Your Thanksgiving Prep Timeline

A Playbook to Hosting Thanksgiving

Balsalmic and honey glazed roast turkey recipe

​The Spruce / Cara Cormack

There are 3 major goals to Thanksgiving: Celebrating everything we are grateful for this past year, bringing together those we love, and devouring as much delicious food as possible. Admittedly, if you’re the one hosting Thanksgiving, it can get hectic. There are a lot of moving parts to consider, like the number of guests, how much food is enough, and how to perfectly orchestrate the timing of each dish.

We created the ultimate Thanksgiving timeline to guide you through all the details—big and small—that you'll need to consider for a successful holiday.

One Month Prior

Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole

The Spruce / Abbey Littlejohn

It’s helpful to think of your planning process as a hierarchy of tasks, where the lowest hanging fruits should be picked first. So now is the time for planning the items that aren’t likely to change, like ordering the turkey and inviting guests.


You and your guests are central to an enjoyable holiday, so make sure you consider the number of people coming, who may have allergies or special dietary restrictions, and who may be able to help you in some regard. Send your initial invites now so you can be prepared for all aspects related to those sitting at the table. 

Decor and Furniture

How do you want your home to look and feel on the day? You may need to buy decor or hire a service for things like decoration, or renting additional tables and plateware. If you’re planning with the environment in mind, consider buying used items, or even asking guests to borrow things like chairs, serving dishes, or foldable tables.


Order your turkey now and rest easy later. There are many types of turkeys to choose from, so you can preorder, then stew over exactly how you’d like to make it. Roasting is the classic method but smoking and deep-frying are also on the table. Just make sure you read up on how to prepare your bird because you may need special equipment or more than you imagined to do the job right.

Plan Your Menu

There are steadfast holiday favorites like gravy, stuffing, and pecan pie, but you may want to fold in some offbeat recipes to round out your menu. Everything is possible at this stage, so have fun and connect with any friends or family to brainstorm your Thanksgiving menu. Whether you're cooking solo or delegating dishes for a potluck setup, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Appetizers, drinks, and sides are great items to delegate to any guests you feel would be a fit for the task. 

Three Weeks Prior

Sweet Potato Casserole With Marshmallows

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

By this time, the basics are checked off and you’ve built some momentum. Now is a good time to go granular and think more specific in terms of your cleanup plan, what kitchenware you’ll need, finalizing the guest list, and more.

Devise a Cleanup Plan

The best way to deal with waste is to create less of it. This not only makes it easier on you in the long run, but it’s beneficial to the environment as well. So, consider how to use food scraps and leftovers now, limit the packaged food you buy, and assign bins in your home for compost, trash, as well as the respective categories of recyclables. Depending on your local recycling program, you may want to create specific bins for specific recycling materials with designated signs—make it simple for your guests to discard items, so they can think less and enjoy themselves more.

Take Stock of Your Kitchen

Now that you know what you’re cooking, make sure you have the right tools, serving dishes, and silverware to go with it. If you’re missing something, why not buy used or borrow it? When you plan in advance you can conserve money, effort, and the earth. We love to consider ways to reduce plastic as well as disposable dishware, so if you're low on utensils or even glassware, ask your guests if you can borrow.

Create Your Grocery List

Create your grocery list far in advance so you can start picking up certain items at your convenience. At this stage, you’ll be looking for shelf-stable products like spices, sugar, flour, or canned goods. 

Contact Your Guests

Now is a good time to touch base with guests, letting them in on the cleanup plan you’ve created. You can ask them to help by bringing along Tupperware and helping on the day of to clean and toss items into the right bins. You may also want to query them for any kitchenware they have and would be willing to lend you. Far from being demanding, you may actually inspire them to think more sustainably, too. 

Make Your Stock

Stock keeps incredibly well, so now is a great point to cook up a batch if you're looking to go homemade versus store-bought. Whether you're thinking traditional turkey stock or going vegan to meet more dietary restrictions, stock can take quite a bit of time and space.

Foods You Can Prep

  • Turkey, Chicken, or Vegetable Stock (frozen, 1 month)
  • Pie Crusts (frozen, 1 month)
  • Soup (frozen, 2 months)

Two Weeks Prior

Classic Dinner Roll Recipe

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Now may feel like you’re stuck in limbo since it’s not yet crunch time, but the date is fast approaching. You can still make progress by cleaning your home and prepping a few foods.

Clean Your Home

Understandably, you may want to delegate this task to a family member or hire a cleaning service—after all, as the host, you call the shots! Apart from creating a comfortable home, cleaning in advance will also help you clear any mental clutter.

Prep a Few Foods

Refer to our call-out box for which foods you may want to make now. A lot is dependent on how much storage and freezer space you have, but some prep is better than none. Using food storage bags helps maximize available space but opt for reusable bags to minimize trash.  

Foods You Can Prep

  • Compound Butter (frozen, 2 weeks)
  • Gravy (frozen, 2 weeks)

One Week Prior

Instant Pot Cranberry Sauce

The Spruce / Julia Estrada

You're one week away from Thanksgiving and now it's time to pick up the pace. From here on, you'll be focusing on increasingly smaller details, like emptying out your kitchen, making your turkey, and setting your table.

Clean Your Fridge and Pantries

Create space for your Thanksgiving grocery haul by eating what’s in your fridge and pantries. It might take some adjustment, like eating a meal you normally wouldn’t or ordering out, but it’s well worth it to have the space you’ll need.  

Make a Cooking Game Plan

Cooking a delicious meal, especially for a crowd, requires a precise touch on timing. So spend some time coordinating how and when you’ll make your dishes. This will be especially important for any items you make on Thanksgiving day since guests arriving and wrapping up any last-minute details will also take your attention.

Thaw Your Turkey

If you ordered a fresh turkey, ignore this. But if you bought a frozen turkey, you’ll need to start thawing it soon. The easiest way is to transfer the turkey in the fridge, but if you’re on a tighter schedule, an ice bath can work well. How long your turkey takes to thaw depends on its size, so consult our chart on how to thaw a turkey so you can decide when the time is right. 

Foods You Can Prep

  • Cranberry Sauce (frozen, 10 days)
  • Cook and purée potatoes (frozen, 2 weeks)
  • Cube bread for stuffing

The Weekend Before Thanksgiving

Jim Beam Fruit Punch

The Spruce / Rachel Riesgraf

Shopping For Groceries

Now’s the time to pick up the remaining items on your grocery list. These include the perishable foods that aren’t sensible to pick up far in advance. Because the grocery store is likely packed this whole week, you may even want to divide your list into sections, based on where they’re located in the store. This way, you can get in and get out. 

Make Your Brine

You can make a wet or dry brine but if you’re roasting your turkey, please do brine it first. This is because turkey is a lean meat, so it’s prone to drying out in the oven. Both wet and dry brines help tenderize and flavor meat, so choosing between the two is largely a matter of personal preference.

Thaw Frozen Items

If you’ve frozen pre-chopped vegetables, desserts, or side dishes, now is a good time to move them to the fridge for thawing.

Make or Chill Your Drinks

The Thanksgiving meal is often paired with wine, but it’s certainly not the only option. A Thanksgiving drink menu can include cocktails, mocktails, and warm drinks galore, so choose those you want and prep them now. 

Brine Your Turkey

If you’ve made a brine, great. Apply it to your thawed or fresh turkey so it has time to work its magic. 

Foods You Can Prep

  • Start thawing your turkey
  • Chop any veggies
  • Stuffing and casseroles (fridge, 2 days)
  • Cocktail and drink mixes (fridge, 2 days)
  • Pie fillings (frozen, 5 days; fridge, 2 days)
  • Any additional desserts

The Day Before Thanksgiving

Caramel Apple Pie

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Setting the Table

Setting your table ahead of time helps you to clear some space, sure. But it also allows you to clean any water stains and make any last-minute adjustments to your décor and table layout, if you’d like.

Cook, Bake, and Cook Some More

Today you’ll basically be making your Thanksgiving feast. Even the items that need to be saved until the day of, like mashed potatoes, rolls, and fresh salads, can be prepped for now. For example, you can peel your potatoes, mix your dough, and wash your lettuces. Other items you can check off now include baking casseroles, toasting nuts, and throwing together stuffing. 

A Note About Space

You may start to notice all the food you’re prepping is overflowing the countertops or crowding the fridge. If this happens, take a step back and focus on what you can do. For example, if you can’t make a complete casserole and store it overnight, perhaps you can sauté a mirepoix and place it in a reusable bag for using tomorrow.

Foods To Save For the Last Minute

  • Salad dressings and dips (fridge, 2 days)
  • Cocktail and drink mixes (fridge, 2 days)
  • Pie fillings (frozen, 5 days; fridge, 2 days)
  • Thaw any previously prepped items

Thanksgiving Day

Spatchcock turkey recipe

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Cook Your Turkey

Precisely when you pop your turkey into the oven (or deep-fryer or smoker) depends on its size. If you’re roasting yours, whether you’ve done it before or it’s your first time, consult our turkey cooking tips or turkey cooking times for help. 

Make Your Last-Minute Items

Now is the time to tackle the dishes you really couldn’t have made in advance, like salad and baked rolls. You can use a crockpot or keep your oven on a low temp, about 170 to 200 F, to keep things warm while you wait for guests to gather. 

Receiving Guests

As your family and friends trickle in, you’ll want to direct them to your table setup for any items they’ve brought along, which dishware they can use to serve themselves, as well as where to keep their belongings. As a result, give some thought to this beforehand, so you’re not overly distracted. Similarly, we like to have a small table set up specifically for appetizers and beverages, so everyone can relax with a snack, while the host and designated helpers put the finishing touches on the main event.

Cleanup and Set Up for Post-Meal

While a deep clean can be done after the meal, you may want to recruit a few helpers to do a light cleanup before you sit down at the table. Now is the time to set up a station for leftovers, clearing some counter space so guests can go down the line and serve themselves. 

Serve Up and Sit Down

Your turkey is done and rested, your sides are warmed and ready, and your drinks are chilled. All that’s left is to get it all on the table, say thanks, and enjoy. 

Day of Cooking

  • Warm any prepped items
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Rolls
  • Salads