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9 Thanksgiving Dishes You Can Make Ahead

Plus recipes and tips for each of them.

Published Nov. 8, 2021.

As our Thanksgiving menus start taking shape and the holiday inches closer, we all ask ourselves the same question: “What can I make ahead?” Fortunately, the answer is: a lot!

Here’s a list of the dishes you can make ahead of time, including tips for doing so and recipes that walk you through the process step by step.

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1. Gravy

With multiple side dishes commanding your last-minute attention just as guests are arriving, you don't want to worry about the gravy. And there’s no need to. You can make great gravy ahead of time and without turkey drippings (though you might want to stir those drippings in as you reheat the gravy on the actual day).

  • Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy (makes 2 quarts, uses turkey thighs or wings, and can be refrigerated for 2 days or frozen)
  • Our Favorite Turkey Gravy (makes 1 quart; uses reserved turkey neck, giblets, and reserved turkey trimmings; and can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen)
  • Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy for a Crowd (makes about 2 quarts, uses turkey giblets and neck, and can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen)
  • All-Purpose Gravy (makes 2 cups, doesn't use any turkey parts, and can be frozen for up to 2 months)

How to Defrost and Reheat Gravy: Defrosting and reheating gravy is a tricky task—the sauce tends to weep and separate when rewarmed. But this unattractive trait is fixable. Simply bring your defrosted gravy to a full boil and then whisk it vigorously to return it to its normal thick, emulsified consistency.

turkey gravyjellied cranberry saucefluffy dinner rolls
Yes, you can make gravy, cranberry sauce, and even fluffy dinner rolls ahead of the big day.

2. Cranberry Sauce

Making cranberry sauce isn’t much more work than opening a can, and almost every recipe can be made ahead.

3. Pie Dough (or the Whole Pie)

We promise your pie will be just as much of a showstopper if you make it in advance. But whether you refrigerate, freeze, or leave it at room temp depends on the type of pie. Here are some tips:

  • Pumpkin and other custard pies should be refrigerated.
  • Pecan and apple pies can be kept at room temperature if it’s close enough to the day. Otherwise, they can be frozen.
  • Freeze fruit pies unbaked and don’t freeze pumpkin pie. (Learn more about how to freeze pie.)
  • Most pie dough recipes can be made ahead—so start filling your freezer now!

All About Freezing Pies

You can make pies in advance and freeze them without compromising their flavor or texture. Here's everything you need to know.  
Go To Article

4. Dinner Rolls

Not every dinner roll can be made in advance. The best make-ahead dinner roll recipes are engineered to prevent the rolls from drying out before the big day, which means incorporating extra moisture and fat.

5. Soups

Most soups actually taste better in advance because it gives the ingredients time to meld—many chemical reactions that produce flavor enhancers continue to take place during the cooling process. Just remember: Don’t put hot soup straight into the fridge.

6. Stuffing

Oven-baked stuffing can be assembled ahead of time, put in a casserole dish, and refrigerated until it's ready to be baked. If you aren’t able to assemble it in advance, and if you’re making your own with bread, put the bread out to stale a couple days ahead of Thanksgiving. It will do fine in a zipper-lock bag.

green bean casserolemushroom and leek gratincheesy mashed potato casserole
Got some casseroles on the menu? Assemble them ahead of time.

7. Casseroles

You can cook any casseroles using sweet potatoes or squash a couple days before the holiday, then refrigerate them until Thanksgiving. (Follow the recipe if it has specific instructions for reheating.) Here are some other recipes you can make ahead of time.

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8. Mashed Potatoes

We know—mashed potatoes that have been made ahead are often gluey and dense. Our Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes recipe can be prepared up to 2 days ahead thanks to a few tricks: 

  1. Microwaving then baking the potatoes prevents them from developing a grainy texture.
  2. Beating the potatoes in a stand mixer got them nice and smooth.
  3. Adding cream before butter to the already smooth, beaten potatoes is key for a silky—rather than gluey—texture.
  4. To prevent the potatoes from drying out overnight, it’s necessary to add enough cream to make them quite soupy before refrigerating them. (They’ll tighten up during the stay in the fridge and be the perfect texture the day they’re served.)

If you’re still reluctant to make mashed potatoes ahead of time, you can go ahead and peel the potatoes the day before. To prevent them from turning brown, place the peeled whole potatoes into a bowl of cold water and refrigerate them for up to 24 hours.

9. Salad Dressing

Want to check something off your list? Make the dressing for the salad (but don't dress it until right before serving). Our Make-Ahead Vinaigrette recipe stays emulsified for up to a week, thanks to a well-thought-out ingredient list:

  • We include a combination of emulsifiers (mustard and mayonnaise) and a stabilizer (molasses).
  • We use a 2:1 ratio of extra-virgin olive oil to vegetable oil, which prevents the oil molecules from bonding together and solidifying in the refrigerator.
Photo: bhofack2, Getty Images

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