Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

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Traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Top view table scene on a dark wood banner background. Turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, pumpkin pie and sides.
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Get a Jump on Your Holiday Cooking with Side Dishes, Gravy, Appetizers, and More!

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

Think of the night before Thanksgiving as the cooking day and the day of Thanksgiving for the turkey and a couple of 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 needs 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 come together. Make the day before,  tightly wrap it in plastic, and reheat on the day.  See our do-ahead stuffing recipe.

make ahead stuffing/dressing in a casserole dish
Our do-ahead stuffing recipe.
Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

2. Gravy

Many experienced 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.

Turkey Gravy
Photo Credit: Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

3. Pies and Desserts

Almost all pies taste better once they are thoroughly cooked 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 undoubtedly true of pumpkin pie and pecan pie, which can last several days. Fruit pies such as apple pie can be made the day before to avoid a 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 it in the freezer; the night before Thanksgiving, defrost it and drop in the filling to bake it 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.

pumpkin satin cheesecake with whipped cream dollops
Pumpkin Satin Cheesecake

We also love this refrigerated Cranberry Dream Pie

a slice of cranberry dream pie on a white plate being cut by a fork
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.


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 cranberry sauce, it can drastically chance the texture.)

cranberry sauce in a white ceramic pitcher
Cranberry Sauce 
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.

Green Bean Casserole
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!

Sweet Potato Soufflé
Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

6. Soups

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

Vermont Butternut Squash Soup in a white pumpkin coquette
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.

holiday cheese ball on a white plate surrounded by crackers
Cheese Ball

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!

spiced nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans) in a white dish
Spiced Nuts 
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 up the vegetables, but do not dress the salad until right before the meal.
  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.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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