Time Your Thanksgiving Dinner Perfectly With This Handy Guide
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Freaking out about how you’re going to get the entire Thanksgiving feast on the table in time? You’re not alone. You’ve got to figure out how to juggle the space in your oven and on your stovetop, account for the time it takes to prep and chop all your ingredients, orchestrate the timing so that everything stays warm, and just generally stay sane without forgetting anything big, like thawing the turkey.
But as someone who has cooked a large Thanksgiving feast completely solo for the past decade, let me assure you ― it’s really not that difficult. The key is to make as many of your dishes ahead of time as possible. If you leave it all for Thanksgiving Day, it’s not nearly as easy. We know everyone’s menu is different but we’ve got a guide that’ll tell you how far in advance to start making traditional dishes for your dinner. Get ready!
A Week In Advance
Make your pie crusts: Roll them into flat circular disks, wrap them tightly in parchment and plastic wrap, and freeze them until you’re ready to get baking. When you’re ready to roll them out on baking day, they’ll defrost in a few hours if you just leave them out on the counter at room temperature.
Two Days In Advance
Soups: Make them to completion and refrigerate them. When you’re ready to reheat soup on Thanksgiving Day, reheat it gently on a burner, or better yet, save stovetop space and reheat it in a slow cooker.
Gravy: If you’ve always used the drippings from your roasted turkey to make gravy, that’s great ― but there’s an easier way. You can make your gravy a couple of days in advance if you buy giblets, turkey necks and wings from your butcher. Or, you can use a recipe that doesn’t require turkey parts (or better yet, make a mushroom gravy — this is my family’s absolute favorite, even among the meat eaters).
Casseroles: Whether you’re making potatoes au gratin, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese or green bean casserole, they can be prepped and assembled two days before Thanksgiving. Wrap them up well in the refrigerator; then bake them in the oven after the turkey has come out to rest.
Cranberry sauce: This tastes even better when it’s made a couple of days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Just make sure to bring it to room temperature before serving on Thanksgiving Day.
One Day In Advance
Pies: Thaw out your prepared pie crust from the freezer. Fill and bake your pies, allowing them to cool or chill in the refrigerator (depending on your recipe) overnight.
Roasted vegetables: If you’re roasting butternut squash or sweet potatoes, you can do it a day in advance and refrigerate them overnight. The only exception I’d warn against is Brussels sprouts, which release an unpleasant odor when you reheat them. I’d save those for Thanksgiving Day.
Mashed potatoes: Hate peeling potatoes under pressure? Good news: Your potatoes can actually be peeled the day before and stored, covered in cold water, in the fridge. If you don’t have room in your refrigerator for that, you’ll have to save that task for the big day. But once you’ve got the potatoes peeled and in the water, on Thanksgiving Day you just need to boil and mash them a couple of hours before dinner. Keep them warm for service (without drying them out) in one of two ways: 1. keep your pot on the lowest heat setting of your burner (with the lid on) and slowly add warm cream and butter whenever they need it, or 2. put them in a slow cooker on the “keep warm” setting.
Stuffing: First, don’t forget that many stuffing recipes require you to leave your bread out overnight (or even for a couple of days) to let it get stale. If you’re baking your stuffing in a casserole dish, as opposed to inside the turkey, you can assemble your stuffing one day in advance and refrigerate it until you’re ready to bake it on Thanksgiving.
Salads: Prep your vegetables a day or so in advance, but wait to combine and dress them until the last minute so they don’t get mushy.
In addition to finishing up the final steps of the aforementioned dishes (assemble your salad, bake your casseroles, mash your potatoes, etc.), Thanksgiving Day is mostly about the turkey, Here are a few things to keep in mind:
If your turkey is frozen, make sure to defrost it in time. It can take several days! Here’s a guide for that.
If you plan on brining your turkey, take that into account too.
And of course, consider how long to cook a turkey per pound — we’ve actually already done the math for you.
Don’t forget you should let your turkey rest 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven, to let the juices redistribute, before carving it.
Good luck this Thanksgiving! Just remember that it’s not the end of the world if everything’s not perfect. As Julia Child always said, “Never apologize.” It’s likely that no one will even notice a mistake has been made.