Thanksgiving is 3 days away! If you want to avoid a 4 a.m. wake-up call alongside your turkey, dressing and sweet potato cupcakes, a little planning and preparation can go a long way. We’ve got the digital equivalent of the string-around-the-finger — here’s what you can and should do ahead of time to make Turkey Day a breeze.
In the Kitchen
Three Words: Thaw. The. Turkey. It’s just not the same to plop a rock-hard turkey on the holiday table — if you’re turkey is frozen, start thawing it now. Thaw it in the fridge, not on the counter, not in the microwave — if it spends longer than 2 hours at room temperature, bacteria can start to take over your bird. It takes about a day for every 5 pounds of your bird. Not enough room in the fridge? Fill a cooler with ice and thaw it there.
Turkey-Day Timeline. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a double-oven kitchen, planning the menu so everything gets its time in the oven can take some maneuvering. Pick dishes that taste great hot or at room temperature, or choose things that can cook or reheat while the turkey rests. (Get ideas from our Thanksgiving recipe collection.)
Recipe Read-Through. Whether you’re tossing the Thanksgiving script this year or sticking to family classics, the last thing you want to see on Turkey Day is a surprise 3-hour cook time…30 minutes before dinnertime. Plus, who wants to explain to Great Aunt Thelma why the sausage stuffing didn’t make it to the table? Know thy recipes, and know them well.
Get Started Now. Don’t wait till Thanksgiving morning to get started — cook what you can now to save oven space and, oh yeah, your sanity. Here’s what you can make ahead of time:
- Cranberry sauce. Make your favorite version up to a week ahead and store in the fridge.
- Giblet stock. Pull that pack of giblets out of the turkey and turn them into stock. Simmer with onion, carrots, celery and herbs like rosemary and thyme.
- Pies and crust. Make pie crust, roll and press into a pie shell, then store in the freezer till ready to use. No need to thaw before using — just add a few minutes to the cook time. Make pumpkin pie up to 3 days ahead, and fruit pies a day ahead.
- Cheesecakes. You can make and freeze cheesecakes up to three months ahead — try this sweet-potato one today.
- Cocktail prep. If you’re serving a cocktail, make a batch of simple syrup or even the whole drink and chill until the big day.
- Vegetable prep. Wash salad greens and trim green beans the day before your feast.
- Cornbread for stuffing. Make cornbread up to 2 days before you make your stuffing, but at least 1 day before so it has time to dry out.
- Assemble casseroles, like green bean and sweet potato, and store in the fridge. You can also make stuffing a day ahead.
At the Store
Sure, the great pumpkin shortage of 2009 is over, but you should still stock up ahead of time to avoid Thanksgiving grocery store mayhem. Check off your grocery list ASAP, and also fill your cart with these all-purpose ingredients that can help out in a holiday crisis:
- Chicken and vegetable stock. Even if you have your own stock on hand, pick up some extra just in case: you can use it to make gravy, keep the turkey moist, revive dried-out stuffing and more.
- Heavy cream. Hey, it’s a holiday, after all. Use it to add richness to mashed potatoes, vegetable purees or soups, or make whipped cream to accompany (or cover up) the dessert course.
- Puff pastry. This ingredient is perfect for putting together a last-minute appetizer: Try brie en croute, savory palmiers or cheese crisps.
- A back-up vegetable. If your dog scarfs the mashed potatoes or you burn the sweet potato casserole, it’s great to have a back-up that can be ready in minutes, like trimmed green beans or baby carrots.
How do you plan ahead for Thanksgiving?
Still planning? Get last-minute ideas, from starters to sweets, at our Thanksgiving Headquarters.