How to Feed a Crowd for Thanksgiving

Whether it's your first Thanksgiving or your fortieth, feeding a holiday meal to a crowd can be intimidating. Here's how to get a head start, minimize stress and even get your guests to help.

Thanksgiving Dinner

World's Simplest Thanksgiving Turkey

Photo by: Tara Donne

Tara Donne

World's Simplest Thanksgiving Turkey

The early arrival of guests makes Thanksgiving feel like it starts a few days early. Here are some easy ways to feed the holiday crowd, giving you more time to spend with family and friends. Keep meals and snacks straightforward in the days leading up to the holiday—save your cooking energy for Thanksgiving dinner.

Plan Ahead:

Making and freezing a large batch of your favorite recipe ahead of time to have on hand will save you a bunch of time—and cleanup. Keep it simple (you'll have ample opportunity to impress your guests on Thanksgiving) and go for one-pot wonders you can easily reheat, like a hearty stew. In a pinch, pick up a large roast chicken—you can reuse it in almost anything.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes and Tips

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One Month Ahead: Deep-Dish Apple Pie

Have Ina’s showstopping pie at the ready by freezing it ahead of time. After assembling, put the entire pie — greased tin and all — into a loose-fitting plastic bag and seal tightly. Transfer it to the refrigerator the night before baking to thaw, and the next day you’ll have a fresh, juicy apple pie on your table in about an hour.

Photo By: Tara Donne

One Week Ahead: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Vegetable soups can be easily frozen if they don't have cream or eggs, making them an excellent do-ahead appetizer. The warm curry flavor in Ina's butternut squash soup will still be nicely preserved when you reheat just before serving. For an extra jump-start, cube the onions and squash ahead of time.

©Quentin Bacon

One Week Ahead: Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Cross cranberry sauce off your to-do list early by making it ahead and then freezing it. Our straightforward recipe is easy to pull together with a few simple ingredients, and the citrus will give your sauce a fresh zing, even after reheating on the stove.

One Week Ahead: Best Pie Crust Ever

Planning to make a pumpkin pie? Make your cust in advance with Aaron Sanchez's fail-safe recipe. It can be rolled out and frozen in advance — and will actually benefit from some freezing time. Chilling the dough will give it more flakiness and flavor, in addition to giving you more valuable kitchen time.

Three Days Ahead: Brined Herb-Crusted Turkey With Apple Cider Gravy

Brining is a simple, hands-off way to infuse your turkey with flavor before it even hits the oven. Anne’s recipe maximizes flavor (but minimizes prep) by having the turkey sit in the no-cook apple cider brine for 2 to 3 days.

Photo By: Tara Donne

Two Days Ahead: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

Dicing your squash ahead of time will make assembling Ina's warm fall salad a snap.

Photo By: Tara Donne

Two Days Ahead: Roasted Potatoes, Carrots, Parsnips and Brussels Sprouts

With just some herbs and olive oil, this side from Giada highlights the taste and texture of root vegetables. Cut up your veggies two days ahead, and then let the oven do all the work right before serving.

Photo By: Tara Donne ©2009

The Day Before: Sweet Potato Souffle

Finish most of your prep work early for this comforting side by boiling and mashing your sweet potatoes a day ahead. Let them come up to room temperature before using, and then you're just about ready to start baking.

Photo By: Tara Donne

The Day Before: The Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie

Letting the pie sit overnight makes Ree's version of this classic a natural do-ahead dessert. Cool the pie on the countertop before refrigerating, and then let the pie come to room temperature the next day before serving.

Photo By: Tara Donne

Simple Snacks:

If you're worried about feeding your guests in between meals, make it easy on yourself and go with ready-to-eat store-bought snacks. Choose foods that can be eaten as-is like fresh fruit, or assemble a large plate of cheeses, crackers and salami so your guests can pick and choose as they please.

The Day Of:

Crowd-pleasing favorites like muffins or oatmeal will keep all your guests satisfied until dinner. Bake and freeze muffins ahead of time or make a big pot of quick-cooking oatmeal, leaving you more time to tend to your turkey. After breakfast, invite your guests to stay in the kitchen and help out. Mention you need some taste testers and you'll find yourself with plenty of volunteers.

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