for one of her clients every year, and Erin Boyle, author of the small-space lifestyle blog Reading My Tea Leaves, suggests a potpie as a great alternative.
Pre-Prep Your Ingredients:
A lot of food comes in packaging that is much bigger than the food itself. Elliott recommends breaking down your ingredients as soon as you get them home to fit everything in the fridge. For example, take lettuce out of its big plastic box, wash it, and store it flat in a zip-top bag instead. Stacking storage containers are another great way to maximize your space.
Make It Ahead:
Prepare any dishes that can be made in advance in the days before the big meal. For example, cranberry sauce can keep for days, and a pie is no less delicious if made in advance. On Wednesday, tackle as much prep as possible: Peel potatoes and carrots and store them in water, toast nuts, cube bread for stuffing, and so on.
Serve Red:
Turkey dinner can go with red or white wine, but if you live in a pad with tiny appliances, you’d be smart to stick with red, which won’t take up precious fridge space.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Choose Your Dining Style:
Whether you have a sit-down meal at a table or a more casual eat-where-you-are affair will depend on your space. If you have seats for all your guests and a table to accommodate them, that’s great. But, if not, don’t sweat it. Let guests sit on the couch, on whatever chairs you have, and even on the floor. If you opt for this style, Karmel recommends giving each guest an inexpensive tray on which to place his or her plates and cutlery.
Rearrange Your Space:
Take a look at your living space and move things around to accommodate your dinner plans. Maybe you shift your dining table to the center of the room and move your coffee table out of the room. It’s only for one night, so do what you need to make the space work.
Get Creative With Your "Furniture":
A step stool or even a five-gallon bucket can work as a makeshift chair in a pinch.
Remove Clutter:
Clear off all flat surfaces in your living area so guests will have a place to rest drinks or their plates, if you’re going for an informal meal. Take any furniture or accessories that you don’t need for the dinner and put them elsewhere, like in your bedroom or a closet.
Start Early:
People always underestimate how long it takes to prepare a recipe, and juggling several recipes in a small apartment can make the process take even longer. Get cooking as soon as you can. If you finish early, you can use the extra time to relax before your guests arrive.
Clean As You Go:
All the experts agree: The key to Thanksgiving sanity is to tidy up your workspace throughout the prep process. If you let dishes pile up in the sink, you’ll never recover in time for the meal.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Skip Fancy Apps:
You can probably eliminate an appetizer course altogether, but if you want to offer your guests a nibble when they arrive, stick to no-cook, store-bought savories like nuts, olives, or meats and cheese, Elliott advises.
Hide The Mess:
If the "clean as you go" method didn’t work out for you, Boyle recommends stashing all those dirty dishes in the bathtub. "This is my sister's go-to trick," she says. "Chances are that none of your guests will be showering mid-dinner party, so just draw the shower curtain and tackle the dirties after guests have left."
Make Your Kitchen Your Buffet:
"Use your stovetop as a serving surface," suggests Karmel, who notes that even in the tiniest kitchens guests can walk through and serve themselves, thereby freeing up surfaces in your living room.
Your guests aren’t going to have any fun if you’re stressed out. So, grab a glass of wine and relax — even if the sweet potatoes didn’t turn out the way you’d planned.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Dissect The Bird:
Carve all the meat off of the turkey and wrap it up — putting the whole carcass back in the fridge is a major waste of space.
Solicit Help:
"You know the saying 'Many hands make light work?'" asks Karmel. "It’s true." After dinner is done, get the whole gang to help clear the dishes, scrape the plates, and at least rinse everything off (you can do the real scrubbing later).
Serve Dessert After The Cleanup:
Holding off on the sweets will give everyone time to digest and will make room for the final course in your small space.
Save The Stemware Until Morning:
Get the rest of the dishes done, but save the glass until daylight. Wine glasses are infinitely more likely to break when washed after the meal than in the morning — especially in a miniature kitchen.