Working ahead is key to hosting a successful, stress-free Thanksgiving dinner. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to get a head start: pie dough can be mixed and frozen, turkeys can be brined and wine can be chilled. In addition to all of that, many recipes can be partially prepared in advance, then finished on the day of the big feast.
When it comes to making dishes ahead, look to your soups, sides and desserts first. Those can be time-consuming, but they can often be broken down into a series of steps. One important note: If you’re refrigerating dishes before baking, you either need to pull items out of the fridge and let them sit at room temperature for about an hour before cooking, or expect the baking time to be long to account for a cold dish going into the oven.
Keep reading for our make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes, along with tips on how to work in advance.
Appetizers like mixed nuts can easily be prepared ahead: just toast them a few days in advance without adding the herbs. Cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature, then reheat in a 350-degree oven and toss with herbs before serving.
Soup is an ideal first course to make ahead, particularly a pureed one because you don’t need to worry about the texture of the ingredients changing as they sit in liquid. This roasted parsnip and apple puree can be made completely a day or two before Thanksgiving; make the toasts just before serving.
Brining a turkey benefits a cook in two ways: it seasons the bird and allows you to work ahead. Our autumn spice brine can be prepared up to 4 days in advance, then the turkey can stay in the brine for up to 36 hours — all that’s left to do is pop it in the oven.
Also, gravy can be made several days ahead, and you can add any drippings created by roasting the turkey the day of to fortify it. Our Test Kitchen cooks sometimes make the gravy base by roasting a mirepoix — diced onion, carrots and celery — with a couple of turkey wings. You can also use our turkey stock concentrate to give the finished product some extra punch.
Casseroles, like our updated green bean casserole, can be made almost completely a day ahead, up to the step when you transfer the vegetable mixture into the prepared baking dish. At that point, simply cover and refrigerate overnight, then bake the following day and make the crispy shallot topping. The same method works well for stuffings and dressings, too — prepare up to the point when they’re ready to bake, refrigerate, and bake off the next day.
Mashed potatoes are also great for prepping in advance. You can cook and mash the potatoes up to 2 days ahead, then let them cool to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Just before serving, pour a thin layer of milk onto the bottom of a wide, heavy pot. Add the mashed potatoes, set the pot over medium heat and stir occasionally until the potatoes are hot.
Similarly, check cranberry sauce off your to-do list early. It can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve cold or at room temperature, or reheat to serve warm.
Almost all pie doughs can be made weeks in advance and frozen. If space allows, go ahead and roll out the dough and press it into the dish you plan to bake your pie in so you don’t have to thaw it later.
Our pecan-pumpkin butter pie can be fully baked a day in advance, then covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to serve. (You can also make the caramel sauce a few days in advance.) Other fruit pies can be baked the day before serving and left out, covered, at room temperature overnight.