Thanksgiving dinner is probably the most difficult logistical challenge any of us tackle in our kitchens each year.
The key to the cook's enjoying this wonderful holiday is a make-ahead menu. Specifically, it's smart to have as many dishes made or assembled ahead of time so they can hit the oven as the turkey rests before carving. I knew I had stumbled upon a pretty good game plan when this year's Thanksgiving photo shoot and later dinner party were the easiest ever. These make-ahead recipes are easy enough to tackle on a busy weeknight after dinner.
For the main event, I chose a new-to-me dry brine method that meant no more buckets of brine monopolizing the refrigerator. Instead, rub the turkey with a salt-and-herb mixture, place it in a 2 1/2 gallon plastic bag and leave in the refrigerator for up to three days. The bird isn't salty but rich and meaty, and the skin is crisp. Best of all, it required no basting, which is easier on the cook.
The cornbread pecan dressing, also known as stuffing to people who aren't from around here, and the mashed potato casserole are assembled the day before and cooked after the turkey exits the oven. The sliced sweet potato pie, a delicious molasses-infused version that is stunning to cut into, can be made two days ahead. That limits actual Thanksgiving Day cooking to two chores: Roast the turkey and make the green bean casserole in a slow cooker.
As for cranberry sauce and gravy, think canned or store-bought. If homemade is a must, this menu is so streamlined that it won't take much to whip those up on Thanksgiving Day. (We'll offer recipes and last-minute tips next Wednesday.)
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