How to Prep Your Entire Thanksgiving Meal in Advance
Cooking a Thanksgiving feast is stressful, but it doesn't have to be! We asked a professional chef how to prep your meal in advance so you can spend less time cooking on the big day.
As a professional chef, I know all about prepping food. Cooks spend the hours before dinner service chopping, slicing and dicing. We even cook things like soups, sauces and side dishes in advance, reheating them to order so the meal makes its way to your table as quickly as possible. Proper preparation is the best way to keep yourself out of the weeds on the line, but that prep-in-advance principle isn’t reserved for restaurant food. You can prepare almost every single dish for your Thanksgiving feast ahead of time. We’ll show you how.
(Don’t forget to double-check your shopping list, too—these are the things people forget on Thanksgiving.)
If cooking and carving the turkey is the most stressful part of your Thanksgiving dinner, do it a day ahead! Roast the turkey using your favorite method (we’re grilling ours this year) and carve it on Wednesday. Cover it snugly with aluminum foil and pop it in the refrigerator, spooning some chicken broth or turkey drippings over the sliced meat to ensure it stays nice and moist. On Thanksgiving, remove the turkey from the fridge and reheat it in a 300° F oven for 45 minutes. You’ll still fill the kitchen with amazing roasted turkey aromas, fooling your guests into thinking you spent all day cooking.
You can still prep the turkey in advance if you don’t want to miss out on carving it in front of your guests. Simply brine the turkey two to three days before Thanksgiving Day. The night before the big event, remove it from the brine and place it in a roasting pan—adding chopped onions, carrots and celery to the pan, if you like. The bird can sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight, or you can cover it loosely with plastic wrap for 24 to 48 hours. Let the turkey come to room temperature before popping it in the oven.
Think you have to make gravy on Thanksgiving Day? Think again! Make a gravy using chicken stock a day or two before Thanksgiving and store it in the refrigerator. After you’ve roasted the turkey, add a cup or so of white wine or chicken stock to the roasting pan and simmer it to release all those tasty turkey drippings. Then, add your prepared gravy to the pan, simmering the mixture until your gravy is thickened and warmed through. Check out more time-tested tips for cooking gravy.
Mashed potatoes are often the last thing I make on Thanksgiving Day because they taste lighter and fluffier if they’re mashed at the last minute. That said, you can absolutely do a few things to make it easier to get there. Peel and quarter your spuds a day or two before Thanksgiving and store them in water in the refrigerator. A few hours before dinner, boil them in salted water until they’re tender when pierced with a fork. Then, just let them hang out in that hot water until you’re ready to mash them.
Alternatively, you can mash the potatoes ahead of time and hold them warm in a slow cooker for up to four hours. Just make sure to stir the potatoes once an hour to keep them from burning to the bottom of the pan. When you’re ready to serve, drizzle in some extra melted butter or hot cream and whip them with a silicone spatula to return them to their fluffy glory.
Stuffing or Dressing
Stuffing is one of those dishes that always tastes better the day after Thanksgiving, so why not prep it a day early? Prepare your favorite stuffing recipe but only add half the liquid. Once the ingredients are in the baking dish, cover it with aluminum foil and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, add the remaining liquid and bake it like normal.
Did you know that homemade cranberry sauce is good in the refrigerator for 10 to 14 days? That sounds like an excellent reason to get it out of the way well before the big feast. Make your cranberry sauce using fresh or frozen cranberries, let it cool slightly and store it covered in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.
Green Bean Casserole or Sweet Potato Casserole
Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without a few casserole sides. (These are hands-down the best side dish casserole recipes.) Unfortunately, these dishes usually compete with the turkey for oven space, so it’s a good idea to get them prepped early. You can bake these dishes the day before, preparing any crispy toppings but setting them aside in a separate container. When you’re ready to eat, remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let the dish come to room temperature to prevent it from cracking. Add the prepared toppings and cook until it’s warmed through.
Corn pudding really tastes best the day it’s baked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare it in advance. In fact, an overnight rest in the refrigerator gives the flavors time to come together. Combine the ingredients and place them in the baking dish. Instead of popping it into the oven, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. Let the casserole dish come up to room temperature before baking it on Thanksgiving Day. Once it’s baked, you can cover it with aluminum foil and keep it warm on the counter until you’re ready to serve.
If there’s one thing on the dinner table that shouldn’t be made ahead of time, it’s the salad. Greens wilt super fast when dressed with acidic dressing, so you’ll want to toss them just before serving. That said, you can absolutely prep the salad bowl ahead of time by chopping your vegetables and making the dressing. If it sounds like too much work, try making a salad that can be dressed ahead of time, like coleslaw or pasta salad. Give these great pasta salad recipes a try.
Dinner rolls freeze exceptionally well, so there’s no reason you can’t make them as early as a week ahead of Thanksgiving. You can either freeze already baked rolls and warm them through in the oven or freeze the portioned-out dough and bake the rolls fresh. Try our Freeze-and-Bake Rolls recipe if you’re new to making homemade bread.
Pumpkin Pie or Pecan Pie
You have a few options when it comes to dessert. You can make an easy, no-bake pie well in advance and store it in the refrigerator. Or, if you want to go for the traditional pumpkin or pecan pie options, you can pre-bake your pie weeks in advance and pop them into the freezer. Thaw the pie overnight in the refrigerator before letting it come to room temperature on the counter. You can either serve them at room temp or heat them in the oven when you’re ready to serve.
Cook up a delicious feast this holiday season with our best Thanksgiving recipes.