The Thanksgiving Dishes You Should Always Make Ahead—and What You Should Never

Respect your mashed potatoes and make them day of.

Thanksgiving drinks survey
Photo: Maren Caruso/Getty Images

With Thanksgiving approaching, it's time to devise a cooking game plan. We chatted with chefs from around the country about their time-saving Thanksgiving strategies, asking them to advise on which dishes we should definitely make in advance and which dishes we should always make day of.

Dishes You Should *Definitely* Make in Advance

Stuffing

"We always make my mom's sweet potato stuffing ahead of time. This can be made a week ahead and frozen, and the flavor still holds up, allowing you to save a ton of time day-of." - Leah Morrow, executive pastry chef at the Brooklyn Bread Lab

"The flavor of stuffing is absolutely 100% better made ahead of time." - Ed McFarland, chef and owner of Ed's Lobster Bar

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"Stuffing, definitely, so the flavors can all come together. But make sure to bake it the day of." - Carmine Di Giovanni, American restaurateur and chief operating officer of David Burke Hospitality Management

"Cornbread dressing. It takes half a day to make the cornbread just right, and then you let the mixed dressing sit overnight before you bake it. This helps all of the flavors come together." - Sarah Gavigan, chef and author of Ramen Otaku: Mastering Ramen at Home

"I would always say to make the stuffing ahead of time because it can be so time consuming. We make ours like a casserole. Make sure to cool it properly, pour into a 3 to 4-inch pan, then top it with delicious extras like a bacon gremolata with lemon zest, and some browned breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese. Everyone says that stuffing texture all tastes the same, so if you make it ahead of time and bake the day of, it's like a delicious lasagna and nice and crispy on top." - Tory McPhail, executive chef and culinary director of Revelry

Casseroles

"Pretty much anything with 'casserole' in the name is built for being made in advance." - Molly Martin, owner and culinary director at Juniper Green Culinary Events

"Casseroles (classics like green bean or broccoli-cheddar) are great to make the day ahead. They reheat well, and I feel like they actually benefit from being made a day ahead, to give the flavors time to marinate." - Tony Galzin, chef and owner of Nicky's Coal Fired

"Make green bean casserole ahead of time and place in the fridge; the green beans get to marinate in the cream of mushrooms and the dish becomes more flavorful. You can also say the same about creamed onions. You can make this up up to two days ahead of time. Then on Thanksgiving, cover with crispy onions and bake." - Dave Anoia, chef and owner of DiAnoia's Eatery

“If the green bean casserole is good, then Thanksgiving dinner will be great! A big mistake people make is using canned green beans. You can use canned mushrooms and store-bought fried onion or shallot, but the green beans should be fresh, and baked just long enough to be cooked through. Assemble the green bean casserole the day before and bake for 25 minutes just prior to serving” - Alex Pitts, chef of Bar Mar & Bazaar Meat by José Andrés

Mise en Place

"Think like a restaurant chef. We have to prep everything ahead. That means making and freezing stocks to use for several weeks. Prep everything — mince onions and portion hearty veggies ahead so you’re doing minimal work when everyone arrives." - Caroline Schiff, executive pastry chef at Gage & Tollner

"Any vegetables that you have to cut, even mirepoix, do on Monday. Example: if you're making a cauliflower purée, cut the cauliflower into manageable sized pieces, ready for boiling or roasting. Same with delicata squash; cut it to be ready for roasting. Cut all the mirepoix for the stuffing and gravy. If you're doing string beans, trim them. Also make all of your pie crusts and cranberry sauce ahead of time." - Laurence Edelman, chef and owner of Left Bank

"Tuesday, prep all your veggies. Get everything cut so on Wednesday you are just assembling and cooking. It will allow you to focus more on what you have at hand if you are managing tasks that are all of the same nature." - Thomas Tuggle, chef of  1799 Kitchen & Cocktails at The Harpeth

"The mirepoix (celery, onions, and carrots) for stuffing can be made a day or two before the big day. Another trick of the trade is to blanch vegetables (green beans, brussels sprouts, etc.) and shock them in ice water. This will help insure they do not take up a whole lot of time on Turkey Day." - Jeff Axline, culinary director at Perry Lane Hotel

Gravy

"Definitely make gravy ahead of time! I buy turkey backs and necks from the grocery store or butcher shop and roast them in the oven to make delicious turkey stock, and then I turn it into gravy well ahead of time. There is nothing worse than when you pull the turkey from the oven having to scramble around to get everything ready and make gravy on top of it. I will, however, cook up the gizzards the day of and add those to the gravy." - Katie Button, CEO and co-founder of Katie Button Restaurants

"Marinades, sauces, brines, etc. can all be made up to four to five days ahead and usually don't lose any quality. In many cases, flavors deepen and improve as they marry." - Molly Martin

"Making the gravy a day or two before the holiday allows all the flavors to settle and have a chance to pack a flavor punch." - Greg Biggers, executive chef at Margeaux Brasserie and Petit Margeaux

Most Desserts

"You should also plan on making any dessert items at least one day before. Plan to make cakes, pies, and cookies that will hold up for a couple of days. This will relieve a lot of stress on the big day as well as keep your oven available for the turkey, rolls, and casseroles." - Jacqueline Blanchard, owner of Coutelier

"Prepare pies fully up to two days in advance.  Allow to cool to room temperature and store in airtight container." - D'Andre Carter, chef of Soul & Smoke

Turkey and Chicken Stock

"Make it beforehand so it flavors every single thing you cook." - Linton Hopkins, chef and co-owner Holeman & Finch, H&F Burger, C. Ellet's, Restaurant Eugene + Hop's Chicken

Brussels Sprouts

"Brussels sprouts are worth making ahead. I blanch them in salted water, sauté them with onions and bacon, then set them aside afterwards which allows them to absorb those delicious flavors. When it is time to eat, I give them a final sauté with a little gravy to add complexity of flavor and velvety texture." - Nicolas Houlbert, executive chef at Bluebird London

Thanksgiving drinks survey
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What You Should Cook on Thanksgiving Day

Rolls

"Rolls or other breads are not suited to be made ahead of time because they don't take to cooling and reheating as well." - Michael Brannock, executive chef at PDQ


"You can make the dough ahead of time but for very best results, bake bread the day of." - D'Andre Carter, chef of Soul & Smoke

Anything with fresh greens

"Things with fresh greens that will wilt and should never be made ahead." - Dianna Daoheung, executive chef of Black Seed Bagels

Cornbread

"For me, cast-iron skillet corn bread is a must for Thanksgiving, and nothing is better than cornbread straight out of the oven with honey butter on it. Cornbread is one of those dishes I would never make ahead of time. It loses its nice crunchy crust and hot moist interior if cooked ahead of time." - Greg Biggers

The Turkey (Or Any Other Proteins)

"Never make your turkey ahead of time! Reheating it can make it dried and it is the star of the show, so it has to be great." -Leah Morrow

"Sides are the supporting cast and should always be made ahead of time... roast your sweet potatoes, cut all of your veg for the stuffing...the day-of is for the turkey." - Joe Flamm, Top Chef Winner and chef of Rose Mary

"When left sitting out or under refrigeration for a substantial amount of time, it can yield a very unappetizing texture." - Rick Bender, mobilization chef at Restaurant Associates at Google

"Things I wouldn't do ahead of time are proteins. I want to arrange my prep list so that the turkey is finishing its rest and I am pulling drippings out of the pan to make giblet gravy just as the other side dishes are hitting the table." - Michael Wilson, freelance chef and food consultant

"Proteins need to be made day of; they tend to dry out quickly and reheat with poor results." - Tony Galzin

Mashed Potatoes

"Mashed potatoes are a definite no-go on prepping ahead. They tend to get 'gluey' when reheated, and that's not good for anyone." - Jake Strang, area director of culinary operations at The Westin Nashville/Bobby Hotel

"You should probably never make mashed potatoes ahead of time. They should be made at the moment, day-of, whipped just before everybody sits down to the meal." - Patrick Phelan, co-owner and executive chef of Longoven

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