Thanksgiving Countdown: A 4-Day Plan for Stress-Free Holiday Prep

November 20, 2011

Let's face it: Thanksgiving is a lot of work. Between the stuffings and the sides, and the gravies, and the pies, the fourth Thursday in November is hardly a day off. The holiday is one of our favorites, but by the time the turkey is on the table, we're usually just thankful to be done.

This year we're doing it differently. Instead of knocking ourselves out on Thursday, we're going to prepare the meal in advance. We'll do the cranberry sauce on Monday and pop some cornbread in the freezer, Tuesday we'll make soup, and on Wednesday we'll prep the sides. Thursday all we'll have to do is put the turkey in the oven and throw together a simple salad -- and then we'll sit down, with family and friends, and give our thanks for that.


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Make this brandy-spiked cranberry sauce and let it mellow until Thursday.

Cranberry Sauce

Get the recipe: Pear, Brandy and Walnut Cranberry Sauce.



Bake a loaf of cornbread and pop it in the freezer. 


Get the recipe: Double-Corn Cornbread with Fresh Thyme.



Dry- (yes, dry-) brine the turkey.


Get the recipe: Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey.



Make this simple carrot soup and stick it in the fridge.

Carrot Soup

Get the recipe.



Poach some pears for a light dessert -- someone always brings a pie.


Get the recipe: Ginger Pears with Honey-Vanilla Custard.



Prep a mash or two for the table and set aside some butter and cream.

Parsnip Mash

Get the recipe: Parsnip and Potato Mash.



Make this savory challah stuffing (you can warm it up tomorrow).


Get the recipe: Challah, Mushroom, and Celery Stuffing.



Braise some fennel and potatoes -- don't overcook them and they'll reheat well.

Potatoes and Fennel

Get the recipe: Crispy Cream-Braised Potatoes and Fennel.



Prep some squash for a hearty side -- it can go in the oven tomorrow with the turkey.

Butternut Squash

Get the recipe: Caramelized Butternut Squash Wedges with Sage Hazelnut Pesto.



Put the turkey in the oven.


Get the recipe: Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey.



Make some gravy, if you like, or a simple herb-flecked butter.


Get the recipe: Cider-Sage Gravy.



Throw together a salad as your guests sit down to dinner -- and then join them at the table for a delicious Thanksgiving meal.

Kale Salad

Get the recipe: Kale Salad with Apples and Hazelnuts.

Hotline App

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • garlic&lemon
  • hellodeer
  • creamtea
  • cgilsbach
  • EmilyC

Written by: hadleysage

Cook, writer, Food52 contributor.


garlic&lemon November 22, 2011
I also have followed a similar plan for years. I love my guests and want to spend time with them on Thursday. If I do more than gravy and traffic control (my husband does the bird) on Thursday, I am too frazzled to enjoy the wonderful conversation. The stock, cornbread, and home-made jellied cranberry sauce are made. Sweet potatoes, dressing, & pecan pie tomorrow. Veggie sides,mashed potatoes, salads, and other pies are assigned out. I even enlist set-up, drink master, and clean-up from the guests. No stress, all fun!
hellodeer November 22, 2011
I just finished the cranberry sauce (delicious) & cornbread. I used coarse cornmeal & it's still gritty in the bread- will the grits soften by Thursday??
hellodeer November 22, 2011
I just finished the cranberry sauce (delicious) & cornbread. I used coarse cornmeal & it's still gritty in the bread- will the grits soften by Thursday??
creamtea November 21, 2011
Cranberries done, mushroom soup almost done (not liking the dry mushrooms I bought--they're soaking now). I'm cubing the ciabatta & defrosting some chicken broth today. tomorrow or Wednesday I'll mix the pumpkin pie filling to sit in fridge. I think last year all I had to do on the big day was the bird; much more relaxed that way.
cgilsbach November 21, 2011
I have always done EVERYTHING on the big day. This year, well, I'll be brining my turkey and making cranberries today. And I'll continue the prep all week. Thanks for the wonderful suggestions!
EmilyC November 21, 2011
Great and very useful post! My Judy Bird is relaxing in the fridge with a salt-rosemary-orange zest rub...this route is SO much simpler than a wet brine...and I made chicken stock last night in my pressure cooker to use for dressing and other sides. Now on to sides and dessert!
aargersi November 21, 2011
I have my cornbread in the oven and my stock (from roasted wings) simmering - sorta following the path y'all laid out! I also have my indentured servants (aka nieces) here Thursday for the final flurry of stuff but am laid out day by day and ready to roll - I have a spreadsheet. I am a dork.
AntoniaJames November 21, 2011
Great, great post! Always thought mashed potatoes had to be made on The Big Day. Very glad to learn otherwise. Thank you! ;o)
Kitchen B. November 21, 2011
Good prep..and planning is ALl the work. I do this at christmas....This year Thanksgiving is in Nigeria, spiced pumpkin churros may have to suffice in celebration and thanks (made ahead days before and frozen).
thirschfeld November 21, 2011
I can't imagine trying to do it all on Thursday. This is pretty much how I have done things for years cause there is nothing worse then being the hired help at your own party. Oh, BTW, this is an amazing looking menu.
Kitchen B. November 21, 2011
Thirsch (can I abbreviate please).....being the 'hired help'. Literary and culinary genius ma brother. Well said.