Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule


Planning and preparing a Thanksgiving dinner can be overwhelming, but with a well-organized cooking schedule, you can streamline the process and ensure a stress-free holiday. In this article, we will provide you with a detailed Thanksgiving cooking schedule and timeline, along with tips and ideas for a delicious and successful Thanksgiving meal. From starters to desserts, we will cover everything you need to know to prepare a memorable Thanksgiving feast.

Key Takeaways:

  • Create a cooking schedule and timeline to stay organized during Thanksgiving meal preparation.
  • Make-ahead dishes like soups and gravies can save time and allow flavors to meld together.
  • Thaw the turkey in advance and monitor its cooking time with an instant-read thermometer.
  • Preparing side dishes and casseroles ahead of time frees up oven space on the day of the meal.
  • Ensure beverages are prepared in advance and final preparations for the meal are completed according to the schedule.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Dishes

One of the keys to a successful Thanksgiving dinner is prepping and making as many dishes ahead of time as possible. By doing so, you can save valuable time and ensure a stress-free meal. Make-ahead dishes not only allow you to focus on other tasks on the day of the feast but also enhance the flavors as they have time to meld together.

Freezing Thanksgiving Recipes

Freezing dishes ahead of time can be a game-changer when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner prep. Soups and gravies, for example, can be made a week or so before Thanksgiving and then stored in the freezer. This allows you to simply thaw and reheat them on the big day, saving you precious stove and oven space. Whether it’s a hearty butternut squash soup or a savory turkey gravy, freezing Thanksgiving recipes is a practical and convenient way to get a head start on your holiday cooking.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Dishes

Thanksgiving Soup Recipes

Warm and comforting soup is a fantastic addition to any Thanksgiving menu. With various flavors and ingredients to choose from, you can easily find a soup recipe that complements your holiday spread. From classic creamy pumpkin soup to indulgent roasted sweet potato soup, there are options to please every palate. The best part is that soups can be made in advance, stored in the refrigerator or freezer, and reheated whenever you’re ready to serve.

Thanksgiving Gravy Recipe

No Thanksgiving feast is complete without a rich and flavorful gravy. Luckily, you can prepare your gravy ahead of time and save yourself some last-minute stress. Make a large batch of homemade gravy, let it cool, and then freeze it in individual portions. On Thanksgiving Day, all you have to do is thaw and heat the gravy, and it will be ready to pour over your roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, and other savory dishes.

Don’t miss the opportunity to make your Thanksgiving preparations easier and more enjoyable by incorporating make-ahead dishes into your cooking schedule. Freezing Thanksgiving recipes, including soups and gravies, allows you to stay organized, maximize your time, and serve up a delicious holiday feast without feeling overwhelmed.

Planning and Timing the Turkey

The centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey, and it’s important to plan and time its preparation correctly. Follow these steps to ensure a perfectly cooked turkey for your Thanksgiving feast.

Thawing the Turkey:

Thawing a turkey can take several days, so make sure to budget enough time for it to thaw in the fridge. The general rule is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. Here’s a quick reference guide for thawing times:

Turkey Weight Thawing Time
Up to 12 pounds 1-3 days
12-16 pounds 3-4 days
16-20 pounds 4-5 days
20-24 pounds 5-6 days

Brining the Turkey:

Brining is a process of soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution, which helps to enhance flavor and keep the meat moist. If you decide to brine your turkey, factor in the additional time needed for the brining process. Plan for about 1 hour of brining time per pound of turkey. Here’s a simple brine recipe to get you started:

Simple Turkey Brine Recipe:

  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 gallon water
  • Optional: herbs and spices for added flavor

Roasting the Turkey:

Roasting times vary depending on the size of the bird. It’s best to use a reliable meat thermometer to determine the doneness of the turkey. Here’s a general guideline for roasting times at 325°F:

Turkey Weight Roasting Time Internal Temperature
8-12 pounds 2.5-3 hours 165°F
12-16 pounds 3-4 hours 165°F
16-20 pounds 4-5 hours 165°F
20-24 pounds 5-6 hours 165°F

Remember, these are just guidelines, and it’s crucial to check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer to ensure the turkey is fully cooked. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. The turkey is safe to eat when the thermometer reads 165°F.

Resting the Turkey:

After roasting, it’s essential to let the turkey rest before carving. Tent the turkey with aluminum foil and let it rest for about 20 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful turkey.

Side Dishes and Casseroles

Side dishes and casseroles play a crucial role in creating a memorable Thanksgiving dinner. By preparing certain dishes in advance, you can save oven space and simplify the cooking process on the day of the feast. From flavorful stuffing to refreshing salads, here’s everything you need to know about these delectable accompaniments:

Make-Ahead Stuffing

To lighten your workload on Thanksgiving Day, consider making stuffing ahead of time. Start by toasting your bread cubes and sautéing the vegetables. Once cooled, store these components separately in airtight containers in the fridge. On Thanksgiving Day, you can easily assemble and bake the stuffing, allowing the flavors to meld together while freeing up valuable oven space.

Thanksgiving Salad

A fresh and vibrant salad can be prepared ahead of time, making it an ideal side dish for your Thanksgiving feast. Wash, dry, and chop your greens a day in advance. Store them in a sealed bag or container with a damp paper towel to keep them crisp. Prepare your dressing separately and toss it with the salad just before serving. This way, you’ll have a refreshing and healthy dish ready to accompany your main course.

Mashed Potatoes

Everyone loves creamy mashed potatoes, and they can be easily prepped in advance. Boil your potatoes until tender, mash them, and then add your preferred mix-ins like butter, cream, and seasonings. Store the mashed potatoes in an airtight container in the fridge, and when it’s time to serve, simply reheat them on the stovetop or in the microwave. This allows you to focus on other last-minute preparations without sacrificing the deliciousness of homemade mashed potatoes.

Thanksgiving Casseroles

Casseroles are a staple side dish during Thanksgiving, and they can be assembled ahead of time for convenience. From green bean casserole to sweet potato casserole, prepare the components of your chosen casseroles, layer them in a baking dish, cover tightly, and refrigerate. On Thanksgiving Day, you can simply bake the casseroles while you attend to other dishes, ensuring a hot and savory side dish for your guests.

Thanksgiving Desserts

Don’t forget about the sweet finale to your Thanksgiving feast. There are plenty of desserts that can be made ahead of time, allowing you to focus on other preparations on the day of the event. Pies, such as pumpkin, apple, and pecan, can be baked the day before and refrigerated. Indulgent custards can also be made in advance and kept chilled. Just remember to save some room for these delicious treats!

Thanksgiving side dishes and casseroles

Thanksgiving Side Dishes and Casseroles

Thanksgiving Side Dishes Thanksgiving Casseroles
Roasted Brussels Sprouts Green Bean Casserole
Honey Glazed Carrots Sweet Potato Casserole
Cranberry Sauce Corn Casserole
Garlic Parmesan Roasted Potatoes Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
Buttery Dinner Rolls Squash Casserole

Beverage Service and Final Preparation

Beverage service is an important aspect of Thanksgiving dinner. While the focus is often on the delicious food, it’s essential to have a variety of refreshing drinks available for your guests. Whether you’re serving traditional favorites or experimenting with new recipes, Thanksgiving beverages can elevate your meal and create a festive atmosphere. Here are some tips and ideas for serving Thanksgiving drinks:

  • Prepare chilled beverages in advance: Before the Thanksgiving chaos begins, take the time to prepare and chill your beverages. Whether it’s wine, sparkling cider, or signature cocktails, having them ready to serve will save you time and allow you to focus on final preparations.
  • Involve a designated bartender: If you have a friend or family member with mixology skills, consider involving them as a designated bartender. They can take charge of making and serving drinks, creating a unique and enjoyable experience for everyone.
  • Consider festive Jell-O shots: For a playful twist, consider making a batch of festive Jell-O shots. They are not only delicious but also add a fun and colorful element to your Thanksgiving spread. Plus, you can prepare them ahead of time and have them ready to serve.

As the final preparations are underway for the feast, make sure to check that all dishes, including side dishes, salads, and desserts, are heated or assembled according to the cooking schedule. This ensures that everything is ready to be enjoyed when it’s time to sit down at the table. Take a moment to step back and appreciate the beautifully set table, creating a welcoming ambiance for your Thanksgiving feast.

Final Tips:

  1. Prepare chilled Thanksgiving beverages in advance
  2. Involve a designated bartender for a unique experience
  3. Add a playful touch with festive Jell-O shots
  4. Ensure all dishes are heated or assembled according to the cooking schedule

Now that your Thanksgiving beverages are ready and the final preparations are complete, it’s time to gather your loved ones around the table and enjoy the delicious feast you’ve worked hard to prepare. Cheers to a memorable Thanksgiving celebration!


By following a well-planned Thanksgiving cooking schedule, you can ensure a successful and stress-free holiday meal. Planning ahead and preparing make-ahead dishes will save you time and minimize last-minute chaos. Taking the time to time your turkey correctly and allowing it to rest before carving will result in a moist and flavorful centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table.

Don’t forget about the importance of prepping side dishes and casseroles in advance. This not only frees up oven space on the day of the feast but also allows you to focus on other final preparations. And let’s not overlook the satisfaction of serving delicious Thanksgiving desserts that can be made ahead of time.

Remember, staying organized, utilizing freezer-friendly recipes, and following a cooking schedule are key to a stress-free Thanksgiving. With these tips and ideas, your Thanksgiving dinner will be a resounding success, leaving you more time to relax and enjoy the company of your loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!


What is a Thanksgiving cooking schedule?

A Thanksgiving cooking schedule is a timeline that helps you plan and organize the preparation and cooking of your Thanksgiving meal. It includes a step-by-step guide on when to make certain dishes, thaw and roast the turkey, and assemble side dishes and desserts.

Why should I make dishes ahead of time for Thanksgiving?

Making dishes ahead of time for Thanksgiving allows you to save time and ensure that flavors have a chance to develop. Soups, gravies, stuffing, and casseroles are examples of dishes that can be made in advance and reheated on Thanksgiving Day.

How do I thaw a turkey for Thanksgiving?

To thaw a turkey for Thanksgiving, place it in the refrigerator and allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds. Alternatively, you can use the cold water method by submerging the turkey in its original packaging in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes.

Is brining necessary for Thanksgiving turkey?

Brining is not necessary, but it can enhance the flavor and juiciness of the turkey. If you decide to brine your turkey, plan for additional time for the turkey to marinate in the brine solution.

How long should I roast a turkey for Thanksgiving?

Roasting times for turkey vary depending on the size of the bird. As a general guideline, roast the turkey at 325°F (163°C) for approximately 15-20 minutes per pound. It’s important to check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer to ensure it reaches a safe temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Can I make side dishes and casseroles ahead of time for Thanksgiving?

Yes, making side dishes and casseroles ahead of time can free up oven space on Thanksgiving Day. Stuffing, salads, mashed potatoes, and certain casseroles can be prepped in advance and then quickly cooked or reheated on the day of the meal.

Are there Thanksgiving desserts that can be made ahead of time?

Absolutely! Pies, custards, and other Thanksgiving desserts can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. This allows for easier assembly and more time to focus on other aspects of the meal on Thanksgiving Day.

How should I prepare beverages for Thanksgiving?

Chilled beverages such as wine and cocktails should be prepared in advance and kept ready for serving. Consider involving a guest as a designated bartender or making a batch of festive Jell-O shots to add some fun to your Thanksgiving celebration.

What should I do for the final preparations of the Thanksgiving meal?

As the final preparations are underway, ensure that all dishes, including side dishes, salads, and desserts, are heated or assembled according to the cooking schedule. Take the time to set the table beautifully and have it ready for the Thanksgiving feast.

How can I ensure a stress-free Thanksgiving meal?

By following a well-planned Thanksgiving cooking schedule, making dishes ahead of time, and prepping side dishes in advance, you can streamline the cooking process and reduce stress. Stay organized, utilize freezer-friendly recipes, and enjoy the day with your loved ones.

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