By Vanessa Greaves

Relax — you've got this.

There are so many moving parts to pull together for Thanksgiving dinner that it's easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of what you need to do and when you need to do it. You don't need that kind of stress.

I asked home cooks from our Allrecipes community how they get prepped to cook Thanksgiving, and more importantly, what they do to make it easier on themselves. They all agree a little planning and doing ahead of time saves you major stress on the day. Here's what works for them — take a look and see if what they do could work for you, too. Here's to a more relaxing Thanksgiving this year.

Photo by Meredith

Top Tips to Make Thanksgiving Easier

1. Plan Ahead

Write down all the tasks — including cleaning, shopping, and cooking — so you can see what needs to be done. Then decide when you can do what. Some tasks might be quick and easy, some might take longer, and some could be done days or weeks ahead of time.

Photo by Meredith

"Spreading out the work over 3-4 days makes it manageable." — Kim Mancuso

"I make a list of everything I am going to prepare and exactly how long it will take to cook. I put times beside every recipe of when it needs to go in the oven, how long it cooks and at what temp. It is the only way I can get everything on the table at the same time. I know which dishes can bake early and sit for 30-40 minutes while the other casseroles can bake in the oven." — Beckie Green Bergeron

"I usually plan my menu a couple weeks ahead and make sure to print out the recipes in case there's a website crash!" — France Cevallos

2. Shop Smart

"I gather recipes about 2 weeks in advance, check the pantry for shelf items, herbs and spices, and shop these items before the grocery shelves are bare." — Brenda Venable

"My firm rules is to never do any shopping on Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I will start picking up items that will keep at the first of the month. Butter, cranberries (I freeze those), extra broth (just in case I need more, you can never have to much broth) frozen green beans, beverages." — Penny Hanstad

3. Make Ahead

Home cooks agree you save time and stress on Thanksgiving Day by making as many dishes ahead as possible.

Photo by Meredith

"Prepping ahead last year sure made my Thanksgiving less stressful and a little more relaxing. It gave me more time to enjoy my grand babies and that I was Thankful for!" — Kelly Goralski

"I buy turkey parts a week or two before Thanksgiving so I can cook them for the express purpose of making gravy before the busy day! Then I freeze the gravy so all I have to do is microwave the thawed gravy." — Marianne Welsh

"Day Before: Brine the turkey, make/freeze dinner rolls, bake the pies, and make cranberry sauce. And if I'm doing appetizers, I try to get those done the day before too (i.e. chopping veggies, making dips, boiling eggs for deviled eggs, etc.)." — Kim Shupe

"I make cranberry sauce and desserts the day before and prep as much as I can the day before like cutting celery, carrots, etc." — Beckie Green Bergeron

"Cranberry relish day before. Desserts day before." — Lindsay Breeze

"I make my stuffing the day before and cook (in the bird or slow cooker) the day of. I feel it makes better stuffing plus it frees me up on T-Day." — Jay DuBois

"I even make the mac and cheese and mashed potatoes the day before and finish them off with the last steps in the oven the day of." —Ramona Cruz-Peters

"I made my pie crust a week or so ahead and froze it. I take it out of the freezer and pop it in the refrigerator to thaw the morning that I plan to make my pies, usually the day before Thanksgiving." — Kelly Goralski

"I make my brine a few days ahead and brine my bird two days before and let it drip dry the day before. I also made the Rich Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy from the site the weekend before Thanksgiving and froze it. It reheats nicely!" — Kelly Goralski

4. Make Some, Buy Some

No one ever said you have to make everything from scratch — it's perfectly okay to use convenience foods if that helps you get Thanksgiving done easier.

"One of my favorite tips is choosing what to make homemade, vs. boxed or pre-made version. For example, if you don't NEED to make homemade cranberry or stuffing because store bought is good enough and you'd rather put your effort elsewhere (into your speciality or higher impact dishes), do yourself a favor and be ok with that." — Ramona Cruz-Peters

"I cheat and make my rolls from frozen dough. Saves me so much work and everyone loves them. I even had someone ask me for my recipe at Christmas one year! " — Kelly Goralski

5. Timing is Everything

Let's face it, with so many recipes in play simultaneously, it's challenging to make sure all the various dishes are ready to eat at the same time. You can go a long way towards solving this puzzle by creating a timeline for cooking and baking.

Photo by Meredith

"I make a timeline, starting with when I want the meal on the table and working backwards. I put things such as pies and buns in the early part of the day and leave the couple of hours before the meal for potatoes and other sides. My timeline for the turkey would look something like eat at 2. Turkey out at 1:30. Turkey in at 9:30. Remove from brine 3 pm (day before). Brine at 6pm (day before). Etc." Jay DuBois

"I set timers on my phone for when each dish needs to get in oven." — Lindsay Breeze

6. Free Up Your Oven and Stovetop

Put your kitchen appliances to work making Thanksgiving dishes to free up your oven and stovetop for making the rest of the feast. You might also consider grilling or deep-frying your turkey to free up serious oven space.

Get this recipe: Slow Cooker Stuffing | Photo by GotRice?

"I do the dressing in the crockpot, so that's out of the way."— France Cevallos

"I use electric roaster for turkey and slow cooker for stuffing (turns out crunchy on sides and moist in middle -best of both worlds). These appliances free up oven space." — Lindsay Breeze

"And I just love my Instant Pot for mashed potatoes. It is not only speedy but I don't have to worry about dealing with a pot of hot potato water. And my potatoes don't end up watery, but creamy and delicious!"— Kelly Goralski

"I also brine the turkey and cook it outside in a counter top roaster." — Adawndria Fisher

"I cook the bird on the grill using it essentially as an oven to free up the kitchen oven for the sides and rolls." — Howard Wulforst

7. Ask for Help

While some home cooks like to make everything themselves, others prefer to share the cooking and the workload.

"We do it potluck style. We divide the main meats between 2 or 3 people then everyone else brings a side and dessert. I usually get the roast Turkey, cranberry relish and an old family dessert, and another dish of some sort. My cousin gets the smoked and/or fried Turkey and another cousin gets ham. We alternate who gets hosting duty when we can. Everything is made from scratch. We have done it this way since I can remember. No one is overwhelmed and we usually are feeding 40-70 people, depends on who makes it down." — Rachel Morain

"I ask my guests to bring napkins, beverages, and stuff like whipped or caramel toppings." — Jewel Kingsley

"I farm out the desserts. Someone else can go to Costco for pumpkin pie." — Penny Hanstad

Sample Timeline

Here's how Brenda Venable plans out her Thanksgiving cooking:
"One week out, I start tending the turkey, make cornbread and other bread for the stuffing, so it can be good and dry.

  • Monday before for a last trip for fresh produce and dairy. I go over the house on Monday and set the table.
  • Tuesday, make the cranberry salad, because it's better after 2 days.
  • Wednesday, make sure all is tidy and do prep for the big day, check for ice, make refrigerator rolls.
  • Thursday morning, after coffee of course, and making the beds, a quick dusting in the public areas, and one last spruce up in the baths, off to the command post I go. Pies first, then the bird."

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Allrecipes!


See our complete collection of Thanksgiving recipes: appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts.


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