Home Ec: Thanksgiving Basics--Working ahead

Planning and prepping ahead--and thinking like a professional cook--is the key to getting the entire Thanksgiving meal on the table at the same time without committing either seppuku or homicide.

photo source: the amazing andrea gentl of

hungry ghost food + travel

The trick is to spread out tasks that take lots of time, lots of oven space, lots of stove space, or make big messes so that you aren't out of space at the last minute.  So choosing dishes that reheat well, or that taste good served at room temperature, is crucial to making Thursday go smoothly.  

Here are a few ways you can work ahead for next week:

Before Tuesday:

  • Make pie dough and freeze
  • If using a frozen turkey, defrost so you can season or brine it on Tuesday
  • Make turkey or chicken stock and freeze for gravy


  • Season or brine turkey
  • Buy bread to use for stuffing, or make cornbread for stuffing


  • Make cranberry sauce
  • Wash herbs, greens and lettuces
  • Roast pumpkin for pie if using fresh squash
  • Measure out ingredients for pecan pie filling, pumpkin pie filling, etc.
  • Tear croutons for stuffing and dry out in oven
  • Clean green beans
  • Make soup, if planning to serve
  • Peel potatoes and keep whole in water
  • Peel onions and carrots that you might use in any dishes, such as creamed corn, creamed spinach, stuffing, etc.
  • Make any caramel sauces or things like that that you might need to garnish desserts
  • If you're insane enough to want to make homemade ice cream, get it in the freezer by tonight.
  • If you are using fresh chestnuts, get them boiled and peeled.


Early morning

  • Pull turkey out of fridge to come up to room temp
  • Blind bake pie doughs
  • Brown sausage or bacon for stuffing
  • Prep vegetables--trim and halve Brussels sprouts, peel squash, peel any root vegetables, clean and trim cauliflower or broccoli, etc.
  • Roast vegetables that might need roasting--these do well at room temperature!
  • Cook off onions or any mirepoix
  • Make creamed spinach--this reheats well.
  • Do anything like seeding pomegranates, peeling persimmons, toasting nuts, or making vinaigrette that might be necessary for the salad

Heading into the afternoon and dinner time

  • Roast the turkey
  • Make the gravy with turkey drippings
  • Bake off pies
  • Make mashed potatoes and keep warm in double boiler
  • Assemble and bake stuffing/dressing

Right before dinner

  • Reheat dishes that need to be reheated, like soups, creamed spinach, or gravy
  • Toss the salad greens
  • Carve the turkey

Before dessert

  • Whip cream
  • Portion pies