The Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner Checklist

Spend more time planning, and you’ll spend less time panicking.

leaf and pumpkin on a checklist planner
Photo: Getty Images

3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving 

  • Choose your recipe lineup. Decide which recipes you want to make, keeping in mind that there's only so much one person―and one kitchen―can do. If you really do need 10 side dishes, look for recipes that use the same oven temperature, so they can cook at the same time.
  • Decide what can be prepped ahead. After narrowing down your menu, reread the recipes that remain to distinguish which (or which steps in each individual dish) you can prepare ahead of time. Then make a list of what you want to get done on each of the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The more time you go through the motions of what's required in your head, the more relaxed you'll be. You can use our worksheets to make things easier.

2 Weeks Before

  • Buy your turkey. Figure out what size turkey you need. We recommend buying a fresh turkey: It can be purchased and picked up closer to the holiday (call your supermarket to reserve one), relieving your refrigerator of the days required to defrost a bulky frozen bird. You can also shop for your turkey online.

The Weekend Before

  • Make a detailed shopping list. And check it―twice! But don't expect to get all your shopping done in one trip. Instead, divide your list into two parts: items you'll need in advance and items you'll need the final day or two before the meal. Planning a second trip not only keeps your refrigerator from groaning but also relieves you of having to remember every last stick of butter the first time around.
  • Grab the wine. When you go to the store, snag a few bottles of something to serve with the meal, too, to check it off the list.


  • Prepare all chilled menu items. Make and cover everything that will be served chilled (like cranberry sauce), place them in the refrigerator, and forget about them until serving time.


  • Pick up the turkey. If your turkey is not yet in your possession, this is the latest you want to pick it up.
  • Make your last grocery run. Take inventory before making a second trip to the store (Heavy cream? Tin foil?) and grab any last-minute things you may have forgotten. Tip: Don't fear store-bought gravy or other timesavers!
  • Prep veggies and herbs. Chop the onions and the celery, wash the herbs, and trim the rest of your vegetables. Pat them dry, cover, and refrigerate.
  • Assemble the stuffing. Then transfer to a baking dish, and refrigerate.
  • Prep dessert. Or assemble as much of it as you can—then refrigerate or bake it.
  • Start on sides. Get a head start on any side dishes that can be made completely or partly in advance.
  • Calculate your turkey's roasting time. Don't get hung up on questions of timing the day of. The night before, calculate exactly how long you need to cook your turkey so you'll know the exact time to put it in the oven based on what time you'd like to eat.

Thanksgiving Day

  • Make any last dashes to the store. If, like most people, you think of one last thing you need from the store on the big morning, call a trusted guest and ask if he or she could do you a favor. Then send them to one of the stores always open on Thanksgiving.
  • Prep the turkey for roasting. Clean and prep your turkey before popping it in the oven.
  • Make the sides. While the turkey roasts, cook the side dishes.
  • Make the gravy. While the turkey rests, make the gravy, assemble any last-minute sides, and rewarm the ones you made the day before.
  • Prep dessert. Rewarm the dessert in the oven during dinner.
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