Make ahead Thanksgiving recipes (what you can make ahead for Friendsgiving and freeze)

Cooking Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) dinner can be stressful even for the most enthusiastic home chefs, but planning ahead is a key part of making it easier and more enjoyable. Writing a detailed menu plan and a timetable helps a lot, but so does actually making things in advance—sometimes even far enough in advance that you can freeze them. If that sounds like a godsend, see everything you can make ahead of time (and when to do it), plus how to store it, and how to thaw it (or not).

Really, almost everything but the bird is fair game for making far enough in advance to freeze it. And what you’re better off not freezing, you can at least refrigerate a few days before the big dinner. That does include the turkey, although we still don’t recommend it, as it tastes and looks its best by far when freshly cooked. Since you’ll have knocked out so much else ahead of time, it won’t be a big deal to tend to the bird over the course of several relatively relaxed hours, anyway.

Pro tips: For the things you can stash in the freezer, if you’re not overly concerned with aesthetics (or are willing to transfer them to prettier vessels later), you can often freeze them in disposable aluminum pans that can go straight into the oven for cooking or reheating.

Disposable Aluminum Half Size Chafing Pans, 30 for $18.99 on Amazon

These will last you for many holidays to come.
See It

Always let everything cool completely before wrapping it up or bagging it. For casseroles, once cool, press a layer of plastic wrap against the surface, then cover the dish with heavy duty aluminum foil. Before reheating, be sure to remove the plastic.

And whether you’re covering things in foil or storing them in Ziploc bags, use a marker to write all the relevant info right on the package, including what’s inside, when it was put in the freezer, how long it’s good to stay there, and the reheating instructions.

Stuffing

Classic Apple Sage Stuffing

Chowhound

You can prepare any stuffing recipe you like up to a week or two ahead of time. Complete all the steps up until the final one, then freeze it (uncooked) and, per the USDA’s recommendation, bake it straight from frozen until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. As it’s cooking, if it seems drier than when you assembled it, you can ladle some extra stock and dot a bit of butter over top. Get our Apple Sage Stuffing recipe.

Make ahead: One to two weeks.

Freeze: Tightly covered in heavy-duty foil.

Thaw: Don’t! Bake it straight from frozen until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

Mashed Potatoes

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Chowhound

You can freeze these, but they’ll never be as good as freshly made. However, if you’ll be short on stove space or will need to transport your taters, your best bet is to make them and refrigerate them for up to a couple days, then reheat them gently (in a hot water bath if possible), and add a bit more butter and cream at the end, as well as more salt and pepper if they’ve lost a little spark. If you must freeze them first, pack them into zip-top freezer bags, squeeze out all the air, and press them as flat as possible before stashing them in the freezer. Get our Basic Mashed Potatoes recipe.

Make ahead: Preferably no more than a couple days, but up to a few weeks if necessary.

Freeze: Flat in Ziploc bags with the air pressed out, if you must.

Thaw: In a bowl or other container, in short bursts in the microwave, stirring regularly; if too thin, stir in a bit of cream cheese to make thicker and creamier (according to The Yummy Life, this is less likely if you use Yukon Gold potatoes).

Gravy

Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

Chowhound

Even if your turkey comes out perfectly moist, running out of gravy is a cardinal sin—so it’s a great idea to make an extra batch ahead of time. The only caveat is that gravies with cream or milk in them won’t freeze well (rather, they’ll get grainy and separate as they thaw), but even they can be refrigerated for a few days before reheating as the turkey rests. Otherwise, buy some spare turkey parts and make gravy well in advance. You can still make more with the pan drippings on the day of, because seriously, you can never have too much. Get our Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy recipe.

Make ahead: Up to three months.

Freeze: In Ziploc bags with all the air pressed out (lay them flat when placing in the freezer to maximize space).

Thaw: In the refrigerator overnight; rewarm over low heat just before serving, whisking once or twice to make sure it’s smooth.

Cranberry Sauce

Make Ahead Cranberry Sauce

Shutterstock

Homemade cranberry sauce is as delicious as it is easy to make, but if you want to get it out of the way ahead of time, you can! (Of course, you can also just go with the canned kind—we certainly won’t judge.) Get our Easy Cranberry Sauce recipe.

Make ahead: Up to one month.

Freeze: In tightly sealed Ziploc bags with all the air pressed out, or other airtight, freezer-safe containers.

Thaw: Overnight in the refrigerator.

Dinner Rolls

Make Ahead Parker House Rolls

Chowhound

Stale bread is sad, but if you want to make (or buy) rolls ahead of time, you can freeze them, either fully baked or still raw. If you bake the rolls before freezing, make sure to let them cool completely before putting them in Ziploc bags. For unbaked rolls, freeze them on a baking sheet first before transferring them to bags. Get our Parker House Rolls recipe.

Make ahead: Up to one month (either raw or baked).

Freeze: In tightly sealed Ziploc bags (unbaked rolls should be frozen on baking sheets first; baked rolls should be thoroughly cooled).

Thaw: In the fridge overnight or on the counter for an hour or so before rewarming in the oven (for already-baked rolls); or on a baking sheet on the counter for one to two hours until thawed and risen before baking as directed (for raw rolls).

Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole

Chowhound

This is probably best when freshly made, but if you want to get it done ahead of time, it too can be frozen—as long as you let it cool completely before freezing it, and leave the bread crumbs or crispy onions off until reheating (otherwise they’ll be soggy). Use fresh green beans too, so they retain more of their texture and don’t turn to mush. Get our Green Bean Casserole recipe.

Make ahead: Up to two weeks, without the topping.

Freeze: Tightly covered in heavy duty foil, or in Ziploc bags with the air pressed out.

Thaw: No need; reheat from frozen (at 350°F) in a casserole dish, and add the topping after about an hour, then continue cooking another 10-15 minutes.

Sweet Potato Casserole (or Candied Yams)

Make Ahead Sweet Potato Casserole

Chowhound

This holiday classic can also be made ahead, but again, leave off the toppings—whether that’s marshmallows, bread crumbs, or nuts for you—until it’s nearly finished reheating on the day of. Get our Sweet Potato Casserole recipe.

Make ahead: Up to two weeks, without toppings of any kind.

Freeze: Tightly covered with heavy duty foil.

Thaw: No need; reheat from frozen in a 350°F oven for about an hour before adding any toppings and baking for 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Other Vegetable Sides

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Pecorino

Chowhound

You’ll want to skip freezing roasted or sauteed vegetables, since they’re apt to turn mushy when thawed and reheated. If you really need to make them ahead, one or two days is ideal, but up to about a week is okay. Reheat them in the oven at a lower temperature (and toss with any extra ingredients like cooked bacon, toasted nuts, or cheese once they’re warm). Whether you’re roasting, steaming, or sauteeing vegetables, you can definitely prep them a day or two ahead (wash, dry, trim, and cut, then store in an airtight container in the fridge) so you can start cooking right away when you need to. Get our Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Pecorino recipe.

Make ahead: From one to five days, if need be, though fresh is best.

Freeze: We don’t recommend it.

Thaw: n/a

Mac and Cheese

classic mac and cheese

Chowhound

Mac and cheese may not be a part of your standard Thanksgiving spread, but it shows up on lots of tables in the south, and is an obvious addition to any Friendsgiving table, since it’s so comforting and pretty universally beloved. And it can totally be made ahead! Just leave off any crisp toppings until it’s almost done reheating. Get our Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe.

Make ahead: Up to two months, without breadcrumbs or other toppings.

Freeze: In a freezer- and oven-safe casserole dish or heavy duty foil pan, tightly covered in heavy duty aluminum.

Thaw: No need; pop it into a 350°F oven for about an hour before adding any toppings and baking another 15 or so minutes.

Pumpkin Pie

make ahead pumpkin pie

Chowhound

Pumpkin pie can also be made ahead and frozen, although it’s at risk of becoming a little watery as it thaws—but far less so if you let it thaw in the fridge overnight. If you don’t want to chance it, you can at least make and bake the crust ahead of time and freeze it (when you’re ready to bake, pour the filling into the frozen shell and bake as directed, knowing it may take a bit longer). Or, go with a pumpkin cheesecake (follow the same freezing and thawing instructions below in that case), or a pumpkin pie that’s meant to be served frozen. Get our Classic Pumpkin Pie recipe.

Make ahead: Up to one month.

Freeze: In an aluminum pan, well wrapped in plastic (the whole dish, not just the surface) with a layer of foil over top.

Thaw: In the fridge overnight.

Pecan Pie

Make Ahead Pecan Pie

Chowhound

If you prefer pecan pie—or need to have both varieties for the occasion—it’s an even better candidate for baking ahead of time and freezing. Get John Thorne’s Best-Ever Pecan Pie recipe.

Make ahead: Up to one month.

Freeze: In an aluminum pan, well wrapped in plastic (the whole dish, not just the surface) with a layer of foil over top.

Thaw: In the refrigerator overnight.

Whipped Cream

Make Ahead Whipped Cream

Chowhound

This is another item that you can technically freeze, although the best method is to pipe or dollop small mounds onto parchment or wax paper and freeze them on a baking sheet before popping the puffs into a tightly sealed bag—so it’s probably best suited to storing leftover whipped cream for a short while. That said, you can make a full batch of stabilized whipped cream a few days ahead and store it in the fridge—still better than breaking out the spray can. Get our Make-Ahead Whipped Cream recipe.

Make ahead: Up to 3 days.

Freeze: Save freezing for any leftovers; otherwise, just refrigerate, covered in plastic wrap.

Thaw: Frozen dollops of leftover whipped cream should thaw in 15 minutes or so.

For more great tips, tricks, and hacks, see our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving and our Ultimate Guide to Friendsgiving.

Related Video: 9 Chef-Approved Thanksgiving Shortcuts That Will Save You Time

All featured products are curated independently by our editors. When you buy something through our retail links, we may receive a commission. For more great hand-picked products, check out the Chowhound Shop.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jen is an associate content producer at Chowhound and hails from Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Portland (Oregon) for so long it feels like home. She enjoys the rain, reads, writes, eats, and cooks voraciously, and stops to pet every stray cat she sees. Continually working on building her Gourmet magazine collection, she will never get over its cancellation. Read more of her work here.
See more articles