A Printable Timeline and Cooking Plan for an Easy, Last-Minute Thanksgiving Dinner

updated Nov 19, 2021
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In a perfect world we would all be perfectly prepped and perfectly organized well ahead of Thanksgiving. You’d have gravy and parbaked rolls in the freezer; there would be a turkey brining two days ahead and pies cooling on the windowsill. Ha ha ha. Have you ever pulled that off? Sometimes I’m that person, but just as often I’m the person looking fruitlessly for a thawed turkey at Trader Joe’s the day before Thanksgiving.

But you know what? It’s FINE if you can’t (or won’t) prep ahead. You can shop Wednesday morning, cook Wednesday afternoon, and have a classic Thanksgiving dinner ready on Thursday. In fact, you don’t even have to thaw the turkey. This printable timeline I’m sharing today allows time to cook a fully-frozen turkey (truly it’s fine!). It’s just as perfect, and honestly no-sweat.

The whole feast! (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

What’s on the Last-Minute Thanksgiving Menu?

This last-minute menu will give you all the classic dishes most common on the Thanksgiving table, like turkey, sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. If you do this menu as-written it serves about 10 people. There are links to all the recipes below the timelines with a few more details on shopping and cooking plans.

A Printable Last-Minute Thanksgiving Timeline

We have two different versions of this timeline. The first is super stripped-down, and printable on one page, but leaves out some detail (don’t forget to bake the stuffing in the last half hour your turkey is roasting!). We also share a two-page version that has more detail for those of you who like more step-by-step notes.

Turkey Timing Note: Our timeline calls for taking the turkey out of the oven about an hour and 45 minutes before carving. This long lead time allows a buffer in case your turkey needs more time to cook, and it also makes room in the oven for sides. If you have two ovens you can massage the timeline — or if you have just one oven but want to finish cooking the turkey while you heat the sides, you can squeeze the sides in alongside the turkey. Either way, when you remove the turkey from the oven, tent it with foil to keep it warm and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.

The Simple Timeline (One Page)

Click this to download a full-sized version to print.

Download and Print the Simple Timeline
DOWNLOAD PAGE 1

The Detailed Timeline (Two Pages)

Click this to download a full-sized version to print.

Download and Print the Detailed Timeline (2 pages)
DOWNLOAD PAGE 1 (Wednesday)

Click this to download a full-sized version to print.

Get the Last-Minute Thanksgiving Recipes

This last-minute Thanksgiving menu includes all the things that are really essential on the Thanksgiving table, but leaves room for friends and guests to bring other things like rolls, salad, and extra dessert. The menu is budget-friendly, but it also lets you cook for 10 on a relatively relaxed schedule. And of course, if a friend is up for bringing a more major dish, like mashed potatoes or stuffing, then that just cuts your work down all the more. Draw a giant red line through that part of the timeline and enjoy your extra time! Otherwise, hang this up on your fridge and let it guide you to a low-stress Thanksgiving feast.

The Recipes

For Guests to Bring

  • Rolls or bread
  • Salad or other green sides
  • Extra desserts
  • More booze or wine

The Last-Minute Shopping List & Plan

This plan assumes you just don’t have time to pull things together until Wednesday morning. Shop on Wednesday, cook on Wednesday afternoon, then roast the turkey and bake sides on Thursday. Many of us have the day before Thanksgiving off entirely, or at least half of the day. Go shopping — yes, brave the crowds! It’s an experience! Reward yourself with a hot toddy! — and grab everything you need off the menu above. To make it really easy, we have the shopping list (and budget shopping tips) here.

Yes, You Can Cook a Frozen Turkey

The really beautiful thing about this plan is that the turkey doesn’t have to thaw at all. Whew — goodbye, most stressful part of Thanksgiving Day! (Is it thawed? Is it not?) Kick all the uncertainty to the curb and shove that bad boy in the oven even if it’s frozen solid. All you have to do is get up a little earlier. Bonus: You have more time to prep everything else, and get started early on the sangria action. Check the temperature! Just remember to to take the turkey’s temperature in the breast and thigh; it should be 165°F at least to safely eat.

Cooking Times for Frozen Turkeys

  • 8- to 12-pound turkey: 4 to 4 1/2 hours
  • 12- to 14-pound turkey: 4 1/2 to 5 3/4 hours
  • 14- to 18-pound turkey: 5 3/4 to 6 1/4 hours
  • 18- to 20-pound turkey: 6 1/4 to 6 3/4 hours
  • 20- to 24-pound turkey: 6 3/4 to 7 1/2 hours

Partially thawed turkeys will have shorter cooking times.

Own your cooking holiday! (Mug from Brim Papery) (Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Play Good Tunes and Enjoy Your Cooking Holiday

But this doesn’t mean working like crazy; consider it a cooking holiday and make sure you get some time to listen to your favorite podcasts, maybe even watch a little Netflix. We even scheduled in time for you to shower and primp on Thursday morning. And don’t forget the music — we have the most amazing playlist for your whole Thanksgiving prep session.

  • Get Our Ultimate Thanksgiving Playlist: A Playlist for the Four Stages of Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving!