7 Dishes You Can Prepare Before Thanksgiving—And 2 You Should Never Make Ahead
A kitchen full of hot pans and hungry guests is a lot to manage. Add in the orchestration of multiple dishes and cook times, and it's easy to see that hosting Thanksgiving isn't for the faint of heart. The smartest home chefs know that a little planning goes a long way to help a holiday feast come together.
Prevent a last-minute scramble by considering dishes that can be made ahead. Trust us: You'll never be more thankful for a heat-and-eat casserole than when your house is teaming with extended family and your oven is working overtime. If you know a thing or two about what can be prepared in advance, all you'll have to do on the big day is reheat and assemble (and entertain a house filled with loved ones, but that's a whole other story). Organize your cooking game plan with these tips on the best dishes to make in advance—plus a few that you should definitely reserve stovetop and oven real estate for on Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving Dishes You Can Easily Make Ahead
We'll start with a no brainer. An easy appetizer to start the meal or to hold the crowd over while dinner comes together, soup is a cinch to make and freeze ahead. Make it a week or a few days in advance, freeze, and thaw the night before. Pro tip: Freeze your soups in Ziplock bags so you can lay them flat in your freezer to save on space.
Recipe: Sweet Potato Soup
Your turkey or chicken stock is another obvious make-ahead choice. Put it at the top of your list so you have it on hand to flavor the rest of your recipes.
Recipe: Homemade Turkey Stock
Casseroles are the queens of Thanksgiving. Practical and full of family tradition, these layered dishes often make up the bulk of our holiday sideboards—but assembling multiple cheese and marshmallow-topped recipes in a single day is a nearly impossible task. Depending on how far in advance you're working, use your refrigerator and freezer to set you up for success.
Some dishes, like a green bean or broccoli cheddar casserole, benefit from a day or two in the fridge. As they marinate, they become more flavorful. Classics like sweet potato casserole can be assembled a few days in advance and kept in the fridge as well. Clear some space in your freezer if you're working further in advance. If you're making a casserole that has raw meat or seafood, completely cook your casserole, let it cool, wrap it in multiple layers of plastic wrap and foil, and pop it in the freezer. Casseroles that have a pre-cooked protein or no meat can be assembled and frozen uncooked. Just layer the dish, cover, and freeze unbaked. Be sure to leave off any toppings when freezing, and don't forget to thaw and bake before it's too late.
A true Southern-style dressing starts with cornbread, and if you've waited until turkey day to get going, you're out of luck. Cornbread needs to dry out completely before cooking. Take care of your bread one to two days before you get started on the dressing, or if you're feeling extra eager, you can crumble and freeze the cornbread in a heavy-duty Ziplock bag for up to 1 month. Once your bread is squared away, mix your dressing the day before for enhanced flavor and bake on Thanksgiving.
Recipe: Classic Cornbread Dressing
Scrambling to make your gravy as you're pulling the turkey from the oven is a recipe for disaster. If you've already knocked out your turkey broth, you can easily make your gravy a few days ahead as well. You can even stir in some turkey drippings as you reheat for a final touch.
Recipe: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
Let the flavors of your cranberry sauce mix and mingle by making it ahead of time. Most hold up well and don't experience any change in consistency when refrigerated for several days.
Recipe: Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Nearly all of your go-to holiday desserts can handle a day or two in the fridge or covered on the countertop. Plan to make pies, cookies, and cakes a few days (or if you're planning to freeze pie, even a month) before the feast. Be sure to save any toppings that won't hold up well until right before serving.
Holiday Dishes You Should Avoid Making in Advance
The bird is the star of the day and should be treated as such. No matter how much food you have going in and out of your oven, it's important to prioritize cooking time for your turkey on Thanksgiving Day. However, you can do a few things to prep for the roast. Smaller tasks like brining a few days in advance can help free up your day-of to-do list.
Recipe: Roasted Herb Turkey
An overachiever may peel potatoes and refrigerate them in water the night before, but otherwise, there's really not much you can do to prepare mashed potatoes ahead of time. The consistency of reheated mashed potatoes is never quite the same. Like other starchy dishes made with dairy, they can develop a dry, gluey texture if reheated too long or on too high of a heat. Mashed potatoes are best whipped right before heading to the table.