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Your Complete Thanksgiving Dinner Prep Schedule

November 10th, 2021

If cooking Thanksgiving dinner typically feels like a mad dash to the finish line, consider making this the year you  take control of your cooking schedule. Preparing a meal as large as a Thanksgiving feast is about working smarter, not harder, and all it takes is some forward thinking to get the whole feast under control—and maybe even give you the chance to enjoy a glass of wine while you work. 

Instead of spending the day of Thanksgiving doing all your thawing, chopping, roasting, mashing, and baking, we’ve got some strategic tips for mapping out your Thanksgiving prep the day of (and even the day before) the big meal. 

Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule

A few days before: 

Start thawing your turkey (if it’s on the larger side). Turkeys weighing more than a few pounds may take multiple days to thaw completely (and it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to preparing meat!) The USDA recommends thawing a turkey for one day for every 4-5 pounds of meat, so for a 20-pound turkey, you’ll want to start thawing it in the fridge at least four days before the meal.   


One day before:

Cut bread for stuffing. If you’re making your own Thanksgiving stuffing, cut the bread into small pieces the day before Thanksgiving and leave it out in open air to allow the bread to get stale. (And for a truly unique and flavorful Thanksgiving stuffing recipes, try this one.) 

Make the casseroles. If you’re serving a green bean casserole or another Thanksgiving casserole, make it completely the day before so all you have to do is reheat it before the meal. Simply cover and store in the fridge for easy access the following day.  

Bake the pies. No one wants to try out a complicated Thanksgiving pie recipe while also juggling everything else the day of the meal, so get ahead by baking your pies the day before. A couple general rules:

  • Pumpkin pies and creamy, custard-based pies should be stored overnight in the refrigerator
  • Nut pies and fruit pies (like pecan, berry, or apple) are best when stored at room temperature

Make the cranberry sauce. Forgo the canned cranberry sauce (which is in short supply this year anyway) and make your own a day before, then store it overnight in a sealed container in the refrigerator.  

Make the gravy. If you’re making a simple Thanksgiving gravy without using the pan drippings, you can easily make it the day before and allow it to rest in the refrigerator.

Brine the turkey. Once the turkey is thawed (or partially thawed), you may want to brine it to add extra flavor and to ensure that it stays moist after cooking. (And for an extra- flavorful and foolproof brine, add our brand new Organic Turkey Brine Spice Blend.)


First time brining a turkey? Here are some pro tips:

  • To avoid making your turkey too salty after brining, make sure you choose a turkey that hasn’t been pre-salted
  • Thaw and brine the turkey at the same time to cut down on time and get a really flavorful bird
  • Pat the turkey dry with a clean cloth once you remove it from the brine to ensure that the skin becomes nice and crispy after cooking 

The day of Thanksgiving:

Early morning:

Assemble salads and other cold sides. Since Thanksgiving salads can sit in the refrigerator all day, it’s smart to assemble them in the morning—just be sure to hold on adding the dressing until just before the meal to keep the veggies crisp.   

Chop the potatoes and vegetables. Get ahead in the morning by chopping your potatoes for mashed potatoes and any veggies you’ll roast (we like this fancy broccolini and these roasted beets). 

Chill the wine. A celebratory meal deserves an extra-special bottle, so break out the natural and biodynamic wine. Pop any whites or other chillable wines into the fridge in the morning to make sure they’re cold come dinnertime. 


Afternoon:

Start cooking the turkey. How long to cook a turkey depends on the weight of the turkey you choose, so be sure to do your research and plan accordingly. Generally, you should cook your turkey for 13 to 15 minutes per pound of meat; once you think it’s done cooking, use a meat thermometer to make sure it’s around 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the breast. 

Boil potatoes. Since potatoes can take up to 20 minutes to boil, it may be wise to boil them ahead of time, then allow them to sit until you’re ready to mash. 

Roast vegetables. If you already chopped your veggies, now it’s time to get them into the oven to roast in time for dinner. 

Make the stuffing. Similarly, your stuffing ingredients should be ready to go from the day before; now’s the time to throw them together, incorporate your favorite stuffing additions (we like pear and caramelized onions), then get it in the oven. 

Thaw cranberry sauce. If you’re not making your own Thanksgiving cranberry sauce recipe (or if you made your own the day before and want to serve it at room temperature), now is the time to place it on the counter to thaw a bit before the meal. 


Right before dinner:

Mash the potatoes. Just before the meal, take your boiled potatoes from the pot and mash them with cream, butter, and any other mashed potato ingredients. (Try these pumpkin-swirled mashed potatoes for a uniquely tasty mashup—pun intended!—of two favorite Thanksgiving dishes.) 

Warm the rolls and bread in the oven. Warm any breads on low in the oven to avoid drying them out. If you’re short on space, the stovetop is a great place to thaw frozen dinner rolls

Heat the gravy, casseroles, and sides.  With some smart prep work, your sides and casseroles should already be chilling in the refrigerator. Now’s the time to pop them into the oven to warm up before the meal, and while you’re at it, you can heat the gravy in a saucepan (or the microwave, if you’re short on stovetop space). 

Bake your pies (if you’re using frozen). There’s no shame in pre-made frozen pies—just don’t forget to pop them in the oven before dessert. Many frozen pies can take up to an hour to bake, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Carve the turkey. And just before the meal, the pièce de résistance: it’s time to carve that turkey! 


Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes 

The day after the big meal, try out these favorite leftover turkey recipes and other Thanksgiving leftover recipes from the Thrive Market blog. 

Leftover Cranberry Sauce Three Ways

How to Make Homemade Bone Broth from Thanksgiving Turkey Leftovers

How to Transform Thanksgiving Leftovers Into Meals for Days 

Got Thanksgiving Leftovers? Make These Kid-Friendly Muffin Cups

Paleo Leftover Thanksgiving Sandwich Recipe


Stock Up in One Click with Thrive Market Thanksgiving Shopping Lists 

Looking to make Thanksgiving shopping even easier this year? Try Thrive Market’s new shopping lists, which include curated collections of Thanksgiving essentials for all types of dinner guests. 

Vegan Holiday Dinner Shopping List

Seasonal Shopping Lists 

Gluten-Free Shopping Lists

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Amy RobertsAmy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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