Ina Garten's Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Advice

November 13, 2014

Today: For a stress-free Thanksgiving, we're turning to Ina. 

Pulling off a Thanksgiving dinner without your guests seeing catching you still in your robe, maniacally stirring cranberry sauce with one hand while you stuff your bird with the other, is a level of kitchen preparedness that we all aspire to and only few achieve. The alternative to this disheveled scenario -- welcoming your guests fully dressed and groomed and surrounded by an aura of pleasant smells -- usually looks something like Ina Garten

Shop the Story


In her latest book, Make It Ahead, Ina has a whole slew of day- or week- or morning-before recipes to make us all look a little more put-together than we actually are. To get a head start on Thanksgiving preparedness, then, we turned to the queen of how easy is that? for some advice on making your turkey, gravy, and stuffing ahead -- without serving your guests sad, dry meat or gluey potatoes. 

Here are all the things you can make ahead of time -- and still make well -- in Ina's words:

People think you can’t make mashed potatoes ahead, but you can: Just put your already-mashed potatoes in a gratin dish, sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top, and bake it. You can also keep them warm in a pan set over simmering water if you want to make them in the morning and serve them in the afternoon.


Any kind of gratin, really, you can make ahead and just reheat in the oven.

More: Some of our favorite things to gratin are chard, oniony potatoes, and cheese-laden root vegetables.


Don’t stuff your turkey -- make the stuffing on the side. I like to make bread puddings -- there’s a leek and artichoke bread pudding in Make It Ahead -- so you can make the whole thing in advance and then just throw it in the oven.

More: Here are 3 beautiful ways to set the holiday table.

You can make a turkey ahead. Roast the turkey before people arrive, then carve it. On a big oven-proof platter, I lay a layer of gravy -- I have a make-ahead turkey gravy with onions and sage that I like to make -- then layer on the sliced turkey, then bake it. Roasting turkey ahead and reheating it just dries it out, but the gravy flavors it, keeps it moist, and keeps it hot.

Make your gravy ahead of time, then when you roast your turkey, add in the pan drippings at the last minute.


Make your pie crust ahead! I make the crusts, roll them out, and put them between sheets of parchment paper or wax paper, and refrigerate them. The other nice thing about pie is that you can make it earlier in the day and then serve it later.

As far as drinks go, what I like to do is have a bar set up so that people can help themselves, but I’ll have a big pitcher of a cocktail -- like cranberry martinis.


And some last-minute Thanksgiving advice:
Keep it simple. You don’t have to make 20 different vegetables and side dishes. My friends will have just as much fun if I don’t make 100 different things. And ask people to bring something!

Photos by James Ransom

52 Days of Thanksgiving
Check It Out
52 Days of Thanksgiving

Top-notch recipes, expert tips, and all the tools to pull off the year’s most memorable feast.

Check It Out

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • CarlaCooks
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



AntoniaJames October 28, 2022
What a great tip, to bake ginger cookies, prepped so all ready just to pop in the oven, while clearing the table. Warm cookies? Served with vin santo? Yes, please!!
CarlaCooks November 14, 2014
Great tips, thanks! Mashed potatoes can also be kept warm and ready to serve in a crock pot. Just splash some liquid (cream, milk, or stock) in the bottom, put your mashed potatoes in, and put a pat of butter on top. Mix in the liquid and butter right before serving.