Here's a situation you might find yourself in during 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 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 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, refrigerated, and 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 require only a brief stay in the oven before serving. (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 but also score you full good-guest points.
Cold or Room-Temperature Dishes
French Onion Dip
Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan 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), but it also 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 savory, Japanese-inspired combination of salty miso, ground pork, and rich walnuts is a perfect match for crunchy vegetables (either raw or lightly cooked). It lasts for about a week in the fridge, too.
Whipped Feta Dip
Greek yogurt and feta are whipped together to produce an easy, and easy to customize, dip that travels exceedingly well and will fit into any appetizer spread. You may want to cart along a bit of extra yogurt, just in case it needs to be loosened up upon arrival.
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 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 mixes a range of flavors and textures in surprisingly few ingredients. For best results, use dried chickpeas with a few aromatics, though canned beans work, too.
Fall Harvest Salad With Roasted Brassicas, Fingerlings, and Radishes
This salad was designed to be made ahead of time and assembled right before serving, so it's a perfect dish to cart over to a Thanksgiving dinner. One of the key elements of the salad is the mix of raw and roasted radishes and sunchokes, which adds a bunch of textural and flavor contrast to an already interesting combination of roasted brassicas, bitter greens, toasted sunflower seeds, and boiled potatoes.
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 more interesting textures and flavors. This one is best served at room temperature if you're making ahead.
Wild Rice Salad With Dried Cranberries, Pickled Apples, and Pecans
Since wild rice is native to North America, it makes a particularly holiday-appropriate grain salad. In this dish, the wild rice is combined with cranberries and pickled apples, along with toasted pecans and sautéed onion and celery for savory depth. Be sure to keep the pickled apples separate from the rest of the components and add them in while dressing the salad with the reserved pickling brine right before serving. If you'd prefer to bring over a warm wild rice salad, one that should spend just a little time in the oven before serving, you should try this one. It pairs the rice with sautéed mushrooms and celery root, along with onion and celery, for an earthier side salad.
Who doesn't love deviled eggs? Since they're the perfect hors d'oeuvre, they're also the perfect dish to bring along for a Thanksgiving feast. While we have many, many variations to choose from, why don't you try out the ones Kenji serves at his restaurant, Wursthall? Homemade mayo, a bunch of mustard, a glug of the pickling liquid from pickled peppers, and some added vinegar make a rich and bright filling that you can pipe into perfectly cooked white halves. Right before serving, finish them off with pickled mustard seeds, a sprinkling of fragrant and floral ground pepper, along with a hit of good olive oil and crunchy salt.
Thanksgiving Stuffed Roast Pumpkins
Not everything in life is a competition. But if there were a competition for best dish ever brought by a guest to Thanksgiving, this dish would win it. Roasted pumpkins stuffed with an autumnal mix of mushrooms, kale, kabocha squash, and cheese can serve as a vegetarian centerpiece for a Thanksgiving meal, but they also have the potential to upstage a Norman Rockwell-esque roasted turkey, both in terms of flavor and presentation. These stuffed pumpkins can be made two days in advance and just need a bit of time in the oven before serving.
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 and then baked just before serving.
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 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.
Classic Baked Mac and Cheese
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 and then pop it in the oven for just 20 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Mmm, vegetables.