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- This Year We’re Most Grateful for Make Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes! 🙌🏼
- How Do You Make Thanksgiving Dinner in Advance?
- Thanksgiving Timeline for Easy Prep
- Thanksgiving Day Timeline
- More Make Ahead Thanksgiving Resources
- Our Favorite Thanksgiving Equipment
This Year We’re Most Grateful for Make Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes! 🙌🏼
Thanksgiving is, no doubt, one of the most important meals of the year. And if you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, that also makes it one of the most overwhelming meals of the year. So, if you’re feeling the stress of planning & cooking dinner, I totally feel you.
The first time Chris & I hosted Thanksgiving, I juggled so many things that meal prep ended with our biggest fight to date, a broken garbage disposal, & me crying on the floor. 😅 (Read more about that story…suffice to say it wasn’t our best day.)
Why do we expect hosts to prepare a flawless, multi-course meal all in one day?! It’s a lot to ask of even the most seasoned home cooks. Not to mention, spending the entire day in the kitchen is no way to celebrate a holiday that’s all about togetherness!
Make This Your Best Thanksgiving Yet
This year we’re changing Thanksgiving meal prep for the better. PWWB’s Make Ahead Thanksgiving is a complete guide designed to help you break your Thanksgiving prep work out over several days (or even a few weeks if you want!). Once Thanksgiving dinner rolls around, there won’t be much left to do except reheat & dig in. It’s the easiest way to enjoy a deliciously stress-free holiday!
How Do You Make Thanksgiving Dinner in Advance?
Hosting a make ahead Thanksgiving is all about proper planning & coordination – & we’ve done all the organizing for you! This Thanksgiving guide has everything you need: make-ahead-friendly recipes, a 3-week Thanksgiving timeline, & tons of other tips to make this holiday feel like a breeze.
With this make ahead Thanksgiving menu, you’ll have…
EXTRA REST. No need to set a 4 a.m. alarm to start cooking! Sleep in knowing you still have plenty of time to still get dinner on the table.
LESS STRESS. Stop juggling several recipes at once! Make ahead Thanksgiving preps most dishes in advance, freeing up your already hectic holiday schedule.
MORE FAMILY TIME. Catch up with your cousins or play cards with grandpa instead of getting stuck in the kitchen. Time with family is what Thanksgiving is all about!
ALL THE BIG PLAYS. Don’t miss a second of game day! With make ahead Thanksgiving, you can cheer on your team while dinner finishes in the oven.
FEWER DISHES. Less prep = less clean-up. A moment you’ll truly be grateful for!
A BIG BOOST OF CONFIDENCE. It feels good to build momentum day by day, knowing by Thanksgiving you’ll have plenty of delicious dishes prepped & ready to dig into. You’ve got this! 🙌🏼
What Thanksgiving Food Can I Make Ahead of Time?
Good news – most of the classic Thanksgiving recipes you know & love are make ahead friendly! 🎉 Our collection of make ahead Thanksgiving side dishes have been tested to perfection, ensuring they store & reheat well without sacrificing any flavor.
5 make ahead Thanksgiving side dishes to try this year! These 5 Thanksgiving make ahead side dish recipes create an epic holiday spread, all while saving you tons of time the day of your dinner. Prep them in advance then simply finish & reheat them before dinner. Seriously simple!
- Make Ahead Gravy – 30 minutes active prep up to 5 days in advance
- Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes – 1 hour 10 minutes active prep up to 2 days in advance
- Make Ahead Stuffing with Fresh Herbs – 40 minutes active prep up to 4 days in advance
- Make Ahead Green Bean Casserole – 45 minutes active prep up to 2 days in advance
- Make Ahead Sweet Potato Casserole – 1 hour 35 minutes active prep up to 4 days in advance
Thanksgiving appetizers & desserts are also very make-ahead friendly, depending on the recipe! Feel free to add them to your to-do list as time allows. Some ideas to get you started…
- Make ahead Thanksgiving appetizers ⇢ An adorable pumpkin cheese ball or fridge-friendly dips like pumpkin hummus & roasted butternut squash hummus are easy apps to prep ahead & store for later. Add some crackers or sliced veggies on Thanksgiving Day & you’re good to go!
- Make ahead Thanksgiving desserts ⇢ Baking in advance gives desserts time to rest before slicing & serving. Pie is best prepped ahead of time for this reason! These desserts are some of our favorites for the holiday.
Make ahead and freeze Thanksgiving recipes are the ultimate holiday planning! If you want to work more than a few days in advance, try prepping & freezing your sides & appetizers until turkey day rolls around. Since some hold better in the freezer than others, be sure to check the Recipe Notes of each dish for freezer-friendly guidance to get you started.
What Can’t You Make Ahead for Thanksgiving?
As much as we love time-saving meal prep, there are certain recipes where fresh is simply best…
- Turkey. The star of your table! While you can do some simple prep to get it ready to go straight into the oven at dinnertime, you won’t want to roast your turkey ahead of time. More turkey prep tips below!
- Rolls & bread. There’s just something about hot bread fresh from the oven! Bake these Extra Flaky Pumpkin Biscuits or Swirled Cranberry Cornbread Muffins to serve warm on Thanksgiving Day.
- Vegetables & greens. It’s best to prep most veggie sides or green salads on Thanksgiving to maintain their freshness. For a salad shortcut, prepare the components & dressing & store everything separately. Then before dinner, you can assemble everything in a bowl & serve! Our Thanksgiving Salad is a great option for this because it uses hearty kale & make-ahead-friendly toppings.
Thanksgiving Timeline for Easy Prep
You’ve got your make-ahead recipes set, now in what order do you prepare Thanksgiving dinner?! We’ve got that covered for you too.
Doing a little bit of work over a few weeks makes a BIG impact! Follow this timeline to save up to 8+ hours of active prep work the day of your feast! By the holiday you’ll have a turkey dinner with 5 side dishes, appetizers, & desserts ready to go! 🙌🏼
2-3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving
Plan your menu. The fun part! The perfect make ahead Thanksgiving menu is one that includes everything you love about Thanksgiving – so feel free to make it your own! Pick your favorites from the recipes below, or scroll through all of our PWWB Thanksgiving Recipes for even more inspiration. Tip! ⇢ If some of the dishes you’d like to have on your Thanksgiving menu aren’t make-ahead friendly, ask your friends & family to pitch in or delegate tasks to guests the day of so you can handle prep together!
Confirm your equipment. Do you have a roasting pan? A cast iron skillet? Potato masher? Enough baking dishes? Read the recipes for necessary equipment & cross-check with what you have in the kitchen. Need some suggestions? ⇢ The PWWB equipment guide is loaded with our go-to’s!
Check your fridge & pantry & shop for any ingredients you’re missing. Most Thanksgiving dishes use a good amount of pantry staples, but you’ll need to grab some seasonal staples too.
Up to 1 Week Before Thanksgiving
Prep your turkey seasoning. Making a killer herb butter or oil is an easy way to infuse your holiday bird with tons of flavor. Plus, the longer it sits, the more its flavors meld – a make ahead Thanksgiving win! If you’re making an Herb Butter Roast Spatchcock Turkey or Maple Glazed Spatchcock Turkey, prepare the herb butter up to 1 week in advance, storing it in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving Day. If you’ve opted for a Thanksgiving Chicken, mix the savory herb oil & keep it at room temp. (10-20 minutes active prep)
Optional: Cook grains. Need grains for stuffing or a hearty Thanksgiving Salad? They store incredibly well in the fridge. Cook according to package directions & store in an airtight container until needed for assembly. (5-10 minutes active prep)
Optional: Prep fridge-friendly appetizers. Many Thanksgiving appetizers & snacks are super fridge-friendly, keeping for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Prep a festive cheese ball or an easy Thanksgiving dip like Creamy Pumpkin Hummus or Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus. (30 minutes active prep)
5 Days Before Thanksgiving
Prepare Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy. It’s as simple as building a roux & whisking in some turkey broth or turkey stock! (30 minutes active prep)
Mise en place hardy veggies. Look over your menu & identify any hardy veggies you can prep in advance. Most hardy veggies will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, so feel free to trim & clean brussels sprouts, break down a butternut squash, roughly dice sweet potatoes, etc. If you plan to prepare a Thanksgiving Salad, feel free to toast some nuts & whip up your vinaigrette at this point, too! (10-60 minutes active prep)
3-4 Days Before Thanksgiving
Defrost your turkey. Safely thawing a turkey takes some time! The safest way to do so is to place a frozen turkey in the coolest section of your refrigerator. This will slowly thaw out the turkey while keeping it at a safe temperature. As a general rule of thumb, plan for 24 hours of refrigerated thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey (that means a 12-14 pound turkey definitely requires 3-4 days!). If your turkey is still frozen the day of it simply will not safely defrost & cook in time for dinner. 😬 This is an essential to-do!
Prepare Make Ahead Sweet Potato Casserole. Mash & season the sweet potatoes & prepare a nutty streusel topping. Store both separately for assembly later on. (35 minutes active + 1 hour inactive prep)
Prepare Make Ahead Stuffing. Toast up easy homemade bread cubes & mix them with plenty of fresh herbs & aromatics. Store the stuffing mix in a baking dish for later. (40 minutes active prep)
1-2 Days Before Thanksgiving
Prepare Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes. Mash the creamy potatoes & load them up with butter for easy reheating later on. (35 minutes active prep + 25 minutes inactive prep)
Prepare Make Ahead Green Bean Casserole. Blanch fresh green beans & prepare a creamy mushroom sauce – all from scratch, no cans here! Store in a casserole dish for later. (45 minutes active prep)
Make your dessert(s) of choice! I love to plan an entire day just for baking! Most Thanksgiving desserts benefit from having a day to rest, especially cakes & pies.
Some Thanksgiving dessert ideas to get you started…
- Pie dough is easy to prep in advance & freezes great. This is my go-to pie crust recipe, it works beautifully for Thanksgiving favorites like pecan pie, apple pie, & sweet potato pie.
- Feel free to mix things up! Our Best-Ever Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust is a longtime PWWB reader fave, & you can never beat fall desserts like Mom’s Apple Pie Bars with Walnut Crumble or Chai Spiced Apple Crisp.
The Night Before Thanksgiving
Spatchcock the turkey. Not sure how? Got you covered – How to Spatchcock a Turkey, with Step-by-Step Photos! Allowing the spatchcocked turkey to sit uncovered in the fridge overnight helps the skin lose moisture, ensuring it gets especially golden & crispy as it roasts. 😍 (30 minutes active prep)
Set the table. It’s so fun to wake up to a beautiful table on Thanksgiving day! Pick your favorite plates, silverware, glasses, & linen napkins – here are some PWWB House favorites! Then set a place for each guest. Add a centerpiece or table runner with mini-pumpkins, gourds, flowers, &/or candles – whatever feels festive! Don’t forget to leave some room for your serving dishware, water pitchers, bread baskets, etc. (20 minutes active prep)
Thanksgiving Day Timeline
Take the herb butter out of the fridge. It’s best to have the herb butter at room temperature when it comes time to season your turkey! (<5 minutes active prep)
Set up a drink station. Drinks are easy to mix in advance & leave out until guests arrive! These Bourbon Ginger Cider Cocktails are our signature PWWB House cocktail during the autumn months, & our guests always love Thanksgiving Party Punch! Set everything up near the snack table, but wait to set out any ice until your guests arrive. (30 minutes active prep)
Empty the dishwasher. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for this later! (10 minutes active prep)
Roast the turkey or chicken. As the Thanksgiving dinner host, preparing the main course will be your biggest to-do on Thanksgiving Day. One of the best parts about preparing a flat, spatchcocked turkey (either lemon herb or maple glazed) is that it only takes a few hours to cook. A cast-iron Thanksgiving Chicken also cooks quicker than a whole turkey. With the herb butters &/or herb oils prepped in advance, getting your Thanksgiving bird in the oven only requires about 25 minutes of active prep. Plan to get your spatchcock turkey or Thanksgiving chicken in the oven about 2 – 2 ½ hours before you’d like to sit down to dinner. (25 minutes active prep)
My #1 Thanksgiving tip is to prepare a spatchcocked turkey – it’s so easy & always results in a perfectly juicy bird! As your turkey roasts, baste it a few times for extra flavor & crispy skin. Every time you do, rotate the pan for even cooking. Once the turkey reaches 155-160 degrees F, take it out of the oven & let it rest. This allows the juice to re-distribute until it reaches a final safe temperature of 165 degrees F.
How Do You Warm Up Sides for Thanksgiving?
You’ve already done most of the hard work thanks to your make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes! 🙌🏼 On Thanksgiving Day all you have to do is…
- Finish & bake Make Ahead Stuffing. The stuffing finishes with a simple secret ingredient that gives the whole dish a creamy yet crispy texture. (40 minutes reheating)
- Assemble & bake Make Ahead Green Bean Casserole. Top the fresh green beans & creamy mushroom sauce with crunchy French fried onions & almonds. Then bake! (40 minutes reheating)
- Assemble & heat Make Ahead Sweet Potato Casserole. Simply add the nutty brown sugar streusel on top of the sweet potato mash before putting it in the oven. (40 minutes reheating)
- Reheat Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes. Cubes of butter melt into the mashed potatoes as they reheat, infusing the dish with even more irresistible creaminess! (40 minutes reheating)
- Finish Make Ahead Turkey Gravy. Whisk in fresh turkey drippings to bring the gravy back to life! If you’re not roasting a turkey, no worries – this recipe has a gravy making method for that too. (10 minutes reheating)
Oven Space-Saving Tips!
Oven space is always in high demand on Thanksgiving Day. A few tips to ensure all of your Thanksgiving sides fit…
- Reheat several dishes at once. Remember, your turkey or chicken will need to rest quite a bit before it’s ready to slice & serve. All the make ahead Thanksgiving recipes use a 350 degree F oven for reheating, so feel free to share the space! Just be sure not to overcrowd your oven with too many dishes.
- Stagger reheating. If your oven space is too small, reheat the sides in batches & keep them warm by covering them in tin foil until dinner.
- Use your slow cooker. The Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes are great reheated on the counter in your Crock Pot. An easy space saver!
- Make it a team effort! If you’re hosting family, consider dividing & conquering the make ahead Thanksgiving menu! Hand off make ahead Thanksgiving recipes to guests the day before & ask them to help reheat them at their house. Then they can easily bring it over when they arrive for dinner!
More Make Ahead Thanksgiving Resources
Here at PWWB, we LOVE helping you create your best Thanksgiving celebration yet. For more Thanksgiving menu inspiration & time-saving holiday prep, be sure to check out…
Our Favorite Thanksgiving Equipment
FREE Download! Make Ahead Guide & Printable Thanksgiving Menu
Get organized for a stress-free Thanksgiving! We’ve gathered 5+ make-ahead-friendly recipes & a 3-week Thanksgiving timeline into one easy-to-reference download. Print & consult it all November for your easiest holiday meal yet!
We can’t wait for you to try these Make Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes! They’re sure to help you make this your most delicious & stress-free Thanksgiving dinner yet – which is certainly something to be grateful for this year! 🙌🏼
If you do give them a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy Thanksgiving!Print
Make Ahead Thanksgiving Guide (Easy Recipes & Prep Timeline!)
- Prep Time: 6 hours
- Cook Time: 6 hours
- Total Time: 12 hours
- Yield: serves 10-12, easily scaled
- Category: Techniques & How-Tos, Thanksgiving Recipes
- Method: Meal Prep, Make Ahead
- Cuisine: American
Thanksgiving is, no doubt, one of the most important meals of the year. And if you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, that also makes it one of the most overwhelming meals of the year. If you’re feeling the stress of planning & cooking dinner, we totally feel you!
PWWB’s Make Ahead Thanksgiving is a complete guide designed to help you break your Thanksgiving prep work out over several days (or even a few weeks if you want!). By the time Thanksgiving Day rolls around, there’s not much left to do except reheat & dig in. It’s the easiest way to enjoy a deliciously stress-free holiday!
Use instructions below as a condensed timeline & check list of make-ahead Thanksgiving to-dos. Refer to the blog post, above, for much more guidance including Thanksgiving dessert, drink, & tablescape ideas.
Prefer a printable? ⇢ We’ve got you covered! We’ve already prepared a free printable guide (including all the recipes you’ll need), & we’ll send it straight to your inbox. Sign up now! Happy Thanksgiving! ♡
2-3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving
- Plan your menu. Feel free to use our Make Ahead Thanksgiving menu, or scroll through all PWWB Thanksgiving Recipes for even more inspiration to get you started.
- Confirm your equipment. Read the recipes for necessary equipment & cross-check with what you have in the kitchen. If you don’t have an essential piece of equipment, like a roasting pan, kitchen shears, or a potato masher, you still have plenty of time to get it ordered before Thanksgiving Day!
Up to 1 Week Before Thanksgiving
- Prep turkey seasoning. Making a killer herb butter or oil is an easy way to infuse your holiday bird with tons of flavor. Plus, the longer it sits, the more its flavors meld – a make ahead Thanksgiving win! If you’re making an Herb Butter Roast Spatchcock Turkey or Maple Glazed Spatchcock Turkey, prepare the herb butter up to 1 week in advance, storing it in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving Day.
- Prep hardy veggies. Look over your menu & identify any hardy veggies you can prep in advance (e.g. roughly dice sweet potatoes for casserole, trim green beans, etc.). Most hardy veggies will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
5 Days Before Thanksgiving
- Prepare Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy. It’s as simple as building a roux & whisking in some turkey broth or turkey stock!
3-4 Days Before Thanksgiving
- Defrost your turkey. Safely thawing a turkey takes some time! As a general rule of thumb, plan for 24 hours of refrigerated thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey (that means a 12-14 pound turkey requires 3-4 days of thawing).
- Prepare Make Ahead Sweet Potato Casserole. Mash & season the sweet potatoes & prepare a nutty streusel topping. Store both separately for assembly later on.
- Prepare Make Ahead Stuffing. Toast up easy homemade bread cubes & mix them with plenty of fresh herbs & aromatics. Store the stuffing mix in a baking dish for later.
1-2 Days Before Thanksgiving
- Prepare Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes. Mash the creamy potatoes & load them up with butter for easy reheating later on.
- Prepare Make Ahead Green Bean Casserole. Blanch fresh green beans & prepare a creamy mushroom sauce – all from scratch, no cans here! Store in a casserole dish for later. (45 minutes active prep)
The Night Before Thanksgiving
- Spatchcock your turkey. Allowing the spatchcocked turkey to sit uncovered in the fridge overnight helps the skin lose moisture, ensuring it gets especially golden & crispy as it roasts.
- Empty the dishwasher.
- Take the herb butter out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature before you roast your turkey.
- Roast the turkey or chicken. Prep your spatchcock turkey or Thanksgiving chicken for roasting, planning to get it in the oven about 2 – 2 ½ hours before you’d like to sit down to dinner.
- Reheat make ahead Thanksgiving side dishes. Each of these dishes requires a 350 degree F oven & about 40 minutes of reheating time, so you can reheat them all at once. Remember, your Thanksgiving turkey or chicken will need about 30 minutes to rest before it’s ready to carve & serve, so you should have a perfectly timed meal!
- Finish & bake Make Ahead Stuffing
- Assemble & bake Make Ahead Green Bean Casserole
- Assemble & bake Make Ahead Sweet Potato Casserole
- Reheat Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes (Slow Cooker/Crockpot-friendly, if preferred!)
- Finish Make Ahead Turkey Gravy. This takes just 10 minutes on the stovetop. Prep options for gravy making with and without turkey drippings.
- Thanksgiving Cocktails & Mocktails: I like to set up a drink station Thanksgiving morning. Drinks are easy to mix in advance. Set everything up near the snack table & set out ice just before your guests arrive. Check the blog post, above, for Thanksgiving drinks we love!
- Thanksgiving Appetizers & Snacks: Fridge-friendly dips & cheese balls are easy to prep up to 1 week in advance. Keep everything stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, & on Thanksgiving Day all you have to do is set them out with crackers or crudite veggies. Check the blog post, above, for Thanksgiving apps & snacks we love!
- Thanksgiving Desserts: I love to plan an entire day just for baking! Most Thanksgiving desserts benefit from having a day to rest, especially cakes & pies. Check the blog post, above, for Thanksgiving desserts we love!
Keywords: make ahead thanksgiving recipes, thanksgiving side dishes, easy thanksgiving prep work, stress free thanksgiving hosting
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by KJ & Company, Kate Poskochil & Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.
Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, Facebook, & Pinterest for more easy, modern recipes & fun!
OMG! Thanks so much for this handy helper! I hate being stressed on thanksgiving day and the more I can make ahead the better. You gave me a few more ideas to have a calmer & truly thankful family gathering.
Enjoy your thanksgiving! I love your recipes found you on Instagram! Your Autumn Squash recipe is our new favorite!
Thanks again 🦃
Hi Val! We are SO glad to hear that you enjoyed this resource – that was our entire goal to make Thanksgiving a little less stressful, giving you back time to enjoy the holiday with your loved ones! We hope you have a great Thanksgiving (let us know which tip or recipe you love most!).
So glad you found us on Instagram & have been enjoying the Autumn Squash too! 🙂