Thanksgiving Countdown: A Timeline for Smooth Sailing

Here’s a good guide for getting all the important things done on time, in style, with minimal stress. We can all give thanks for that!

What’s the timeline for pulling off a successful dinner? It can vary a lot depending on the size and setting for your Thanksgiving, and also on your personality type: Über manager? Procrastinator? Compulsive list maker (that’s me!)?

Here’s a good guide for getting all the important things done on time, in style, with minimal stress. We can all give thanks for that!


Clean out the Fridge. Finding room for everything can be a challenge. Now is the time to go through the refrigerator and toss anything that’s old or rearrange the contents to maximize space.

Do your first shop. If you haven’t done so yet, head out to get all the non-perishable staples and all the cookware you’ll need. Most dairy like eggs, butter and cheese can also be bought now. If you didn’t special order a turkey, now is the time to get a frozen one.


Shop for perishables. Pick up fruits, vegetables, herbs and anything else you’ll need, with the exception of breads or baked goods (shop for these the day before serving them).

Start thawing your turkey if it’s frozen. Always thaw in the refrigerator, and make sure the turkey is on a sheet pan or platter to catch drips. More turkey thawing guidelines. opens in a new tab

Make cranberry sauce and vinaigrettes. Cover them well and refrigerate. Cranberry sauce recipes opens in a new tab.


Make turkey stock. If you plan to make gravy from homemade stock, retrieve the neck and giblets from your turkey and use them to make it. Cool the stock, refrigerate it, and then skim off any fat that rises to the top the next day.

Make dips. Most dairy-based dips and spreads can safely be made now. A few exceptions are avocado dips (they may discolor) and dips with seafood; make these no more than 1 day ahead. Dip recipes opens in a new tab.


Mix stuffing or dressing. Now is a good time to prepare your stuffing, but for freshest results wait until Thanksgiving Day to bake it.

Make potato dishes. You can prepare mashed or casserole potatoes now to reheat on Thanksgiving. Cool them, and then make sure they’re securely covered before refrigerating them so they don’t absorb food odors. Potato and sweet potato recipes opens in a new tab.

Buy flowers if they’re part of your décor. Most blooms look best after they’ve had a day or two to open up. (Long-stemmed roses are an exception.) Learn more about Whole Trade flowers opens in a new tab.

Thaw frozen baked goods. Transfer breads, pie dough, etc. from the freezer to the fridge.


Make pies and other desserts. Do your dessert baking now. Most pies are fine if cooled and then loosely covered and left at room temperature. Cream-based desserts should be refrigerated. Now is also the time to buy any prepared breads or baked goods you’ll be serving. Holiday pie recipes opens in a new tab.

Brine your turkey. If you’re brining, start soaking your turkey now as directed by the recipe. More brining tips and tricks opens in a new tab.

Set out all serving platters and utensils. Make sure all glassware and place settings are clean and ready, too. If you have a particularly big gathering planned, label the serving platters.



Chill drinks. Refrigerate beverages, or check the weather forecast to see if you can place them outside to cool (about 40°F is ideal!).

Put your turkey in to roast. Count backwards from the time you’ll want to serve it, being sure to leave enough time for it to rest before carving (usually at least 30 minutes). Top roasting tips opens in a new tab and turkey recipes opens in a new tab.

Cook stuffing. If you’re stuffing your bird, make sure the stuffing goes in cool (never warm) and loosely packed to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Do this just before you pop the turkey in the oven.

Prepare vegetable dishes and salads. Cover the tops of salads with damp towels to keep them freshest, and only dress them at the last minute.

Bake breads, biscuits or rolls. These are best if they’re super-fresh. Holiday breads, muffins and rolls opens in a new tab.

Set the table or arrange your buffet. Double-check glassware and silverware for dust or dirt spots.


There shouldn’t be much to do now: Put on music, set out your appetizers (heat them as necessary), make gravy, toss salads, handle odds and ends…and enjoy!

Check out all of the Thanksgiving tips, recipes and ideas in our online holiday guide opens in a new tab.

What are your tips for planning ahead for the holidays?

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