The Ultimate 2023 Thanksgiving Make-Ahead Timeline

Advance planning and preparation is the key to hosting Thanksgiving dinner with minimal stress. Use our prep timeline to map out your plan of attack.

Published Nov. 2, 2023.

Whether you’re a first-time host or an experienced hand at executing a Thanksgiving feast, getting organized well in advance can help the dayand the meal—go more smoothly and successfully.

Our 2023 Thanksgiving cooking schedule helps you plan what to make, when to buy your ingredients, and what prep work you can do in advance. It also explains which recipes you can make fully ahead, plus how to freeze and store them. With our guide in hand, this may be your best holiday celebration yet.

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November 2–9: Plan Menu, Order Turkey, Gather Equipment

If you have room, assemble all the equipment you need and set it aside.

Two to Three Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Plan your menu. Think about your available oven and stove space on the day of and adjust your menu accordingly. Have a good mix of dishes that are served hot, cold, or at room temperature.
  • If you’re assigning any dishes to guests, now is the time to do it. 
  • Determine what size turkey you need: To serve 1012, choose a 1215 pound bird. To serve 1518, choose a 1416 pound bird. To serve 1822, choose a 2022 pound bird (alternatively, since roasting an extra-large turkey is fraught with issues, consider this approach).
  • For an heirloom or special farm turkey, order now. This is also the time to place any other advance orders at your local market.
  • Make certain you have all the equipment you need. Locate all necessary pots, pans, dishes, and serving platters and set them aside. 
  • It’s also a good time to check your spices. If anything is older than one year, be aware that the flavor may not be as potent, so make sure you have enough to scale up the amount called for.

November 10–16: Stock Up on Non-Perishables; Freeze Pie Dough, Rolls, and Gravy

Making and freezing pie dough ahead of time is not only timesaving, but it also prevents last-minute kerfuffles.

One to Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Create three shopping lists: One for shelf-stable items you can buy now; one for relatively non-perishable items you can buy a little later; and the third for delicate items to buy a few days prior to Thanksgiving.
  • Stock up on canned goods such as chicken broth and canned pumpkin.
  • Check staple ingredients and supplies such as butter, flour, salt, sugar, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and storage containers. 
  • Make enough pie dough for all the pies you’ll need. Pat each crust into a 4-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then foil, and freeze.
  • Alternatively, assemble apple pie and freeze it unbaked. You can also freeze pecan pie fully baked or unbaked. Do not attempt to freeze custard pies such as pumpkin pie. (For more information on freezing pie, see this article.)
  • If you’re not planning on using giblets or drippings to make stock, prepare and freeze gravy. 
  • Make and freeze dinner rolls.

November 17–19: Defrost Your Turkey! Shop. Make Cranberry Sauce and Pureed Soups

Many people dont realize that a 20-pound bird can take four days—not a mere 24 hours—to thaw out in the refrigerator.

The Weekend Before Thanksgiving

  • Make space in your fridge and freezer. Clean out unwanted items.
  • Make certain you give the turkey ample time to defrost. Plan on one day for every 4 pounds of turkey, and finish defrosting the day before roasting.
  • Complete the bulk of your shopping. Buy vegetables that store well: onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, green beans, winter squash. (Wait until a few days longer before buying more delicate vegetables, greens, and herbs.)
  • Make cranberry sauce. Many will last up to seven days or even longer stored in the fridge. 
  • Start making extra ice.
  • Purchase beverages and stock them in an accessible place (not the back of the fridge where food will get piled in front, making the drinks hard to reach).
  • Make and freeze any pureed soups you might have on the menu.

November 21: Finish Shopping, Wash Greens, Make Dips

Washing greens ahead of time is just one small task you can check off ahead of Thanksgiving day.

Two Days Before Thanksgiving

  • If you didn’t make and freeze gravy already, remove the turkey giblets and neck and make gravy now and refrigerate.
  • Make any creamy dips.
  • If you made your pie dough in advance and froze it, thaw it the fridge overnight to be ready for baking in the morning. If not, make the dough now and keep it chilled.
  • Most relishes and salad dressings can be prepared now.
  • Some salads, including this kale salad, can be prepared ahead. 
  • Cook any casseroles using sweet potatoes or squash and refrigerate.
  • Finish shopping for delicate vegetables, greens, and herbs. If you ordered a fresh turkey, pick it up now.
  • Wash and store your greens.
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November 22: Salt Turkey, Assemble Stuffing, and Bake Pumpkin Pie

The day before, you can finish almost all the cooking.

Day Before Thanksgiving

  • Salt the turkey in the morning and, for exceptionally crisp skin, leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight (at least 8 hours) to dry it out. 
  • Oven-baked stuffing can be assembled ahead of time, put in a casserole dish, and refrigerated until its ready to be baked.
  • Thaw frozen gravy in the refrigerator.
  • Make and refrigerate pumpkin pie or other custard pies.
  • For mashed potatoes, peel and store potatoes, covered in cold water, in the refrigerator. (Do not peel and soak potatoes ahead for other applications including gratin or latkes; they will lose too much starch.)
  • Or, cook a make-ahead mashed potato recipe.

November 23rd: Roast Turkey and Do Last-Minute Details

The final steps to a perfect meal.

Thanksgiving Day—Final Countdown

  • Chill any wine or other beverages. 
  • Thaw baked frozen pecan pie in the morning. Bake uncooked frozen apple pie while dinner is being served. Warm pre-baked pies during dinner. 
  • To calculate roasting time for the (unstuffed) bird, count on 1¾ hours if the bird weighs 1215 pounds, 2 hours if the bird weighs 1518 pounds, and 3 hours for a bigger bird. Then add on an additional 3045 minute resting period.
  • Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer: The thickest part of the breast should register 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh 170175 degrees.
  • Once the turkey is out of the oven, bake the stuffing and any other remaining dishes that need to go in the oven. You can keep already cooked dishes warm in the oven at 200 degrees.
  • Reheat gravy (thawed frozen gravy may need a little water added) in a saucepan over low heat and bring it slowly to a simmer. Add drippings now if desired.
  • Warm frozen rolls.
  • Carve the turkey.
  • Enjoy a perfect meal!


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