Here's a situation you might find yourself in in the days leading up to Thanksgiving: You're not preparing the full dinner at your house this year (sweet relief!), but you are driving a few hours out of town or taking the train to spend the holiday with friends or family. And, like the avid and helpful cook you are, you've offered to contribute a dish to relieve some of the pressure on your harried hosts. Perfect. Is the time to tackle that task Thanksgiving morning, when you're scrambling to pack and map out your route and somehow keep your kids from a minor riot as you occupy yourself with all of the above? It is not. What you want is a dish you can start on well in advance of Thanksgiving Day—at least 24 hours ahead, but preferably even earlier, just to give yourself plenty of leeway—and one that will survive unscathed all the way to Grandma's house.
If you were quick-thinking enough to volunteer for pie duty, you're set: pretty much any of our Thanksgiving pies can be made a minimum of two days in advance and refrigerated, then re-crisped for 30 minutes in a warm oven. But if you've been assigned a savory casserole or creamy dip, you still have a number of options that either can be served cold or at room temperature, or that require only a brief stay in the oven to finish or reheat. (Just remember to check with your host before you start cooking to reserve space in that oven—and don't assume there'll be room to spare!) Below, we've assembled some of our favorite make-ahead, travel-friendly Thanksgiving dishes that will allow you to get the prep out of the way early and still score full good-guest points.
Cold or Room-Temperature Dishes
French Onion Dip
Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese both contribute powerful umami flavors to this intensely oniony dip, while a splash of lemon juice adds a necessary dose of brightness. Not only can you make it in advance (up to five days ahead!), it actually improves in flavor as it sits in the refrigerator.
Miso, Pork, and Walnut Dip for Vegetables
Far from being an afterthought, a thoughtfully assembled crudité platter is a great way to ease yourself into a day of heavy eating. Often, it's the dip that separates a great crudité plate from one that's just passable, and this unusual yet deliciously savory Japanese-inspired combination of salty miso, ground pork, and rich walnuts is a perfect match for crisp, crunchy vegetables (either raw or lightly cooked). It lasts for about a week in the fridge, too.
Roasted Cauliflower With Pine Nut, Raisin, and Caper Vinaigrette
Roasting is one of the best ways to treat cauliflower, turning a mild vegetable sweet, nutty, and deeply browned. It's delicious on its own, but adding a complex vinaigrette of briny capers, sweet raisins, and rich pine nuts makes it worthy of a special occasion. Though the recipe calls for the cauliflower to be served immediately, we find it's just as good at room temp.
Beet and Wheat Berry Salad With Pickled Apples and Pecans
Sweet roasted beets, sautéed beet greens, chewy wheat berries, tangy pickled apples, and crunchy pecans combine in a salad that's robust, seasonal, and refreshing. All of the ingredients hold their shape well and retain freshness, so they'll stand up well to a long car ride. The beets will stain the other ingredients more deeply the longer the salad sits, but otherwise, there's no downside to assembling it three days in advance.
Roasted-Chickpea and Kale Salad With Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
For hearty fall and winter salads that last surprisingly long in the fridge, kale is a tough base to beat. Here, we combine the sturdy green with earthy chickpeas—canned, yes, but we roast them first for better flavor—and a simple, bright dressing of sun-dried tomatoes, cilantro, and mint. It's a great respite from all the rib-sticking fare of a traditional Thanksgiving spread, and it'll be just as good three days after you make it—if not even better.
Easy Make-Ahead Carrot and Chickpea Salad With Dill and Pumpkin Seeds
This dead-simple make-ahead salad combines chickpeas, grated carrot, dill, and toasted pepitas for a dish that effectively combines a range of flavors and textures in surprisingly few ingredients. For best results, cook your chickpeas from dried with a few aromatics, though canned beans will work, too.
Make-Ahead Chickpea Salad With Cumin and Celery
Another easy chickpea dish to whip up, this one adds crisp celery and bright parsley to the chickpeas and tosses it all in a vinaigrette of olive oil, shallot, and cumin. Make extra and take a portion to work for lunch on the Monday after the holiday—yeah, it really will keep that long.
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad With Chutney Vinaigrette
Pairing the inherent sweetness of sweet potato with savory ingredients creates a more balanced preparation for the seasonal root vegetable. In this case, we coat roasted sweet potato chunks with a spicy-sweet dressing based on mango chutney, Dijon mustard, and honey. Chewy dried cranberries, sliced scallions, and toasted almonds add further interesting textures and flavors. This one is best served at room temperature if you're making ahead.
Warm Butternut Squash and Cheddar Dip
If there's no such thing as too many casseroles at your Thanksgiving dinners, start off in fine form with this perfectly seasonal (and unapologetically cheesy) baked appetizer of nutty roasted butternut squash, sage, caramelized onions, cream cheese, and cheddar. Serve with pita chips or crackers, and make sure they're big enough for scooping up all those stretchy bands of melted cheese. This dip can be made up to three days in advance, then baked just before dinner.
The Ultimate Homemade Green Bean Casserole
While many of us have a soft spot for the canned-beans, canned-mushroom-soup, canned-everything casserole that's traditional on Thanksgiving, a few upgrades and substitutions—blanched fresh green beans, a homemade mushroom sauce, and a freshly fried crispy-shallot topping—will improve on the flavor and texture of the original by leaps and bounds. Once the casserole is assembled, it can be refrigerated for up to two days before baking and topping.
Crispy Mashed Potato Casserole With Bacon, Cheese, and Scallions
Mashed potatoes aren't known for their ability to reheat well, but there are nevertheless a few ways to make them ahead of time and serve them up good as new. One of our favorites is this smooth and creamy whipped-potato casserole, topped with all the ingredients of a classic loaded baked potato: cheddar cheese, bacon, and scallions. Incorporating sour cream into the mash adds enough moisture to allow the potatoes to keep for a few days without drying out.
Hasselback Potato Gratin
The original incarnation of Hasselback potatoes had its day in the sun, but it pales in comparison to this rich gratin. We line up very thinly sliced potatoes in a baking dish and cover them just partway with a sauce of heavy cream, Gruyère, and Parmesan, resulting in a satisfying combination of gratin-style creaminess and crisp, browned edges. This casserole does require about an hour and a half in the oven, so plan accordingly with your hosts.
Baked Mac and Cheese, 2 Ways
If oven macaroni and cheese is a regular feature of your family's Thanksgiving dinners (or, you know, any celebratory family meal whatsoever), you're bound to find exactly the dish of cheesy comfort you're looking for in one of these two recipes. We've got both a more classic, béchamel-based version that allows for a sharper flavor of cheese, or a more modern iteration with an extra-smooth-and-gooey, well-emulsified sauce. Either way, you can assemble the casserole ahead of time and refrigerate it until you're ready to bake, with no real damage done.
Sweet Potato Casserole
By incorporating a range of flavors from other ingredients—like nutty brown butter, spicy ginger, and fragrant sage—and roasting the sweet potatoes to bring out their natural sugars, we developed a sweet potato casserole that's just as sweet as it ought to be, no more. (But don't worry—you'll still get your fluffy melted-marshmallow topping!)
Over-the-Top Creamed Brussels Sprouts Gratin
If your loved ones still aren't on the Brussels sprout bandwagon, perhaps this will be the recipe to bring them into the fold: a super-rich casserole that enrobes the little sprouts in heavy cream and Gruyère and surrounds them with salty bacon lardons. Make it ahead through step 2, then pop it in the oven for just 20 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Mmm, vegetables.