Make-Ahead Thanksgiving: How to Make and Freeze a Whole Feast
The ultimate Thanksgiving time-saving strategy.
Save yourself time and sanity by preparing a make-ahead Thanksgiving feast well ahead of the big day. I'll share tips for the best way to prepare favorite Thanksgiving recipes that you can simply freeze and reheat. Imagine being relaxed on Thanksgiving for a change!
Quick Tips for Freezing
Food safety comes first when preparing make-ahead dishes. Make sure to cool cooked food before freezing, whether it's a soup, casserole or pie. Wrap it right to avoid ugly freezer-burn and prevent it from absorbing any unpleasant flavors from the freezer. And remember to label and date your dish when properly storing it for the deep freeze. Learn all about our best tips for safely freezing and reheating meals.
The Main Event
A traditional whole roasted turkey is a wonderful centerpiece, but I'm not going to suggest you roast and freeze a whole turkey ahead of time because that's just crazy talk. But if you're willing to take a different approach, you can still have a beautiful dish with tons of flavor, but cut down on the work by trying a stuffed turkey breast. But whether you're roasting a stuffed turkey or chicken breast, pork loin, or other savory delight, you can stuff your fresh meat, roll it, wrap it, and defrost it in the fridge before cooking it following recipe directions. Note: Do not use frozen and thawed meat, then refreeze it — this can be a food safety hazard!
Try a bird with a sweet and savory twist. Prepare all of the steps through stuffing and rolling, then tightly wrap the turkey in plastic wrap and place in a sealable plastic bag. Freeze it for up to 3 months and defrost it in the refrigerator two days before the big day. Sear the meat so it is golden on the outside and cook it to a perfect 170 degrees F in the oven. For even better flavor, SUEANNLAWSON adds a thin layer of butter to the top of the breasts and sprinkles them liberally with salt and pepper before roasting.
Warming, filling, and delicious, winter casseroles are a no-brainer when it comes to make-ahead meals, whether for the holidays or weeknight dinners. You can either freeze an unbaked casserole and bake it right from the freezer (with added cook time), or completely cool a baked casserole and wrap it tightly before freezing. Defrost it in the fridge overnight, then reheat it until the casserole reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Find more recipes and tips for make-ahead casseroles.
A favorite Thanksgiving side dish, sweet potato casserole is a sweet side that can be made several months ahead of time and frozen. If you don't want to keep the casserole dish in the freezer, line it with foil before adding the filling. Then, bake, cool, and lift the casserole out of the pan. Wrap it well, freeze, and place it back in the same dish when reheating (without the wrapping, of course!).
Soup makes a great first course to warm guests and stimulate appetites. When picking soups to freeze, avoid recipes made with cream or milk (or add it after reheating) and under cook your veggies and pasta just a tad, so they don't become mushy when they're reheated. Make sure to cool the soup completely before transferring it in 4-cup portions to freezer safe bags. When you're ready to eat, thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat on the stove top or microwave. You can make soup all year long and freeze it for a future quick meal.
Alane likes to swap out sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes called for in this recipe. Either way, this soup is creamy and smooth, without a touch of dairy. Though Roasted Cauliflower Soup is vegan, it's super creamy and has a hint of sweet from the pureed roasted cauliflower. For an even tastier dish, Meg likes to use vegetable broth instead of water "for a richer flavor."
Can you really freeze mashed potatoes? You bet you can! Start with potatoes that are low in starch, like Yukon gold or red potatoes, but chose recipes that are high in fat (with plenty of cream and butter). The fat helps to protect the spuds in the deep-freeze, so they reheat smooth and creamy. After making and cooling your mashers, freeze them packed flat in resealable plastic storage bags. Defrost them in the fridge and reheat then on the stove (with a little extra cream), slow cooker, or microwave. Learn more about how to freeze and reheat mashed potatoes.
Perfect for the freezer, LONGN reminds us to heat the cream and butter before mixing it into the spuds for a creamier mix. Or, try your hand at Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes, where the sour cream adds the extra fat you need to keep the potatoes reheating smoothly.
It's All Gravy
Make-ahead gravy is one of the smartest moves you can make. Think of the chaos you'll avoid by not having to make gravy after you pull the turkey out of the oven. But what about the drippings, you ask? You can actually make gravy without drippings: Caramelize an onion slowly over medium heat until it's a deep brown, then add your favorite turkey, chicken, or even vegetable broth for deeper flavor. Once your gravy is cool, freeze it in a labeled container, then defrost it overnight in the fridge before slowly warming it over low heat while whisking regularly. And to give your gravy a final boost of flavor, stir in the pan juices from the roasted turkey as you heat the gravy.
Clearisfullheart says instead of stressing to make gravy last minute, this recipe "takes the worry away and delivers a great taste." Roasted turkey wings and onions make it extremely rich and flavorful without the drippings. Chef John's Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy is another great choice for traditional gravy. Home cook robinjay likes to keep a couple containers of gravy in the freezer to use for everyday meals.
Cranberry sauce might just be the perfect thing to make ahead of time. Packed with sugar, it's basically a freezer jam in the makings! Whip up your favorite recipe, pack it in a freezer safe container or resealable plastic bag, and thaw it overnight in the fridge. Nothing else needs to be done. Plus, your cranberry sauce will probably taste even better after the flavors get a chance to mingle for a few weeks or months.
This recipe is as simple as it gets: cranberries, sugar, and a little orange juice. LEXI, JACK and COOKIE likes to use a mix of white and brown sugar and add a ½ teaspoon of cinnamon to mix it up. If you're feeling a bit fancy, try Cranberry Sauce with Orange Juice, Honey, and Pears.
On a Roll
Homemade rolls are perfect for sopping up extra gravy or smearing with cranberry sauce, and they're easy to make ahead. Prepare your favorite recipe and freeze the rolls unbaked. Then simply transfer them straight from the freezer to a preheated oven on Thanksgiving Day, and you'll have fresh baked bread!
"This very Instagram-friendly roll is the perfect thing to bring to that holiday gathering, and can be made using your favorite dinner roll recipe," says recipe creator Chef John. "Sure, these take longer to make than your already perfectly fine dinner rolls, but that's nothing when you consider all the compliments that will be coming your way."
The holidays wouldn't be complete without a sweet ending, so don't forget to make your dessert…well ahead of time! Cookies, cakes, and pies are perfect for the deep freeze. You can freeze cookie dough and bake to order or freeze baked cookies and defrost them at room temperature for about 10 minutes (learn more tricks and tips for freezing cookie dough). After baking and cooling your favorite cake or muffin, wrap them in plastic and a layer of foil. Thaw at room temperature and finish them off with frosting or decorations. You can also freeze whole baked cheesecakes and pies. Let them thaw at room temperature for about an hour, or pop your pie into a 350 degree F oven if you prefer it warm.
Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without pumpkin pie. In addition to using canned pumpkin, if you're really looking to simplify things use a pre-made pie crust, like home baker PHENAGAL. Once the pie is baked and completely cooled, wrap it in several layers of plastic wrap then a layer of foil. Freeze it for up to a month and defrost it overnight in the refrigerator. Bring it up to room temperature a few hours before serving.