Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes: Side Dishes, Gravy, Appetizers, and More! | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

Primary Image
Photo Credit
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
No content available.

Side Dishes, Gravy, Appetizers, and More!

Catherine Boeckmann
Print Friendly and PDF

What can you make ahead for Thanksgiving dinner? Here are 5 dishes that we would absolutely prepare the day before (or earlier!)—plus a few foods which we would save for the “day of.” Why? Not only will you have a more enjoyable holiday, but many Thanksgiving dishes actually taste better when the flavors have time to meld. 

Think of the day before Thanksgiving as the cooking day and the day of Thanksgiving for the turkey and a couple sides. (Frankly, if you have time, start even earlier! You don’t need to “back into” the Thanksgiving Day feast.)

Which dishes can be cooked ahead? Think side dishes, stuffing, gravy, casseroles, and pies. Which need to be cooked the day of? Think turkey! 

What to Do Ahead for Thanksgiving 

1. Stuffing

The flavor of stuffing is absolutely 100% better made ahead of time. It helps all the flavors meld together. Make the day before,  tightly wrap it in plastic, and reheat on the day.  See our do-ahead stuffing recipe.

Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

2. Gravy

Many cooks make their gravy in advance, often weeks ahead! The flavors deepen and improve as they meld. Our make-ahead Turkey Gravy is rich in flavor, thanks to two roasted turkey wings. Freeze—or this will last in the fridge a day or two without a problem.

Photo Credit: Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

3. Pies and Desserts

Almost all pies taste better once they fully cook and set, even if you plan to warm them up on the feast day. We guarantee your pies will be firmer, juicier, and less sloppy. This is certainly true of pumpkin pie and pecan pie which can last several days. Fruit pies such as apple pie can be made the day prior to avoid soggy crust. Whatever pie you make, you can always prepare the pie dough (which is the most time-intensive part) ahead of time and store in freezer; the night before Thanksgiving, just defrost it and drop in the filling to bake fresh.

Any cake should hold up well for a day or two. Cheesecakes and any dessert that is refrigerated are great choices. Our Pumpkin Satin Cheesecake will hold up nicely.

We also love this refrigerated Cranberry Dream Pie

Photo by Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

Puddings also do quite well when prepared in advance and kept in the fridge. Try our classic Indian Pudding.

Credit: Shutterstock

4. Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce can always be made a day or two in advance and stored in the refrigerator. (Don’t freeze.)

Credit: Anna Shepulova/shutterstock

5. Side Dishes

Any side dish that is a casserole actually benefits from being made a day ahead; the dish becomes more flavorful. This Green Bean Casserole is a classic and reheats nicely. On Thanksgiving, cover with crispy onions and bake.

Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

Another fan favorite is the Sweet Potato Soufflé. Some of us aren’t big marshmallow fans, but this is one of our most requested recipes—and Thanksgiving is for the guests!

Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

6. Soups

Soups are easy to prepare in advance. One of our favorites is this Vermont Butternut Squash Soup.

Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

7. Appetizers

While we wouldn’t go crazy with appetizers before the big Thanksgiving feast, do serve something simple with drinks before the meal begins. This holiday Cheese Ball is delicious and always a hit.

A bowl of high-quality mixed nuts are also a fine idea, assuming your guests aren’t allergic to nuts. Guests love these addictive Spiced Nuts and often ask for the recipe!

Credit: Anna Hoychuk/shutterstock

A Few That Should Not Be Made Ahead

Of course, some Thanksgiving recipes should never be made ahead of time. We’re looking at you, mashed potatoes! 

  1. The big bird should always be cooked on the big day. Turkey gets dried out and its texture becomes very unappealing. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for defrosting (and cooking)! If your turkey is frozen, it needs to be defrosted in a refrigerator. Allow one day of defrosting for every four pounds of turkey. See our tips on how to cook a turkey (and cooking times).
  2. Of course, any fresh greens or salads will wilt so make on the day itself. You can chop off the vegetables, but do not dress the salad.
  3. Some folks will make the mashed potatoes in advance and store in a plastic container. We’re not fans. You don’t want mashed potatoes to get “gluey.” In fact, we would not whip up those mashed potatoes until right before you serve.
  4. If you’re making bread rolls, we’d also leave for the day of the feast (especially cornbread!). There’s just nothing like warm, freshly-baked bread. Set your timer so you don’t forget the rolls! Try our wonderful Fall Harvest Squash Rolls.

Thanks For Reading!

Ready to consider the full Thanksgiving menu, including the turkey? Check out our classic Thanksgiving Feast Recipes.

2023 Almanac Club