We sure do hope that cornbread is getting stale on the counter as we speak.

Welcome to the week of Thanksgiving. Ah, the one time a year when we can turn off our morning alarms. No, not because we're looking forward to a week of sleeping in, but because we will naturally wake up at 6 a.m., riddled with anxiety and silently checking things off (and adding to) our mental to-do list. Has the cranberry mold set? Will the turkey fit in the oven? Did Cooper remember to print the coloring sheets for the kids' table? But now we've got one more for you: Have you made the cornbread yet? If Mama taught us anything it's that the secret to the best cornbread dressing is perfectly staled cornbread. Homemade, of course, as if there was a question.

Whether you're the hostess or you've simply (an understatement, we know) been relied upon to provide this year's dressing, we must, first of all, give congratulations. There's no higher honor when it comes to Thanksgiving—aside from maybe the person in charge of bringing the mac and cheese. Living up to this lofty position takes a lot of holiday know-how. You've likely been training for this for years and have a trusty handed-down recipe to get the job done. But, even the most seasoned of holiday cooks can sometimes let a seemingly simple task slip through the cracks. When it comes to the holiday dressing, that pitfall oftentimes comes in the shape of not properly prepping the cornbread ahead of time.

Grandma's cornbread
Credit: Alison Miksch

We all know good cornbread dressing hinges on perfectly stale (but not too stale) cornbread. Without adequate time spent drying out, the cornbread crumbles can turn into a sloppy mess once they hit the casserole dish and mix with broth and eggs. And we all know that no matter how long you bake soggy dressing, it will never perk up the way it should. Don't let this happen to you.

We've found the perfect crunch without becoming too dry happens around the 24-hour mark. To achieve the ideal consistency, crumble the cornbread once it has cooled completely and place it in an open zip-top bag on the counter. Do not zip that bag shut or else your crumbles will remain springy well into day two. Your breadcrumbs should be properly primed in no time. If you want to be way ahead of the game, you can freeze your cornbread crumbles for up to a month ahead of time.

From there, all you have to do is prep the rest of our Classic Cornbread Dressing recipe, which will be easy-peasy now that the time-consuming part is out of the way. Let the casserole dish sit in your fridge overnight so it's ready to pop into the oven when it's nearly time to eat.

Suddenly you've made one of the table's most anticipated dishes look like child's play without even a bead of sweat to show for it. Now, if only the math for figuring out how long to cook the turkey could be as simple.