From battling crowds at the grocery store to wrangling all your relatives into the same room, there’s plenty of stress that comes with Thanksgiving dinner. Avoid a mid-day meltdown by planning ahead and prepping dishes long before it’s time to eat. Read our detailed timeline, which breaks down the most efficient schedule for preparing everything from starters to desserts, to ensure that you’ll be trotting that turkey out right on time. Don’t forget to bookmark the easy-to-read chart at the bottom to keep on-hand while you’re prepping!
Fall soups make great starters for Turkey Day dinner, and luckily they can be made a week or so ahead. Whip up a big batch of your favorite and freeze it, then take it out of the freezer the morning of Thanksgiving or the night before so it’s ready to be reheated on the stove just before serving.
There are tons of turkey gravy recipes that don’t require you to actually use parts of the turkey. Plus, you can buy giblets, turkey necks, and wings at most butcher shops—that means it can be made and frozen one to two weeks before your guests arrive. If you want to use parts from the actual bird to boost flavor, whip up the gravy two days ahead (once your turkey is thawed enough to remove the giblets) and refrigerate it. Then reheat in a saucepan until hot, so it’s ready for pouring over the sliced turkey.
The Thanksgiving turkey should be the crown jewel of your holiday table, so you’ll definitely want to time it right, and that means thinking way ahead. A 20-pound turkey can take up to five days to thaw in the fridge—budget one day for every four pounds—and if you’re using a brine, make sure the bird has 12 hours to marinate.
Roasting an unstuffed bird can take two to four hours, depending on the size. Check that an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F for the breast meat and 170 to 175 degrees F for the thick part of the thigh before removing it from the oven. Then tent it with foil, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. This step ensures that no one will be complaining about a dry bird. Timing everything around the turkey for oven space is key here, so think about what can be ahead of time and reheated after the bird comes out of the oven, or what food cooks at the same temperature as your turkey.
Store-bought stuffing mix comes together in no time, but homemade stuffing recipes take a bit of forethought. Cube the bread and set it out to stale two days ahead of Thanksgiving, or bake the cornbread and leave it on the counter for cornbread stuffing. If you’ll be serving stuffing on the side, assemble it one day ahead and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake (at the same time as the turkey, or once the turkey is resting).
Whether your family demands green bean casserole or scalloped potatoes alongside their turkey, these dishes can be prepped and assembled two whole days before the big event. Make sure to cover and refrigerate them, then stick the dish in the hot oven once you’ve taken the turkey out to rest. They’ll be golden and bubbly just in time to eat.
Salads & Cold Sides
No-bake dishes are the key to a spacious oven. Wash and prep lettuce and vegetables for autumn salads two days ahead for easy assembly on Thanksgiving morning—just wait to dress it until right before serving. While you’re at it, chop up all the herbs you’ll need for garnishes and other recipes. The most clever hosts could even recruit relatives to handle the cold sides and salads to complement your mains, guaranteeing that no one messes up your oven rotation.
Throw together a quick cranberry sauce or relish two days ahead, and refrigerate it ’til dinnertime—you’ll never look back at the jellied stuff from a can again. Serve it cold, or let it come to room temperature for an hour before the big meal.
If you’re really on top of your game, regular and sweet potatoes can be peeled the day before and stored, covered in cold water, in the fridge. Then all you’ll need to do it boil and mash them on the stovetop while the turkey is resting. Don’t forget plenty of butter, and try mix-ins for the best mashed potatoes your guests have ever tasted. You can also enlist your slow cooker and make CrockPot mashed potatoes. One less pot and burner you need!
Baking is way too time-consuming to bother with when your extended family is around, and a dessert can almost always be made ahead of time. Go easier on yourself by making pie dough a week before, then portion it into disks and freeze. Two days before, move the dough to the fridge to defrost so you can bake up a storm on Thanksgiving Eve. Custard and pumpkin pies can be refrigerated overnight, while pecan and apple pies do best when kept at room temperature. Anything that needs reheating can get popped in the oven while the turkey is resting, or while the dinner table is being cleared for dessert. A great tip for any dinner party is to never leave the dessert to be made day of.
Don’t forget about one of the most important parts of the meal—the wine! Stick bottles that need to be chilled in the fridge the night before or, if you live somewhere cold, put them in the garage or back porch to save on space. If you’re serving Thanksgiving cocktails, put someone who’s not stuck in the kitchen on bartender duty, or convince your fun uncle to make a batch of cranberry Jell-O shots to get the festivities going. Passing drinks on to a guest is an easy way to clear up your schedule and gives the guest a fun job to do. Plus, being served a drink once all your hard work is done is the best feeling in the world.
Pin for later
Follow Delish on Instagram
You Might Also Like