Much Ado About Stuffing

Much Ado About Stuffing

Thanksgiving Do Ahead Tips (also for Latkes)

I’ve gotten quite a few calls today about what you can do ahead of time if you are cooking Thanksgiving, and how to optimally store the do-aheads.

Here are some tips that work well for me:


4 Days Before Thanksgiving – Start Thawing The Turkey Now:

Thawing the Turkey: If you’re bought a frozen turkey, you’ll need to start thawing it.

Every 5 pounds of turkey will require 24 hours of thaw time in the refrigerator (i.e., a 15-pound bird will take 3 full days). Start defrosting the frozen turkey in the coldest part of the refrigerator, in the back. A slow thaw equals a juicy and moist turkey.

NEVER DEFROST TURKEY AT ROOM TEMPERATURE – bacteria multiplies at room temperature. Another REASON TO BUY AN ORGANIC BIRD

Following information on thawing turkeys from the National Turkey Federation:

Refrigerator Turkey Thawing Time (40 degrees F)
Turkey Weight Days to Allow for Thawing Turkey
8 to 12 pounds 2 to 2.5 days
12 to 16 pounds 2.5 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

Emergency Thawing Only: If you need to thaw the turkey more quickly, you may thaw the bird in COLD water, in the original wrapping. The cold water must be changed every 30 minutes. Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound using this method. This is not my favorite method as it is a last-minute hassle and does dry out the turkey.

COLD Water Turkey Thawing Time
Turkey Weight Hours to Allow for Thawing Turkey
8 to 12 pounds 4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

What can you do before Thanksgiving?

  • A few days before Thanksgiving, iron table linens, designate serving platters, and clean and polish your glassware and silver. Set the table if you can.
  • Order, buy, and arrange flowers or other centerpiece and decorations. Save a few blooms to decorate platters and serving bowls.
  • Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate. You can also make cranberry chutney and applesauce several days ahead and store tightly closed in the refrigerator.
  • Prepare other sauces, jellies, and dressings; store in the refrigerator.
  • Purchase, wash and cut up vegetables that you will use for your stuffing and side dishes. Chop onions, celery,carrots, parsley etc. and store in zip-lock plastic bags. Chop bunches of herbs and wrap in a damp paper towel inside a plastic zip lock bag in the freezer.


  • You can make pies up to a month in advance, and freeze. After assembling, put the entire unbaked pie — greased tin and all — into a loose-fitting plastic bag and seal tightly. Transfer it to the refrigerator the night before baking to thaw, and the next day you’ll have a fresh baked pie on your table in the hour it takes to bake it up fresh.
  • Make pie crust pastry up to 5 days ahead and store, well wrapped in the refrigerator. Make the dough, and roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper. Fold up the parchment paper around the pastry and double wrap in plastic wrap. Let it warm up a bit before you start to assemble your pie.
  • Cookies can be made up to a month ahead. You can make the dough and freeze, Or portion your cookies right on baking sheets, and freeze until hard, then place the individual cookies on parchment lined baking sheets and bake whenever you want. Rolled and cut cookies like sugar cookies can be baked ahead and frozen in airtight tupperware containers, and iced and decorated before serving.



Bake up to five days ahead. Cool well, and wrap well in plastic. Keep at room temperature (think fruitcake) they actually improve.


Vegetable soups can be easily frozen if they don’t have cream or eggs, Making them an excellent trick. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat the soup before serving, and thin as necessary before serving if it has thickened too much. Be sure to leave enough space in the container you freeze in. Soup can be frozen in heavy duty ziplock freezer bags.


Turkey Gravy can be made up to five days ahead. When you heat it up, correct the seasoning, and add any pan drippings you have accumulated.


If you are using kale or cabbage or sturdy greens you can clean and cut them up in advance. Otherwise, I don’t really recommend making salads ahead, because– well, because they are supposed to be FRESH!


You can make hummus, eggplant dip and the like a day or two ahead. Marinate a bunch of olives with good olive oil and some herbs de provence, and a shake of red pepper.


Potato Dishes that cook in casserole pans- like our FAVORITE PRALINE SWEET POTATOES can be assembled a day ahead and put in to cook before the meal. Watch carefully when you are juggling a lot of dishes in the half hour before the meal, because the pecan topping can burn easily. Have some parchment handy to lay over the top if its browning too fast.


Because of, well, you know what, you might have to be dealing with latkes too. Make Latkes (or the given sweet potato variety) ahead. Cool, and freeze individually on cookie sheets until hard. For reheating: Put frozen latkes on cookie sheets into a 375 degree oven, turning frequently until crisp and hot. Keep warm on paper towels in a warming drawer if you have one or a 225 oven.

Mashed potatos can be made ahead by boiling them 2 or more hours before the meal, and leaving them in the warm water. then mash at the last minute with olive oil, pepper and sea salt. I love a handful of whatever fresh herbs you have leftover- parsley, a bit of sage, chives, celery tops, scallions.



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