How to Prep for Thanksgiving

Whether you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving or your fiftieth, the big meal is always a unique test of quantity, timing, taste and entertainment skills. Luckily, that’s just the type of expertise Good Housekeeping has been honing for the past 100+ years.

This guide pulls together top tricks and insider secrets from the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen pros with years of experience, as we map out the ultimate Thanksgiving prep countdown and share some of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

Before You Begin

  • Finalize your guest list. Send out invitations and get an official headcount.
  • Check in with your guests. Ask about allergies and dietary preferences: Is anyone gluten-free? Vegan? Allergic to nuts? Be sure to coordinate and make sure you can offer them a few safe options (unless they prefer to bring their own food).
  • Figure out how much food you need. Once you have a better estimate of many people you are planning to feed, you can better gauge how much you need to cook. Start with our guide for how much turkey you need per person, and then plan the rest of your menu. (Our example menu serves 8 people.)
  • Accept help! Offering to host Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you have to do everything. When someone asks how they can help, assign them a dish, suggest a bottle of wine they can bring or even put them in charge of left-over containers.

The Menu

Snacks, Drinks + Appetizers

Mains + Sides


This menu includes just a few ideas. When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, there are so many side dishes, appetizers and turkey recipes to choose from — and many of us celebrate the holiday with cherished family recipes as well! Everyone has their own traditions and priorities of must-serve dishes, so feel free to use this as a jumping off point.

What to Prep

Up to 2 Months Ahead

Get Your Gravy Going

Yes, you can wait until you’ve finished roasting your turkey to make Thanksgiving gravy — but do you really want to spend those crucial moments doing that? Instead, roast turkey wings anytime to DIY gravy you can stash in the freezer and reheat.

RECIPE: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

(P.S. Expecting vegetarian or vegan guests? Make a batch of Vegan Gravy so everyone can get on the gravy train.)

Mike Garten

Up to 1 Month Ahead

Make Your Pie Dough

The secret to next-level pies starts with making your own pie crust from scratch (seriously, it’s a game changer). Good news: You can make that dough in advance to stash in the freezer until you’re ready to roll it out and get baking.

RECIPE: Flaky Pie Crust


A Week or So Before

Stock Your Bar Cart

Take inventory of your bar cart (or liquor cabinet) to get a better sense of what Thanksgiving cocktails and mocktails you will want to serve. Plan to make a big-batch drink, choose a signature cocktail or set out an assortment for people to DIY their own drinks. Make a trip to the store to pick up anything you need, plus pick up a few bottles of wine.

RECIPE: Pumpkin Spice White Russian

Mike Garten

What to Do: Week of Thanksgiving

Up to 6 Days Before

Start to Thaw Your Turkey
Ann_Zhuravleva//Getty Images

3 to 5 Days Before

Blanch Green Beans

If you’re planning to feature green beans as a side — either on its own or in a green bean casserole — you can get a head start by blanching them and sparing yourself that step later on.

ADVICE: The Best Way to Blanch Green Beans

michellegibson//Getty Images

3 Days Before

Get Your Bread “Stuffing-Ready”

The best bread for stuffing is, well, a little stale — so go ahead and cut up a small loaf of country-style bread.

gashgeron//Getty Images

3 Days Before

Thaw Alert: Pie Crust

Remember that pie dough you made? Transfer it from the freezer to the fridge. (You’ll need it to be thawed for tomorrow.)

mozcann//Getty Images

Up to 2 Days Before

Season Your Bird
Mike Garten

Up to 2 Days Before

Get Baking!

Cross Thanksgiving dessert off your list early and bake one or two pies in advance. (P.S. Check the freezer/fridge: Do you have a pint of vanilla ice cream? Whipped cream? Good.) Alternatively, you can ask someone to bring dessert or pick-up a pie from your bakery.

RECIPES: Apple-Cranberry Pie and/or Spiced Pumpkin Pie

Mike Garten

Up to 2 Days Before

Bake Bread

While your oven is on (and you’re in bake mode), whip up some cheesy, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits. You can serve these at room temp, or heat them up right before everyone sits down to eat.

RECIPE: Fluffy Apple-Cheddar Biscuits

Mike Garten

Up to 2 Days Before

Think About Cheese

One of our favorite ways to have food ready for friends and family as they trickle in? Setting out a stunning charcuterie board — complete with a variety of meats, cheeses and nuts. Take yours to the next level by DIY-ing your own customized cheese balls to include in the mix.

RECIPE: Trio of Cheese Balls

Mike Garten

2 Days Before

Make Some Snacks

Have extra homemade pie dough leftover? Turn it into savory crackers — a perfect addition to your cheese spread! You can also take a few moments to think about any additional snacks you’d want to make or buy (i.e. homemade spiced nuts).

RECIPE: Parmesan Seeded Crackers

Mike Garten

1 Day Before

Thaw Alert: Gravy

Remember that gravy you made earlier this month? Transfer it from the freezer to the fridge, so it has 24 hours to thaw before you reheat it.

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1 Day Before

Make Your Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce actually benefits from sitting in the fridge, as flavors meld together and everything has time to chill and set.

RECIPE: Roasted Cranberry Sauce

Mike Garten

1 Day Before

Make Your Sangria

Did you decide you want to make a big-batch drink to serve guests? If so, you can stir together this mixture of apple cider and autumnal fruit in advance. Just hold off on adding the Prosecco.

RECIPE: Apple Cider Sangria

mike garten

1 Day Before

Prep Your Stuffing

Minimize day-of stress by preparing and assembling your stuffing a day in advance, so all you have to do is pop it in the oven. (Note: Do not bake until the day of!)

RECIPE: Traditional Bread Stuffing with Herbs

Mike Garten

What to Do: Thanksgiving Day

The Morning Of

Prep Your Potatoes
Westend61//Getty Images

The Morning Of

Get Your Appetizers Started

Your oven will be pretty busy later in the afternoon…you know, heating up a whole turkey and all. Prep one or two of your appetizers in advance, so you can quickly pop in the oven to reheat once guests arrive. (Or use your toaster oven)

RECIPE: Pear, Bacon and Blue Cheese Tart

Mike Garten

About 4 Hours Before

Roast Your Turkey

Your turkey will take time in the oven, and no one wants to serve (or eat!) a raw bird… or be forced to wait to eat because of poor planning. Plus, you can’t carve into it immediately after roasting, so you will need to account for some rest time.

ADVICE: Everything You Need to Know About Cooking a Turkey

Mike Garten

1 Hour Before

Bring Stuffing to Room Temp

That stuffing you assembled in advance? Time to take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature before popping in the oven.

mike garten

45 Minutes Before

Start Your Sides

Now that the turkey is pretty much ready (and only requires resting and carving at this point), you can start getting the rest of the feast together, beginning with this simple green bean side.

RECIPE: Glazed Green Beans

Mike Garten

30 Minutes Before

Heat up Your Sides

With the oven freed up, now is the time to finish cooking your stuffing. Plus, you can reheat any additional side that needs a quick warm-up, like those cheesy biscuits, if you desire.

RECIPE: Best-Ever Buttermilk Biscuits

Mike Garten

30 Minutes Before

Make Your Mash

Grab a pot and your pre-peeled, chopped potatoes, and get ready to make a silky-smooth, creamy mash.

RECIPE: Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Mike Garten

30 Minutes Before

Turn On Your Air Fryer

Oven space is a hot commodity on this holiday, so do yourself a favor and designate a few dishes that can be made sans the appliance. Own an air fryer? Use it to crisp up Brussels sprouts for our favorite take on this classic Thanksgiving side.

RECIPE: Air Fryer Brussels Sprouts

Mike Garten

10 Minutes Before

Toss Together Your Salad

Because you handled most of the prep work in advance, throwing together this salad is a cinch — just toss together your toasted walnuts, sliced shallots, greens and vinaigrette. Sprinkle with blue cheese and pomegranate seeds.

RECIPE: Escarole Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Mike Garten

After Dinner

Serve Dessert!

Who’s ready for pie?! Bring your desserts to room temp immediately after dinner if you’re planning to give everyone a second or two to breathe (or digest) before the next course. Heat up your oven if you want to warm up your pies before serving a la mode.

ADVICE: How to Reheat Apple Pie, According to Cooking Pros

Mike Garten

Before Guests Leave

Pack Up Leftovers
Maren Caruso//Getty Images

The Day After

Love Your Leftovers

Take inventory of what’s left in your fridge — and get ready to transform those sides and mains into lunches and dinners over the weekend. Exhibit A: This killer next-day sandwich melt.

RECIPE: Thanksgiving Sandwich Melt

Mike Garten

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