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A Mostly Make-Ahead Thanksgiving

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Spread out the work over a week or more, and you'll be cool and collected on Thanksgiving day.

Some Thanksgiving menus require so much last-minute juggling, it takes a master choreographer to get the timing right. But this menu lets you do plenty of prep in advance, so you’re actually slowing down the pace as the zero hour approaches, and you can relax and enjoy dinner with your guests.

Three of the dishes—the cranberry sauce, crackers, and dessert—can be made before the big day even arrives, while the stuffing and gravy get significant prep the day before. We’ve also picked vegetable side dishes that can be made ahead and either reheated or held over hot water to keep warm. Finally, our trick of “dry-brining” the turkey in the refrigerator creates a well-browned skin and the nicely seasoned flavor of a wet-brined turkey, but without the hassle.

Running out of time? Visit our Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner for last-minute ideas and hundreds of recipes for turkey, sides, and pies.

Menu Timeline

Up to a Month Ahead:

  • Make the dough for the Cheddar-Cayenne Coins, form into logs and freeze.
  • Make the dough for the Bourbon Pumpkin Tart, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze.

A Week Ahead:

  • Make the cranberry sauce; store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Three Days Ahead:

  • If using frozen turkey, put it in the refrigerator to thaw.

Two Days Ahead:

  • Transfer the tart dough and cracker dough to the refrigerator and allow to thaw overnight.

One Day Ahead:

  • Prep the turkey, sprinkle with salt, and refrigerate overnight.
  • Make the turkey broth (the base for the gravy).
  • Prep and assemble the stuffing but do not add the eggs or broth.
  • Bake the Bourbon Pumpkin Tart; wrap in platic and refrigerate.
  • Slice and bake the Cheddar-Cayenne Coins; store in airtight container.

Thanksgiving Morning:

  • Remove the turkey from the refrigerator; let stand at room temperature.

About Three Hours Before Dinner:

  • Begin roasting the turkey.
  • Remove the pumpkin tart and cranberry sauce from refrigerator and allow to return to room temperature.
  • Cook the spinach (but do not add scallions and lemon); remove pan from heat and let sit until ready to serve.

Two Hours Before Dinner:

  • Make the potatoes; keep them warm in a wide, shallow stainless bowl over a pot of water.
  • Parboil the green beans.
  • Add eggs and broth to the stuffing.
  • Set out Cheddar-Cayenne Coins for guests.

One Hour Before Dinner:

  • Remove the turkey from the oven, lower the oven temperature to 375°F, and bake the stuffing.
  • Transfer the turkey to a carving board and tent with foil.
  • Make the gravy.

Just Before Sitting Down:

  • Reheat spinach and add scallions and lemon.
  • Make the pecan brown butter and toss with green beans.
  • Carve turkey, and serve.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 4 oranges
  • 3 large lemons
  • 1 large tart apple, such as Granny Smith
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium and 3 large ribs celery
  • 2 lb. green beans
  • 2-1/2 lb. baby spinach
  • 1 bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage
  • 1 large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 large yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon Gold (1-3/4 to 2 lb. total)
  • 5 medium-large yellow onions
  • 2 medium shallots
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 2 cloves garlic

Meat, Eggs & Dairy:

  • 10- to 12-lb. turkey
  • 1/2 lb. sliced bacon
  • 7 large eggs
  • 6 sticks (1-1/2 lb.) unsalted butter
  • 1-1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 oz. sharp cheddar

Other Groceries:

  • 1 loaf (16 oz.) crusty, artisan-style bread
  • 1 can (15-oz.) pure solid-pack pumpkin
  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 4-1/2 oz. walnut halves
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/3 cup crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 Tbs. cognac

Pantry Staples:

  • 4-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups low-salt chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • Whole nutmeg
  • Cooking Spray
  • Kosher salt
  • Table salt
  • Black pepper

The Menu


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