24 Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes for Saving Time (& Stress) This Season

Tasty recipes that'll get you ahead on holiday prep.

November  1, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

There are some dishes that have be made on Thanksgiving day. Turkey cannot be roasted—or deep fried—ahead of time, mashed potatoes will not stay fluffy, and Pot-Stuck Brussels Sprouts will not remain crisp.

But to help you deal with the stress of the holiday and keep everything running smoothly, we've compiled a list of recipes that can be made (or their components prepared) a day, a couple of days, or even a week ahead of time.

So take a deep breath: Thanksgiving just got a whole lot easier. 

The Day Before

1. Northern Spy's Kale Salad by Genius Recipes

According to our resident Genius, Kristen Miglore, this squash-studded kale salad actually tastes better when you prep all the ingredients the day before and toss the dressing in just before you're ready to serve.

2. Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie by Stacy Blair 

Consider dessert solved by making this chocolatey, toasty pecan pie drizzled in salted caramel the day before the holiday madness.

3. Challah, Mushroom & Celery Stuffing by MrsWheelbarrow

Feel free to whip up this vegetarian-friendly stuffing the day before and store it covered in the fridge. Just make sure to let it come up to room temperature for 30 minutes to one hour before heating it up in the oven. 

4. Angel Corn by Cory Baldwin

This creamy, golden-brown corn casserole is sure to be a hit at any Thanksgiving table. Best part: make and bake the whole thing the day before, then on the day of, let it come up to room temperature and reheat at 350F° for 20 or 30 minutes.

5. Carrot & Potato Gratin with Parmesan & Thyme by Merrill Stubbs

Assemble this light and herby carrot and potato gratin from our co-founder, Merrill Stubbs, the night before the big day then simply heat it up in the oven just before you want it to hit the table.

6. Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies by Merrill Stubbs

These season-ready pumpkin chocolate chip won't lose their chewy softness if you bake them the night before and store them in an airtight container. Another option: Make the batter a day ahead and pop them in the oven as guests arrive to fill your kitchen with that inviting cookie aroma.

7. Carrot and Radicchio Salad with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette by Kenzi Wilbur

You'll have one less thing to worry about on Thanksgiving day if you assemble all the parts of this fall-inspired salad the day before, from roasting the carrots and toasting the pistachios to mixing up the fig-y balsamic vinaigrette. 


A Few Days Ahead

8. Chevre Devils by gingerroot

The spicy candied pecans you need to complete this appetizer-ready recipe can actually be prepped a few days ahead and stored in an airtight container until you're ready to assemble your spread.

9. Homemade Cranberry Jelly, In a Can by Carey Nershi 

Skip the store-bought cranbbery sauce this year and make this homemade version (still in a can!) that you can make days ahead of time.

10. Sour Cream Dinner Rolls by AntoniaJames

You can bake these lightly tangy dinner rolls just a few minutes before the point of golden perfection, let them cool, wrap them tightly, and store them in the freezer. On Thanksgiving morning, pull them out of the freezer to come up to room temperature and reheat for 10 or 12 minutes in the oven.

11. Leek and Greens Tart with Cornmeal Crust by fiveandspice

You can prep the dough and filling for this creamy-cozy tart a few days ahead of time and assemble the day of.

12. Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze by Merrill Stubbs

Make this easy-yet-impressive applesauce cake two or three days ahead of time—just wait to glaze the cake until a few hours before you're ready to serve.

13. Homemade Green Bean Casserole by Plum Pie

Assemble the greens beens and creamy mushroom dressing separately a few days ahead of time. Combine them on Thanksgiving day and bake the whole thing with crispy fried onions.

14. Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Sherry by Merrill Stubbs

Nothing says fall like this creamy butternut squash soup seasoned with cozy nutmeg and a splash of sherry. Whip up a big batch a few days before Thanksgiving dinner and simply reheat over the stove before serving. 

15. Everything Sheet Tray Crackers by Erin McDowell

These simple crackers dusted in addictive everything-bagel seasoning get even simpler when you use a sheet pan. Bake a batch a few days before and store them in airtight containers for Thanksgiving nibbles and dips. 

16. Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy by AntoniaJames

This recipe requires a bit of advanced planning, but the extra effort becomes well worth it when you realize how much flavor this gravy brings to the table (even though you made it in advance).

17. Turmeric Tahini Dressing by Gena Hamshaw

Mix up this unfussy, but totally packed-with-flavor salad dressing up to five days before the holiday and store it in the fridge. Just give it a good shake before tossing it with your favorite salad!

5 Days Ahead (or More!)

18. Little Mushroom Pinwheels by inpatskitchen

Our favorite part about these little mushroom pinwheels (aside from their supreme snackiness): you can stash 'em in the freezer until they're ready to bake.

19. (Freezable) Stuffing with Caramelized Onions & Kale by Alexandra Stafford

Recipe developer Alexandra Stafford recommends freezing this simple, hearty stuffing before cooking it straight from the freezer.

20. Tuscan Onion Confit by Merrill Stubbs

This sweet-and-sour onion confit, perfect for a charcutererie spread or dolloping over slices of roast turkey, will last in the fridge for up to two weeks.

21. Cardamom Currant Snickerdoodles by fiveandspice

Classic snickerdoodles get a cardamom-infused update with a dash of the spice in the batter and the sugary coating. Chill the pre-scooped cookie dough balls in the fridge before tossing them in the freezer, where they'll last for up to three months. 

22. Cook's Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Crust by Genius Recipes

This foolproof pie crust has a secret ingredient that makes it more tender and flaky than all the rest—it doesn't hurt that you can make it ahead and freeze it, either.

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23. Apple Peel Bourbon by Marian Bull 

Instead of whipping up individual cocktails on the fly, make a few jars'-worth of apple peel-infused bourbon, which tastes great with little more than lime and a splash of ginger beer.

24. No-Churn Pumpkin Ice Cream by Emma Laperruque

Up the pumpkin ante this fall with this couldn't-be-easier no-churn pumpkin ice cream that'll keep in the freezer long after the holidays are over.

What's your Thanksgiving-prep plan of action? Give us the run-through (and any tips!) in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Misstee
  • Amy Kaufman
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  • Nancy Mock | Hungry Enough To Eat Six
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  • AntoniaJames
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Misstee November 4, 2019
Too much Kale TBH...
Amy K. November 4, 2019
Gorgeous collection!
Bevi November 3, 2019
I will make gougeres from the NYT recipe and freeze them. I love making Inpatskitchen mushroom pinwheels, as featured, freezing them also. I make the vodka pie crusts days in advance, as well as pumpkin puree and roasted pumpkin seeds. My applesauce has already been made, and frozen. The Susan Stamberg frozen cranberry relish will be made a few days before and frozen. I take as much of Antonia's advice as I possibly can. She's an expert on kitchen efficiency.
Nancy M. November 16, 2015
These dishes look amazing, especially that Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie!
AntoniaJames November 16, 2015
Dough for pie crusts and breakfast pastries were made (not baked) and frozen last month. Turkey stock was made last week (backs and aromatics roasted on Friday evening, simmered for three hours on Saturday). During the evenings this week I'll be putting together spice + sugar blends, making an herb blend I need for my brine, grating Parmigiano Reggiano, starting my mostarda, updating my game plan and shopping lists, toasting nuts, and polishing silver and copper. I'll also get all dinners through November 25 in order. Friday evening I'll make and refrigerate my brine, and make the salad dressing. Time in the kitchen will be quite limited this weekend due to some other family activities, so I have only a few prep activities planned.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I'll be somewhat busy, but I'm combining prep tasks and have everything laid out. Quick tasks I'll do before work on those three days. Dinner will be "fresh from the freezer" - homemade meals ready to be thawed and re-heated - to lighten the load a bit.

Michelin-starred Paul Virant in his fine "Preservation Kitchen" has the game plan and recipes for cooking the entire turkey ahead of time, breaking it down, roasting just the breast and braising the legs. The dark meat will go into "smothered gravy."

Food52 editors: take note. This should be on your project calendar for next summer, or whenever you'll be developing content for next Thanksgiving.

We take a challenging hike on Thanksgiving Day so I won't be in the kitchen until about 2 PM that day (and I'll be somewhat tired). Looking at my project plan, I will have done all but about 2 hours of active time work before Thursday morning.

On Thursday afternoon I'll finish making a pecan tart, warm up spiked mulled cider, heat the appetizer, put into the oven to bake a pre-assembled savory bread pudding, make the gravy, slice the turkey breast, complete a rice dish (all components made in advance), toss the salad, and express gratitude for an extraordinary mother who passed on to me all the skills necessary to make this happen so easily. ;o)
Lisaly November 21, 2015
What a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Amy K. November 4, 2019
Please share your menu? Is it the same every year?
Matt L. November 27, 2014
Contrary to popular belief mashed potatoes absolutely can be made ahead of time. In fact in michelin starred restaurant they have to be because they take too long to make otherwise. You simply don't add the milk/cream and reheat by adding to warmed milk/cream. You can do the same thing with olive oil mash - here's how to do it
Amy K. November 4, 2019
Thank you!!
Bebewatson November 26, 2014
Well according to "The Barefoot Contessa" cookbook author you can in fact make the turkey & mashed potatoes ahead of time...