A Last-Minute, No-Sweat Timeline for Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

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 days ahead and pies cooling on the windowsill. Ha. Ha ha ha. Have you ever pulled that off? Not me. In my world, work gets crazy in the time leading up to Thanksgiving, and I’ve been that person looking fruitlessly for a thawed turkey at Trader Joe’s on the morning before Thanksgiving.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. In fact, don’t stress over getting all that work done ahead. Shop Wednesday morning and have a no-sweat Thanksgiving dinner ready on Thursday afternoon. This timeline shows you the way.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)
(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Download (and Print) a Full-Sized Timeline

Updated for Thanksgiving 2017 with more readable typeface, and broken into two 8.5 x 11 pages for easier printing!

This last-minute Thanksgiving menu is the same one we shared for our budget (under $100) Thanksgiving meal. Not only is it budget-friendly, but it also lets you cook for 10 on a relatively relaxed schedule.

It includes all the things that are really essential on the Thanksgiving table, but leaves room for friends and guests to bring other things — rolls, salad, extra dessert.

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.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

The Last-Minute Menu

For Guests to Bring

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

The Last-Minute Plan

This plan assumes you just don’t have time to pull things together until Wednesday morning. 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.

Then go to town on the prep and cooking over Wednesday morning or afternoon, and Thursday morning.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

No, Your Turkey Doesn’t Have to Thaw

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.

If you have a frozen turkey, use these cooking times.

Estimated 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.

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.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

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 primp and shower on Thursday morning. And don’t forget the music — we have the most amazing playlist for your whole Thanksgiving prep session.

Happy Thanksgiving!