When to start cooking each dish for your Thanksgiving feast, according to a chef

thanksgiving dinner
Timing all of your Thanksgiving dishes isn't difficult as long as you have a plan.April Walloga
  • Ease the stress of Thanksgiving by getting a head start on some of your favorite foods.

  • Chef Dan Holzman shared a cooking timeline to help you decide when to start every dish.

  • Some dishes can be made up to a week before, so you can start sooner than you'd think.

With a seemingly endless menu of classic side dishes, pies, and of course, a turkey, timing everything right for your Thanksgiving feast is no easy feat.

Making a Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful, even if you're only cooking for a few people. Plus, you want to leave time to enjoy yourself.

To help relieve a bit of stress, Insider previously spoke with Dan Holzman, co-founder of The Meatball Shop in New York City, about the best timeline for your Thanksgiving menu.

"If you are the type of person that loves to get stuff out of the way, there are a bunch of dishes and prep work that you can do ahead of time," Holzman said. "But from an efficiency perspective, there's a lot of down time in between roasting a turkey or even making mashed potatoes."

Keep reading for our timeline of when you should cook every dish for Thanksgiving dinner.

Homemade cranberry sauce can be prepared up to a week in advance.

cranberry sauce
Homemade cranberry sauce.Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

When you should start cooking: Cranberry sauce will last up to a week and a half in the refrigerator, so it's the perfect dish to prepare in advance.

Plus, making cranberry sauce requires giving it several hours to cool down to achieve the right texture, as "the thickening process happens when [cranberry sauce] cools," according to Holzman.

You can also prepare turkey or vegetable stock, if you are using homemade, a week in advance.


When you should start cooking: You can make stock a week before Thanksgiving and then heat it up on the day to add to dishes as needed.

"Homemade stock makes the difference between good and great cooking," chef Brad Leone wrote for Bon Appetit. "It's true all year but especially at Thanksgiving, when a flavorful, full-bodied stock can upgrade everything from gravy to stuffing."

It can also be used to create soft mashed potatoes packed with flavor, or it can be added to the turkey roasting pan.

Dried bread for the stuffing can be prepared one to two days before Thanksgiving.

Is sourdough bread healthy
Sourdough bread.pidjoe/Getty Images

When you should start cooking: A couple of days before Thanksgiving.

Based on whether you prefer making stuffing with fresh or dried bread, or even croutons, there are steps you can take days before Thanksgiving to prepare this dish.

"Drying croutons overnight or over the course of two days is easier than drying them in the oven at the last minute," Holzman said.

Get the hassle of dessert out of the way by baking a couple of pies the night before.

pumpkin pie
Pumpkin pie.Tetra Images/Getty Images

When you should start cooking: The day before Thanksgiving.

Pies may be the last dish that you'll eat on Thanksgiving, but they can be one of the first menu items that you prepare. Baking pies the night before Thanksgiving is an easy way to get ahead and avoid stress on Thanksgiving day.

"The oven space on Thanksgiving is the number one commodity," Holzman said.

Since pies require precious oven space and very specific temperatures, it's best to prepare desserts ahead of time.

Turkey is far less intimidating than it seems. Season it the night before and pop it in the oven Thanksgiving morning.

cooking turkey
Turkey, the main event.Shutterstock

When you should start cooking: Season the turkey the night before and start cooking it Thanksgiving morning.

While it's best to actually cook your turkey on Thanksgiving day, Holzman recommends seasoning your turkey the night before. Since it's the main event, the turkey should be the first dish you start cooking in the morning.

"The resting process is an absolutely imperative part of the cooking process," Holzman said.

Many people overcook their turkeys in the oven and overlook letting them rest, rendering the final product dry and rubbery.

By taking your turkey out of the oven before it is fully cooked, you'll allow the heat to redistribute, allowing heat from the outside to seep in, leaving you with a perfectly cooked, juicy turkey, Holzman explained.

To finish off the process, Holzman suggests carving the turkey, and then broiling it in the oven to complete cooking and crisp the skin.

After putting the turkey in the oven, start focusing on the gravy.

Turkey gravy.Darasp Kran/Shutterstock

When you should start cooking: The same time you start cooking your turkey.

Roasting bones and vegetables that you'll be using for gravy early on Thanksgiving day is a good way to get ahead of the game.

Combine the ingredients for the stuffing on Thanksgiving day.

Traditional stuffing.Sarah Schmalbruch/Insider

When you should start cooking: Prepare bread in the days before and then start cooking it at midday on Thanksgiving.

If you have some downtime, start chopping up vegetables for a salad.

Walnut salad
Apple walnut salad.Shutterstock

When you should start cooking: While your turkey and stuffing are in the oven.

Chopping and assembling salad is a great way to use downtime while other dishes are in the oven. When dinnertime arrives, all you'll have to do is throw together the ingredients and add dressing.

Side dishes taste the best fresh out of the oven, so don't start on them until Thursday afternoon.

Green Bean Casserole
Green-bean casserole.Matthew Mead/AP

When you should start cooking: In the afternoon, while other dishes are in the oven.

Various side dishes, such as green-bean casserole, are best when served fresh. After salads have been prepped and other dishes are in the oven, you can get started on more of your family's favorite side dishes.

Green bean casserole takes about an hour to make, including prep and cook time, so it's best when made no more than a few hours before dinnertime.

Sweet-potato casserole is another easy side dish that can be prepared in the afternoon.

sweet potato casserole
Sweet-potato casserole.vm2002/Shutterstock

When you should start cooking: In the afternoon, while other dishes are in the oven.

Sweet-potato casserole is another dish that takes about an hour to make, so it can be prepared closer to dinnertime.

While the oven is hot, pop in the Brussels sprouts and other hearty vegetables an hour or two before dinner.

Brussel Sprouts
Roasted Brussels sprouts.Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

When you should start cooking: A couple of hours before dinnertime.

Once more complicated and prep-heavy dishes are in the oven, you can start roasting vegetables like green beans or Brussels sprouts, neither of which should take very long.

You can make the mashed potatoes a few hours before dinner, and then keep them warm on the stovetop.

Mashed potatoes in the crock pot — free up your stove space
A bowl of homemade mashed potatoes.Paul Howritz/Shutterstock

When you should start cooking: A couple hours before dinnertime.

"Mashed potatoes are best served when they're hot and just made," Holzman said.

To keep them hot until dinner is served, put them in a dish on a low flame on the stove or on low heat in the oven.

Mapping out a timeline is a great way to ensure your Thanksgiving is stress-free.

thanksgiving dinner
A complete Thanksgiving dinner.Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Plus, if you do all the cooking, you can ask others to do all the dishes.


Read the original article on Insider