How to cook for 20 with just one oven


(Photo: Unsplash, Alison Marras)

Military spouses around the world have breathed a collective sigh of relief that Halloween is now over. Yes, we love seeing costumes and sneaking candy. But the decorating, the trunk-or-treats, the constant barrage of events, the rush to get everything done, and frequently, the game of “how to hand out candy and trick-or-treat with my three children because their father is working/TDY/deployed” gets old.

So, on November 1, when I saw my neighbors taking down their Halloween decorations, I raised my hand to them in solidarity. And then I freaked out hoping they were not “the kind of people who skip Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas lights.”

So far, so good.

Thanksgiving is my third favorite holiday.

I know that seems kind of weird, but it’s important. Thanksgiving growing up was a mishmash of people. My parents, while not military, moved away from “home” when I was in middle school and what used to be a house full of family became a house full of friends who are family. Much like our military life now, it wasn’t always possible to go home.

Over the last 10 years of my milspouse life, I’ve spent some Thanksgiving Days with my family, extended family, and the majority with my military family. From massive fest tables full of friends in a small, German apartment, to 17 people in my Fort Meade townhome, to a “small” gathering of 14 at my neighbors, we’ve always had a crowd.

And though this will be my second year hosting Thanksgiving, I’ve yet to actually cook the turkey. (I’m trying to see how long I can go without doing that.)

This year, I’m preparing to have anywhere from 10 to 20 people over at some point throughout the day. And while I’ve already started thinking about the menu, I keep putting off the list I know I need to make to figure out just how I’m going to get it all on the table with just one oven.

Luckily, I have a village full of great ideas and years of experience doing just that. Here it is, the milspouse way to cook for 20 people on Thanksgiving, with just one oven:

Cook in advance

My favorite “cheat” for all meals is to cook things in advance. If you looked at my freezer, you’d see meals for weeks already assembled, neatly labeled, and ready to reheat or cook. That’s part of my plan for Thanksgiving too. We already know there are some things that can easily be made in advance like desserts. Really, everything could be cooked in advance and then reheated, but that may be even more complicated as you attempt to put things back in the oven and have everything hot and pretty on the table at one time.

Tip: Cook desserts as far in advance as the weekend before. Bake the potatoes in advance and then wrap them and store in the fridge.

Borrow

One time in Germany, I sent my husband to the neighbors’ apartment with my green bean casserole to put in her oven because it cooked at such a different temperature than the other dish I was making. If you live close to others, or your neighbors are travelling, ask to borrow their oven! This also ties into the correct answer to the question, “Can I bring anything?” Yes is always the answer. While I don’t ever want my guests to feel the pressure of cooking something, if they want to bring something, I will absolutely accept it!

Tip: Offer to house sit for the neighbors in exchange for using their oven.

Use other appliances

Think outside of the box when it comes to options for preparing food. Not everything must go in the oven. It’s not secret I’m a huge fan of my Instant Pot. Consider what appliances you have and see what you can cook in those to free up oven space. You can easily heat up canned corn in the microwave, mashed potatoes can be made on the stove, one year I even made roasted sweet potatoes on the grill. One of my friends had a very small oven in Germany, so she bought a portable one, sent it with her husband to work, and had him cook a turkey for a unit function. This may work for you as well!

Tip: Line up those appliances and see what Pinterest says about cooking Thanksgiving Dinner in them!

By Rebecca Alwine