When should you start cooking every dish for Thanksgiving, according to a chef?

It’s not hard to time all your Thanksgiving dishes, as long as you have a plan. April Walloga

  • Cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal can be stressful, even if it’s just for a few people.

  • Chef Dan Holzman shared a cooking timeline to help you decide when to start each dish.

  • Some dishes can be made up to a week in advance, so you can start earlier than you think.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With a seemingly endless menu of classic side dishes, pies, and of course a turkey, it’s not easy to time everything right for your Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner. Karpenkov Denis/Shutterstock

make one Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful, even if you’re only cooking for a few people. Moreover, you want to have time to enjoy.

To relieve some stress, Insider spoke to Dan Holzman, chef and co-owner of The Meatball Shop in New York City, on the best timeline for your Thanksgiving menu.

“If you’re the type of person who likes to get things out of the way, there’s a lot of washing up and prep work you can do ahead of time,” Holzman said. “But from an efficiency standpoint, there is a lot of downtime between scheduling and Turkey or even make mashed potatoes.”

Keep reading for our timeline of when to cook each dish for Thanksgiving dinner.

Homemade cranberry sauce can be prepared up to a week in advance.


Homemade cranberry sauce. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

When to start cooking: Cranberrysauce Keeps in the fridge for up to a week and a half, so it’s the perfect dish to prepare ahead of time.

In addition, making cranberry sauce requires several hours to cool to get the right texture because “the thickening process takes place when [cranberry sauce] cools,” said Holzman.

You can also prepare turkey or vegetable stock a week in advance if you’re using homemade stock.


Stock. Golubovy / Shutterstock

When to start cooking: You can make a stock a week before Thanksgiving and reheat it on the day to add to dishes as needed.

“Homemade stock makes the difference between good and tasty cooking”, Chef Brad Leone wrote for Bon Appetit. “It’s true all year round, but especially at Thanksgiving, when a flavorful, full-fat broth can upgrade everything from gravy to stuffing.”

It can also be used to make smooth, flavorful mashed potatoes, or it can be added to the turkey casserole.

Dried bread for the filling can be prepared one to two days before Thanksgiving.

Is Sourdough Bread Healthy?

Sourdough Bread. pidjoe/Getty Images

When to start cooking: A few days before Thanksgiving.

Based on whether you prefer to make stuffing with fresh or dried bread, or even croutons, there are steps you can take days before Thanksgiving to prepare this dish.

“It’s easier to dry croutons overnight or over the course of two days than to kiln them last minute,” Holzman said.

Take the hassle of dessert out of the way by baking a few pies the night before.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie. Tetra Images/Getty Images

When to start cooking: The day before Thanksgiving.

cakes may be the last dish you eat on Thanksgiving, but it may be one of the first menu items you prepare. Baking pies the night before Thanksgiving is an easy way to get ahead and avoid Thanksgiving Day stress.

“The oven room on Thanksgiving is the most important commodity,” Holzman said.

Because cakes require precious oven space and very specific temperatures, it’s best to prepare desserts ahead of time.

Turkey is much less intimidating than it seems. Season it the night before and put it in the oven on Thanksgiving morning.

Cooking Turkey

Turkey, the main event. Shutterstock

When to start cooking: Season the turkey the night before and start cooking on Thanksgiving morning.

Although it is best for you Turkey on Thanksgiving Day, Holzman recommends seasoning your turkey the night before. Since it is the main event, the turkey should be the first dish you start cooking in the morning.

“The resting process is an absolutely necessary part of the cooking process,” Holzman said.

Many people overcook their turkeys in the oven and forget to let them rest, leaving the final product dry and rubbery.

Taking your turkey out of the oven before it’s fully cooked can redistribute the heat, allowing the heat to seep in from the outside, giving you a perfectly cooked, juicy turkey, Holzman explained.

To round out the process, Holzman suggests cutting out the turkey and then roasting it in the oven to finish cooking and crisp up the skin.

After you put the turkey in the oven, focus on the gravy.


turkey gravy. Darasp crane / roller shutter

When to start cooking: At the same time, start cooking your turkey.

Roasting bones and vegetables that you will use sauce early on Thanksgiving is a good way to get a head start on the game.

Combine the ingredients for the Thanksgiving Day filling.


Traditional filling. Sarah Schmalbruch / Insider

When to start cooking: Prepare bread in the days before and then start cooking it in the afternoon on Thanksgiving.

If you have some free time, start chopping vegetables for a salad.

Walnut Salad

Apple walnut salad. Shutterstock

When to start cooking: While your turkey and stuffing are in the oven.

Chopping and assembling salads is a great way to use the rest while other dishes are in the oven. When it’s dinner time, all that’s left to do is toss the ingredients together and add dressing.

Side dishes taste best fresh from the oven, so don’t start until Thursday afternoon.

Green Bean Dish

Green bean dish. Matthew Mead/AP

When to start cooking: In the afternoon, while other dishes are in the oven.

Various side dishes, such as green bean dish, are best served fresh. After salads are prepared and other dishes are in the oven, you can get started on more of your family’s favorite side dishes.

The green bean casserole takes about an hour to make, which includes prep and cooking time, so it’s best if you don’t make it more than a few hours before dinner.

A sweet potato casserole is another easy side dish that can be prepared in the afternoon.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casserole. vm2002/Shutterstock

When to start cooking: In the afternoon, while other dishes are in the oven.

Sweet potato casserole is another dish that takes about an hour to make, so it can be prepared closer to mealtime.

While the oven is hot, an hour or two before dinner, toss in the Brussels sprouts and other firm vegetables.

Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels sprouts. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

When to start cooking: A few hours before dinner.

Once complicated and prep-heavy dishes are back in the oven, you can start roasting vegetables like green beans or Brussels sprouts, neither of which should last very long.

You can make the mashed potatoes a few hours before dinner and then keep it warm on the stove.

Mashed Potatoes In The Crockpot - Free Up Space On Your Stove

A bowl of homemade mashed potatoes. Paul Howritz/Shutterstock

When to start cooking: A few hours before dinner.

Mashed potatoes are best when warm and freshly made,” Holzman said.

To keep them warm until dinner is served, place them in a bowl over low heat on the stove or over low heat in the oven.

Charting a timeline is a great way to ensure your Thanksgiving is stress-free.

Thanksgiving Dinner

A complete Thanksgiving dinner. Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

And if you do all the cooking, you can ask others to do all the dishes.

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