From fighting crowds at the grocery store to arguing with all your relatives in the same room, there’s plenty of stress that comes with Thanksgiving dinner. Avoid slumping mid-day by planning ahead and preparing dishes long before it’s time to eat. Read our detailed timeline, which shows the most efficient schedule for preparing everything from appetizers to desserts, to make sure you get that turkey out just in time. Don’t forget to bookmark the easy-to-read table at the bottom to keep on hand while you’re preparing!
autumn soups make great dinner entrees in turkey, and luckily they can be made a week or so in advance. Whip up a large 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 reheat on the stove just before serving.
There are tons of turkey gravy recipes which do not require you to use any turkey cuts. 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 of the actual bird to enhance the flavor, whip the gravy two days in advance (once your turkey is thawed enough to remove the giblets) and refrigerate. Then heat in a pan until hot so it’s ready to pour over the sliced turkey.
The Thanksgiving turkey should be the crown jewel of your festive table, so you’ll definitely want to time it right, and that means thinking far 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 brine, make sure the bird has 12 hours to marinate.
Roasting an unstuffed bird can take two to four hours, depending on its 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 complain about a dry bird. Timing everything around the turkey for oven cavity is key here, so think about what can be ahead and reheated after the bird comes out of the oven, or what foods will cook to the same temperature as your turkey.
Store bought filling mix comes together in no time, but homemade filling recipes think a little ahead. Cut the bread into cubes and let it stale for two days before Thanksgiving, or bake the cornbread and leave it on the counter cornbread filling. If you’re serving stuffing on the side, assemble it the day before and refrigerate until ready to bake (at the same time as the turkey, or while the turkey is resting).
Whether your family asks: green bean dish or scalloped potatoes in addition to their turkey, these dishes can be prepared and assembled two whole days before the big event. Make sure to cover and refrigerate, then place the dish in the hot oven once you’ve taken the turkey out to rest. They will be golden brown and bubbly just in time to eat.
Salads & Cold Side Dishes
No bake dishes are the key to a spacious oven. Wash and prepare lettuce and vegetables autumn salads two days ahead for easy Thanksgiving morning assembly—just wait to dress it up until right before serving. Meanwhile, finely chop all the herbs you need for garnish and other recipes. The smartest hosts can even recruit family members to top up the cold sides and salads to complement your main dishes so no one messes up your oven rotation.
Throw one quickly Cranberrysauce or enjoy two days ahead, and refrigerate until dinnertime – you’ll never look back at the can conduction. Serve it cold, or let it come to room temperature an hour before the big meal.
If you are really on top of your game, regularly and sweet potatoes can be peeled the day before and stored in the refrigerator under cold water. Then all you need is to cook it and mash them on the stovetop while the turkey rests. Don’t forget lots of butter and try mix-ins for the best mashed potatoes your guests have ever tasted. You can also turn on and make your slow cooker CrockPot mashed potatoes. One less pan and burner you need!
Baking is far too time consuming to worry about when your extended family is around, and dessert can almost always be made ahead of time. Make it easier on yourself by making pie dough a week in advance, then slice and freeze. Move the dough to the refrigerator two days in advance to thaw so you can bake up a storm on Thanksgiving night. custard and pumpkin pie can be refrigerated overnight, while pecans and apple pies do best when kept at room temperature. Anything that needs to be reheated can be popped in the oven while the turkey rests, or while the dinner table is cleared for dessert. A great tip for any dinner party is to never leave dessert to make the day.
Don’t forget 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 space. When you serve Thanksgiving cocktails, put someone who isn’t stuck in the kitchen on bartender duty, or convince your cute uncle to have a party cranberry Jell-O shots to get the festivities started. Passing drinks to a guest is an easy way to clear your schedule and gives the guest a fun job to do. Plus, it’s the best feeling in the world to get a drink when all your hard work is done.
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