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Thanksgiving Dinner - what Can Be Made In Advance?

I'm already thinking about the big day and getting night sweats. What can be prepared in advance without sacrificing taste/ texture etc. I'm sure I can make cranberry sauce and gravy a couple of days ahead, pies the morning of. What about mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole. How long can a turkey hold its heat without drying out? I'm always concerned the turkey won't be done on time or done so far in advance it will be cold.

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  1. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/666336
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/741546

    Some good ideas in these threads, particularly the first one. There's some controversy over making mashed potatoes ahead, with some 'hounds firmly against and others in favor, but most agree that cranberry sauce, pie, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole are easy make-aheads. I always mix up gb casserole in advance but don't bake it until the turkey's fixin' to come out. Rolls and sweet potato casserole go in when the turkey comes out for resting.

    My best pieces of advice:

    1. Do NOT stuff the turkey. Stuffing adds SO MUCH unnecessary cooking time and dries out the meat. An un-stuffed bird, even a massive one, cooks in under three hours, which keeps Thanksgiving from becoming an epic cooking marathon and makes it instead just a more-time-consuming-than-normal meal.

    2. I cannot emphasize this enough: Write a schedule!! I've done this for years and it basically eliminates my stress, in fact, I don't consider T-day to be stressful at all anymore. Count backwards from dinnertime, include 30 minutes for the meat to rest. Basically write down the time you need to put everything IN the oven (or on the stove, etc.) and take everything OUT of the oven. Make sure that somewhere on the schedule there's a slot for you to change clothes, freshen up, and make yourself a cocktail! :

    )

    3. You can keep sides warm in the crock pot, oven, or stove-top. Better to keep them warm than the bird.

    4. Don't forget your microwave! Softer sides like corn pudding and sweet potato casserole can cook just as well in the microwave as the oven.

    5. Do every single little bit of your mise en place the day or two before. Chop celery and onion (and whatever else) for the dressing. Tear or slice bread. Set stuff down from the cupboards -- canned pumpkin, boxes of broth, spices. Set out your serving dishes and LABEL them with what's going to go in/on them. Set the table the night before.

    Good luck. Hope this T-day's an enjoyable one for you! :)

    3 Replies
    1. re: LauraGrace

      Writing the schedule is essential. Couldn't agree more. I will add to that, create an oven-schedule as well. If you are planning to put 6 things into the oven, will they all fit? And how much do you need to adjust the cooking time to account for all that extra stuff in there.

      1. re: LauraGrace

        Yes, yes, yes on a written schedule. When hosting any large-ish dinner, I create an Excel spreadsheet including every possible detail...menu, when I'm making things, when things made in advance have to come out of the refrigerator (or freezer) and go into oven (and what oven -- we have a double oven plus a large toaster oven & microwave for reheating), plus what temp they cook at and for how long, serving dishes to be used, plus anything else I can think of.

        Seriously, everything! It becomes my bible!

        I even make coffee shortly before guests arrive and put it in a airpot. It stays nice and hot and it's one less thing to do when trying to get dessert out.

        1. re: valerie

          I'm still a novice at holiday dinners, but let me chime in on the schedule thing. It had never occurred to me to write out a schedule of when to do things, but the first time we did a Christmas dinner my girlfriend wrote out a schedule, and for the most part it went smooth as silk. It really does help more than you think it will.

          People who had other Christmas dinner plans showing up for apps and cocktails a couple of hours before dinner is a part of our holiday tradition now, and we actually got to enjoy their company, knowing that everything would be done on time.

          Mise en place is critical. I did nearly all the chopping and slicing on Christmas Eve, so that the big day was pretty much a job of assembly and cooking.

      2. We make our pies and cranberry sauce the night before; everything else the same day, with the exception that we often prepare the bread crumbs for the stuffing the night before too. Early in the day, after the turkey is in the oven, we do the mise en place for all the vegetables -- putting the potatoes in water so they will not discolor. Once the turkey is in the oven, it pretty much takes care of itself, so you've got plenty of time to prep vegetables. The gravy is the last thing that gets made, since we use the pan & drippings from the turkey. DH makes the gravy while I mash the potatoes and also mash rutabagas, which are de riguer on our T-G table. (No green bean caserole in our house; just some sort of basic steamed, green vegetable -- either green beans, broccoli, or asparagus). The turkey should rest for a minimum of 1/2 hour before slicing and will hold for 45 min or so just fine.

        1. The original comment has been removed
          1. I don't believe in schedules as much as I believe in lists; when I've decided what the dinner will consist of I make a list of and decide what can be done in the week leading up to the dinner, then proceed to do those things up to the day of. If you're using a frozen bird, I begin to thaw it out three days prior (depending on brining, rubs etc.)

            I have neither the space in my fridge nor the patience to thaw my turkey in the way everyone else recommends so I thaw mine out in cold running water which takes less than a third of the time than using the fridge. I do that on Tue. Also on Tue & Wed I chop the veggies for my stuffing (I stuff my bird) and side dishes; make gravy and desserts on Wed. No green bean casserole at my house; I do sauteed green beans with mushrooms & fried onions and it's done right before the dinner as well as the potatoes. I don't pre-do mashed potatoes as they only take 15 minutes. I make homemade rolls the night before & let them rise; bake off the day of. Turkey gets done in the morning the day of.

            It's not that complicated if you use the list.

            1. Sauce, pies, green bean casserole can all be made in advance. Stuffing can be made in advance, but not stuffed. I usually replace mashed potatoes with a yukon and sweet potato gratin, which is 10 times more delicious and can be made in advance and reheated. Your turkey actually needs to sit for 20 minutes or so (you can cover it with foil) to distribute the juices. In this time, you can heat the rest of the food.