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9 Tips for a Prep-Ahead Thanksgiving

Prep-Ahead Thanksgiving

How to Prep-Ahead Thanksgiving and Keep Your Cool in the Kitchen

Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible to prep-ahead a majority of Thanksgiving’s big menu items before the big feast. This will give you some breathing room on the big day – maybe you’ll even have time to watch a little football too!

Prep-Ahead Thanksgiving: Dish-by-Dish

Pulling off a feast with the scope and magnitude of Thanksgiving can be overwhelming – so many dishes, so little time (and oven space). But there are several ways to streamline the process and keep the oven and stove free for the turkey and last-minute items. Here’s how to break down the menu into manageable pieces and get much of the cooking done ahead of time.

Turkey

While prep-ahead roast turkey isn’t recommended, there are a few things you can do to beat the rush of Thanksgiving Day. First, make sure your bird is thawed completely if frozen – refer to our guide on thawing times. Second, prepare brines, spice rubs, basting solutions and herb butters that may be used during roasting. Depending on the size of the turkey, begin brining up to 24 hours before roasting.

How much turkey should you buy? If you want leftovers, plan on 1½ lbs. per person; 2 lbs. per person if you want to freeze some for casseroles or soups later.

Mashed Potatoes

Potatoes are easy to prepare a day in advance and can help streamline last-minute dinner preparations. The day before Thanksgiving, make the recipe as directed, mash and refrigerate in an ovenproof casserole dish. Reheat in a 350°F. oven, covered, until heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t forget you can slow cook mashed potatoes too! Simply prep the potatoes the night before Thanksgiving, place them in the slow cooker insert, cover with Swanson® Chicken broth and store in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

Gravy

If you prep-ahead just 1 item on your Thanksgiving menu, make it gravy. The time it saves is tremendous and its flavor seems to just get better. You can make the gravy up to 3 weeks in advance.

Before serving, add a splash of cider vinegar to the gravy to balance flavors.

Stuffing

Our savory stuffing can also be prepared before the big day. Just bake as directed and cool completely before wrapping in a layer of plastic and foil and freezing. The day before Thanksgiving, pull the stuffing out of the freezer and thaw in the fridge, then reheat once the turkey is out of the oven and resting.

Like potatoes, you can also make slow cooker stuffing to save oven space. Prep ingredients like onions and celery the day before and refrigerate in plastic bags, then assemble with the remaining stuffing ingredients and cook as directed on Thanksgiving morning.

Green Bean Casserole

You can assemble green bean casserole 1 day ahead of time. Put together a DIY “kit” by prepping the green bean mixture and storing in a resealable plastic bag or container (saves some room in the fridge!). Keep the onion topping in a separate bag and store inside the base bag. On Thanksgiving, transfer everything to a casserole dish and bake as directed.

Sweet Potatoes

Prep-ahead sweet potato casserole by assembling everything up to 2 days in advance and storing in a resealable plastic bag or plastic container. Prep any toppings and keep separate. On Thanksgiving, transfer the mixture to a casserole dish, top and bake as directed.

Cranberry Sauce

This is a great dish to prepare ahead because it keeps so well in the refrigerator or freezer. Make it up to a month before Thanksgiving and freeze in containers. Thaw the sauce in the fridge a couple of days before dinner.

For the best flavor, bring cranberry sauce to room temperature before serving.

Soup

Here’s another item to cross off your Thanksgiving to-do list early. Prepare soups as directed, cool completely, package in storage containers and freeze. Make nut toppings, croutons, drizzles, etc., 1 or 2 days before Thanksgiving so they’re ready to go when you are.

Vegetable Sides

Most vegetable side dishes are best made the day-of, but there are elements to some side dishes that are easy to prep-ahead. Cut hard vegetables like carrots, onions, Brussels sprouts and parsnips 1 or 2 days in advance and store in plastic bags in the fridge. Prep fresh green beans and salad greens 1 or 2 days ahead too. If the side dish has a topping, like bread crumbs or nuts, prepare them and store in plastic bags.

Don’t cut potatoes ahead of time: they turn brown when exposed to air.

Pies, Desserts & Baked Goods

Pumpkin or sweet potato pie can be baked, cooled, wrapped well and frozen up to 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. Just thaw at room temperature the morning of the feast. Other baked desserts, like apple strudel, can also be baked, cooled and frozen. Thaw overnight and warm in a 350°F. oven to crisp the crust. Bread and rolls are perfect for baking ahead as well. Cool, wrap well in plastic and foil, then thaw at room temperature on Thanksgiving day. Warm in the oven 5 or 10 minutes before serving.