Pat & Gina Neely’s Tips on Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner [Exclusive]

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 11/26/2013 | 09:00 AM EST

The chef duo helps you throw together the perfect Thanksgiving

Pat and Gina Neely are no strangers to the kitchen. The couple is best known for their cooking shows on The Food Network, where they show American audiences how to throw down in the kitchen with soul. It goes without saying that the Neelys can teach us a thing or two over the stove, which is why asked the chef duo to provide some helpful tips for planning a Thanksgiving feast. From how to shop on a budget to how to turn those turkey leftovers to a brand new tasty meal, the Neelys have it all covered. 

What kind of tips would you give for those cooking for a large dinner party?

Pat: Prepare most of the food the day before. Make it a team effort. Gina and I are always crystal clear on what each of our responsibilities are. Being organized is essentially. Never be afraid to ask for help. Use chafing dishes so that everyone can prepare their own plates. You deserve to enjoy the party too! Always ask people to RSVP, but be sure to have enough in case a few unexpected guests pop in.

Gina: Plan ahead! Aside from shopping early and getting a head start on the cooking, don’t forget to get your dishes and flatware out and make sure you have enough inventory. If you need to run out for more, you don’t want to have to scramble on Thanksgiving Day. Plan your layout by the day before at the latest. Always make a beverage station separate from the food just to allow movement.Your object should be for everyone to have a great time and to keep people flowing. Remember, it’s a celebration, so everyone should have fun. Don’t forget the music. There is nothing like great music to set the tone for any party. Put together a great playlist and let it roll. And be happy! I don’t think people realize that their energy plays a big role in the success of their event so if you are comfortable and relaxing that will translate. You have to make sure you are able to enjoy yourself as well.

What are some of your favorite dishes to make for Thanksgiving?

Pat: Smoked Turkey and Ham. I typically smoke them the day before or very early on Thanksgiving morning. I also like to make cranberry chipotle relish, which can be found in our latest cookbook The Neely’s Celebration Cookbook. I also love potato salad and our famous mac and cheese. 

Gina: Of course collard greens must be on the list. I think I would be disowned if they weren’t. And, oh my goodness, what is a turkey without dressing or stuffing and gravy. Some people like to substitute green beans in place of collard greens, but I’d say go for both if you feel like it. In the end, though, you need to do whatever is convenient or easier for you. Remember you don’t have to be perfect – you’re throwing a party not opening a restaurant.

How can families cook a great feast on a budget? 

Pat: We come from very large families so preparing meals on a budget is always important to us. Coupons and comparison shopping is important. Look for what’s on sale when you’re shaping up a menu. 

The more side dishes you have, the less amount of meat you will have to purchase. Vegetable side dishes and fruit salad can be great fillers and are normally inexpensive. Use a punch bowl and make one house cocktail as opposed to purchasing several different bottles of wine. Don’t be afraid to ask some family members to bring their specialty dish, ice, soda, or bottled water. Most of the time, they are glad to help out. Keep in mind you don’t have to mortgage your house to throw a great dinner gathering. It’s truly all about getting together with your love ones.

Gina: Well, the RSVPs will help so you won’t overdo it, even when you’re leaving room for a few extras. Also, you can go bigger with appetizers that tend to be friendlier on a budget. A fantastic selection of cost-conscious appetizers will leave your guests feeling full and happy before you sit down for a big meal. I always love a great cocktail, but go for one signature drink for the adults to save on alcohol costs. For the non-drinkers and the kids, I like Sweet Tea - what I call “The House Wine of the South” - and lemonade, both of which are very easy to provide for a low price.

Are there any Turkey leftover recipes you can share?

Pat: You can be very creative with leftover turkey. After, everyone has eaten and we start to clean the kitchen, I normally tackle the turkey first. I de-bone it and take all the extra lean meat and put it in storage bags.  Saving the turkey meat will let you make turkey soup, casseroles, turkey pot pie and of course hot grilled turkey paninis. 

Gina: Pat covered the leftovers very well. I would just like to add, prior to dinner make a circle, hold hands and let everyone say what they are thankful for and that will be the best dish on the table.

Check back on Wednesday (Nov. 27) for Thanksgiving recipes from the couple's book,The Neelys' Celebration Cookbook: Down-Home Meals for Every Occasion!

(Photo: Bill McCay/WireImage/Getty Images)

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