Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
With these crowd-pleasing recipes you can prep in advance—plus a step-by-step timeline—your table will be deliciously composed this Thanksgiving. As will you. From turkey to gravy, to sweet potato pie you’ll hit all the right notes in this Thanksgiving meal. We’ve embedded tips and tricks in every recipe so you can start prepping your Thanksgiving dinner menu right now! First, make your shopping list. Make note of the non-perishables—flour, bourbon, nutmeg, graham crackers, etc.—and buy them now to lighten your load. Up to three days in advance you can make the cider glaze for the turkey, make the gravy base, and the Fig and Cranberry Compote (or the Jellied Cranberry Ginger Sauce, whichever you prefer). Two days before you can prep most of your vegetables and even assemble the stuffing and scalloped potatoes. On Thanksgiving morning you’ll bring the stuffing and potatoes to room temperature (you made them ahead, right?) and get the turkey in the oven. Before the final push you might want to pour yourself a splash of wine, or rehydrate with some seltzer with lemon: whatever it takes to settle your nerves before your guests arrive. But with this make-ahead menu, you should be in great shape. Now that’s something to be thankful for.
You can make the cider glaze up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate, covered until ready to roast. Peel and cut the vegetables up to 2 days in advance (they add great rich flavor to the drippings in the bottom of the roasting pan and shouldn’t be skipped). Place the veggies in a re-sealable plastic bag and stick them in the crisper. Remember, if you’ve purchased a frozen turkey you’ll need to give it at least 3 days to defrost, so plan accordingly. Then, as the turkey cooks, baste it with the flavorful glaze made from reduced apple cider, cider vinegar, and butter.
Get the recipe: Cider-Glazed Turkey
Use the drippings from the turkey to make this easy gravy, fortified with bourbon for an extra kick. To get a head start, prepare the gravy base up to three days in advance then refrigerate it, covered, in an airtight container. Alternatively, you can prepare the base up to one month ahead and freeze it. The best gravy is made with homemade stock. Ask your butcher for about 3 lbs of chicken wings and backs. Place them in a large stock pot with onions, celery and carrots and cover with water. Add some parsley stems, bay leaves, and about a tablespoon of black peppercorns and simmer for a couple of hours. It will make the house smell divine.
Get the recipe: Bourbon Gravy
Sausage and Apple Stuffing
Sweet Italian sausage mingles with chopped tart apples and sage in this lovely autumn dish but feel free to eliminate the meat for a vegetarian option. We use a cubed baguette for a toasted crouton feel, but you can play around with the base. Try using crumbled up cornbread or a loaf of cubed challah or brioche. You can cut the bread up to a week in advance, set it out to dry overnight, and place it in an airtight container. The day before the feast, prep the stuffing up to the point of baking. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate. On Thanksgiving morning, bring the stuffing to room temperature and bake as directed.
Get the recipe: Sausage and Apple Stuffing
The secret to this decadent classic is boiling the potatoes right in the milk and cream. The potatoes soak up all that richness so every bite is to die for. And it’s ideal for making ahead. Here’s how: Prepare the potatoes up to the point of baking (but do not bake) and refrigerate, covered, up to two days in advance. But, you can actually prep these up to a month in advance and place the dish, tightly wrapped in the freezer. On Thanksgiving day, thaw the potatoes (if you froze them) and bring to room temperature. Top with grated Gruyère or Cheddar and bake until bubbling and golden brown for a wonderfully creamy side dish.
Get the recipe: Scalloped Potatoes
Brown Sugar-Glazed Carrots With Rosemary and Pecans
Toasted pecans add a nice crunch to the tender carrots, flavored with fresh rosemary and cayenne pepper in this colorful side. Carrots are so sturdy you can buy them up to a week ahead of time and they’ll still have a great snap come Thanksgiving day. To prep ahead: toast the pecans up to two days in advance and keep, tightly covered, at room temperature. Peel and cut the carrots and combine with the butter, rosemary, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Pop in the refrigerator and keep covered. On Thanksgiving day, transfer the carrot mixture to a large saucepan, add the water and brown sugar (½ cup each) and proceed with the recipe.
Get the recipe: Brown Sugar-Glazed Carrots With Rosemary and Pecans
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts With Poppy Seeds
A dash of white wine vinegar and nutty poppy seeds perk up tender shredded Brussels sprouts.
Get the recipe: Sautéed Brussels Sprouts With Poppy Seeds
Jellied Cranberry-Ginger Sauce
If you’re a fan of the canned stuff, this cranberry jelly is a great choice. Freshly grated ginger adds a slightly spicy kick. Don’t be intimidated to use gelatin; once you get the hang of it, you’ll be making aspic in not time (just kidding, only if you want to). Use a mini bundt pan or other 2 cup measure with decorative sides as a mold, or you can just use a cereal bowl. You can make it up to 3 days ahead and keep in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to turn it out, dip the mold in a bowl of hot water, being careful it doesn’t seep over the edge, then turn out onto a pretty plate.
Get the recipe: Jellied Cranberry-Ginger Sauce
Get more cranberry sauce recipes.
Fig and Cranberry Compote
For those who prefer a heartier accompaniment, this cranberry moment incorporates whole berries, spicy cardamom, honey, and coarsely chopped dried figs. It’s as good on the plate as it is tucked inside a leftover turkey sandwich so we might suggest making a double batch so you have enough for those sammies. The mixture can be made up to three days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. The only trick is to bring the compote to room temperature before you serve it to soften the pectin in the cranberries. If you want to take it to the next level, drop a whole cinnamon stick into the mixture as it simmers.
Get the recipe: Fig and Cranberry Compote
No-Knead Onion Rolls
These slightly sweet rolls are buttery, fluffy, and totally irresistible. The recipe requires no-kneading so it’s a perfect place to start if you’re new to bread baking. Caramelized onions are folded in and sprinkled on top for layers of savory goodness. Bake them on Thanksgiving morning and they’ll perfume the whole house before the turkey even goes in the oven. But you can also bake them a day ahead. Let them cool completely and wrap tightly with plastic wrap (plastic, guys, not foil). The onions and butter in the dough keep these moist the next day but we like to pop them in the oven once the turkey comes out to warm them up just a little.
Get the recipe: No-Knead Onion Rolls
Get more homemade bread recipes.
Sweet Potato Pie With Candied Nut Cream
We love pumpkin pie as much as the next guy but sometimes we want to try something just a little different. Sweet potatoes offer all the same comforting flavor as pumpkin but they don’t contain as much liquid—that means they bake up slightly firmer than the squash and you’ll never risk a watery wobbly center. The pie can be made up to two days ahead. Refrigerate it, loosely covered, and bring to room temperature before serving. For the final touch, chopped nuts get folded into freshly whipped cream for a little crunch and an extra hint of sweetness on top off this decadent pie.
Get the recipe: Sweet Potato Pie With Candied Nut Cream
Get more Thanksgiving dessert recipes.