How to Prep, Freeze & Defrost the Most Popular Holiday Dishes

Don't leave holiday prep to the last minute! You can make your holiday desserts, side dishes and even the mains weeks in advance and stash them in the freezer. We'll show you how to get it done.

We love the holidays—all those cozy feelings, seeing loved ones and, of course, the amazing food. Let’s be honest, though, it can feel like you’re living in your kitchen as you get ready for company.

But you don’t have to take up permanent residence at the stove because it turns out, many classic holiday dishes (like these flaky buttermilk biscuits) can be prepped in advance and frozen. All that’s left is to defrost and reheat. We’ll walk you through how to make recipes before the holiday rush.

Don’t forget to check out our freezer guidelines for safe freezing of all kinds of foods.

Here’s How to Make All of Your Holiday Dishes in Advance graphicSydney Watson/Taste of Home

How to Freeze and Reheat Holiday Main Dishes

It might seem far-fetched, but yes you can prep your main dishes in advance of the holiday. Or, at the very least, buy your holiday ham or turkey in advance (on sale!) and stash it in the ol’ chill chest for a few months.

  • Whole ham: A whole holiday ham can be frozen for up to four months. When you’re ready to prep, simply defrost, cook and serve. Here are some Christmas ham recipes to use once it’s thawed.
  • Sliced ham: You can also prepare your ham using one of those great recipes in advance. Once it’s been baked, slice it and store in freezer-safe containers. You can then reheat in the oven (or even the microwave).
  • Whole, uncooked turkey: Take advantage of off-season poultry sales and buy your turkey in advance. It’ll keep for up to seven months. Be sure to give it enough time to defrost prior to the big day. Frozen turkey takes 24 hours to defrost for every four to five pounds. And be sure to defrost in the fridge. Here’s how to defrost turkey the right way.
  • Cooked, sliced turkey: You can cook a turkey in advance and freeze it, however, you cannot freeze the bird whole after cooking. Instead, slice up the breast and carve up the wings, thigh and drumsticks. You can freeze those pieces and reheat later. You sacrifice some presentation, of course, but you’ll be ready sooner.
  • Gravy: Gravy is the perfect make-ahead food. You can make it three months ahead of schedule and freeze it in a container or even an ice cube tray. When the holidays hit, you can take the frozen gravy and pop it right into a saucepan to reheat. Since you’ll be working ahead of schedule, you can take time to make homemade gravy—here’s how.

Be sure to check out these tools that’ll make cooking up this holiday meal simpler, too.

How to Freeze and Reheat Sides

If making your ham or turkey in advance sounds like too much, you can still save yourself a lot of time by making and freezing side dishes before your get-together. Casseroles, stuffing, cranberries and breads of all kinds (but especially dinner rolls) are easy to freeze.

  • Green bean casserole: This classic side dish won’t keep too long in the freezer, but you can still get a jump on a big meal. Just save the onion string toppings until later—as they’ll lose their texture in the freezer.
  • Sweet potato casserole: Same goes with sweet potato casserole. You can prep it about a month out. Again, save your pecan or marshmallow toppings for later so they stay crisp (in the case of the nuts) or bubbly (in the case of the marshmallows).
  • Mashed potatoes: Use this recipe designed to be made ahead of time or your preferred recipe. When Thanksgiving or Christmas comes, just defrost in the fridge and reheat in the oven or even a slow cooker.
  • Rolls: Bread and rolls are simple to freeze and defrost. Just take let them defrost at room temperature. If you want to give them a bit of a refresh, pop them in a warm oven for a few minutes.
  • Cranberry sauce: You can take your cranberries straight from the freezer and set them on the counter to defrost. You can also heat them on the stove if you prefer them warm.
  • Stuffing: Bread freezes well and so does stuffing! You can defrost this dish a bit and pop it right into the oven.

How to Freeze and Defrost Desserts and Sweets

You can also start your holiday baking early. Many cookies and cookie doughs do great in the freezer—just check out our cookie freezing guidelines. You can also freeze baked and unbaked pies. What’s really handy, though, is freezing cake layers. You can wrap them up and stash them in the freezer. When you’ve got a party, all you have to do is frost them!

  • Baked cookies: So many holiday cookies do well in the freezer. You can make cookies like spritz, drop cookies, sugar cookies and gingerbread and freeze them for up to a year! If you think they need a bit of a refresh, pop them in a 300ºF oven for two to three minutes. Get our best freezer cookie recipes.
  • Cookie dough: Sugar cookie dough, gingerbread dough and slice-and-bake-style cookie dough hold up well in the freezer. Just wrap them tightly in plastic to prevent freezer burn. You can freeze drop cookies too. We recommend you pre-portion them with a cookie scoop and freeze them for an hour on a sheet pan. Then put them in an airtight container for the long haul. You can keep these in the freezer for a year, too.
  • Baked pie: Yes, you can make a whole pie in advance and freeze it. This works best with fruit or chess pies (not so much custard). Defrost it in the fridge and bake in a low oven (300ºF) for 30 minutes to warm it up.
  • Unbaked pie: Unbaked pies also hold up in the freezer—again, this works best with fruit pies or chess pies (not custard pies as well). You don’t even need to defrost these pies. Just pop it in a 425ºF oven for 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature called for in the recipe.
  • Unfrosted cakes: If you’ve got a grand holiday cake planned, you might want to save time closer to Christmas for decorating. You can prep your cake layers a few months in advance and wrap them tightly in plastic to store. Let them thaw a bit before decorating—but not all the way. A cold cake is easier to frost.

Limited on freezer space? Follow our Test Kitchen’s favorite freezer organization tips to get your fridge prepped and ready for the holidays.

Try These Make-Ahead Holiday Dishes
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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.