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Thanksgiving Make-Ahead Tips

Work in baby steps in the days and weeks ahead of the meal, and you'll be cool and calm on Thanksgiving day.

The tricky part of Thanksgiving isn’t so much cooking the recipes themselves; it’s timing everything to be ready at the same time. That’s why prepping and cooking ahead of time will help–instead of coordinating full recipes, you only have to juggle the finishing touches (or final cooking) of each dish. How much you can do ahead depends on which recipes you choose, but there are a few universal make-ahead principles for the traditional Thanksgiving meal:

A month or more ahead:

  • Pie dough can be made, shaped into disks, and refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen for up to a month. You can also form the crust and freeze it for up to two weeks. If you’re blind-baking your crust, you can do it one day before filling and baking your pie.
  • If you’re serving a fruit crisp for dessert, make the crumb topping up to two months ahead of time, and store in the freezer in a zip-top bag. Use the topping straight from the freezer, or let it come to room temperature, as directed in your recipe.
  • If you’re adding flavor to your turkey by rubbing a flavored butter under the skin, you can make that butter up to 1 week ahead and refrigerate it, or freeze it for up to 2 months (but give it plenty of time to thaw in the fridge). 

A week to two days ahead:

  • Most cranberry sauces can be made up to a week ahead of time and refrigerated in a covered container.
  • Make your own bread cubes for stuffing by cutting up a loaf of bread up to five days before Thanksgiving, and letting it air-dry overnight on sheet trays. Once the bread cubes are dry, store them in a zip-top bag.
  • As soon as you get your turkey home, make a broth from the giblets  to use as the base of your gravy.
  • If a recipe calls for fresh or toasted breadcrumbs, they can be made and toasted up to one day in advance.
  • If your recipes call for toasted nuts, they can be toasted up to two days ahead and kept at room temperature in an airtight container. 

One day ahead:

  • Most vinaigrettes can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated in a covered container.
  • You can assemble your stuffing the night before Thanksgiving, but don’t any eggs, broth, or melted butter until just before you put the stuffing in the oven.
  • Many vegetables can be cut up the night before. For instance, cut broccoli or cauliflower into florets, peel and cut up carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and sweet potatoes, trim Brussels sprouts and green beans. Store the vegetables in the refrigerator in zip-top bags. Exception: don’t peel and cut potatoes until just before you’re ready to cook them, or they’ll discolor.
  • While putting together your timeline, remember to leave time for the turkey to rest for about 30 minutes post-roasting. This gives you time to make your gravy and finish up any side dishes that require last-minute touches.
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