With a few simple preparations and safety tips, it is easy to make ahead dressing recipes for your Thanksgiving dinner.
It's a big question every year, what can we prepare for Thanksgiving the day before to make the holiday easier? We all want to reduce the stress of preparing our big family meal, and the good news is I have some great tips to help keep your stress level down so you can enjoy your day with friends and family.
What is the difference between dressing and stuffing?
Stuffing is cooked on the inside of a turkey. Dressing is traditionally cooked in a casserole dish or Corningware-type dish. However, both words are used interchangeably depending on what region of the United States you live in.
Dressing is generally the name used in southern states such as Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Dressing is more often used in the Northern and Pacific Northwest. Midwesterners tend to use both words interchangeably, regardless of how it is cooked.
FUN TIP: Studies show that nearly 50% of Americans cook their stuffing inside their turkey.
For safety reasons, I am breaking up the information on cooking, dressing, and stuffing into two different categories.
Can dressing be made before Thanksgiving day?
Many great cooks feel it is best to make your stuffing the day before. It needs time for the dried bread mixture to infuse the flavoring of fresh herbs, turkey or chicken broth, and veggies. Read through these ideas and tips to safely make your dressing before Thanksgiving Day.
According to the USDA, the dressing should not be made ahead and kept in the fridge overnight, unbaked.
- If you plan on making your dressing a side dish, you can prepare uncooked dressing ahead of time as long as you freeze the dressing immediately after mixing the wet and dry ingredients.
- To cook the dressing, do not thaw before cooking. Cook from the frozen state until the dressing reaches 165°F.
- If you prefer not to freeze your dressing beforehand, prepare your wet and dry ingredients separately. Keep chilled in the refrigerator. Then mix them together just before baking your dressing.
How to make dressing ahead of time
You can make your dressing before Thanksgiving Day with a few simple tips and forethought on prepping ingredients.
Gather your ingredients
It's a good idea to review and make a shopping list for all the recipes you plan to cook several days before Thanksgiving. I have created a free printable Thanksgiving Planner. You will get a blank grocery list, how much stuffing you need chart, and a blank menu to make planning easier. You can get yours by joining my free members' printable library.
Prep your vegetables
It is OK to precut your onions, celery, or other veggies a few days before you plan on needing them. Keep them in special veggie storage containers. You could also put them in an air-tight container or plastic bag with a damp piece of paper towel on top of them. The moisture from the paper towel will help them not dry out.
You could also precook vegetables such as onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. After cooking, keep them in an air-tight container for up to three days in your refrigerator.
Prep your bread
- Buy or make the type of bread you will use in your dressing recipe a few days prior to making your dressing. Be sure to look in the day-old bread section of your grocery, they discount a variety of types of bread, such as sourdough bread, white bread and french bread, which is perfect for making the dressing.
- Tear the bread into chunks or cut it into small cubes.
- In a large bowl, toss the bread with a little olive oil, coating the bread on all sides.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, then toss your olive oil-coated bread cubes onto the baking sheet. Toast the bread in a 250-degree oven. Stir often so your bread evenly toasts.
- When the bread is dried, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. Place the dry toasted bread into a large air-tight container or zipper plastic bags. It's ready for dressing assembly day.
If you are going to add meats such as oysters, poultry, or sausage, the USDA suggest precooking them before adding them to your dressing. This will reduce the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria that are in raw ingredients.
Prep your add-ins
- Oysters: pre-cook for safety
- Nuts: Toast nuts. This helps them stay crunchy in your dressing recipe.
- Apples: Wash, core, and chop apples. Be sure to sprinkle Fruit Fresh or lemon juice, so they do not brown. Also, use a very air-tight container and keep them in your fridge.
- Giblets: pre- cook then chop into small pieces
- Meats: pre-cook sausage, bacon, or poultry
Make your broth
If you like to use homemade turkey broth or bone broth when making a dressing, it's easy to make the broth several days before. Forget simmering for hours - this Instant Pot Chicken Stock is rich, packed with flavor, and takes much less time. Chicken wings are the stock base, but you could also purchase turkey wings.
What container should I use for make-ahead dressing?
Once you have your dressing made, place it into a prepared Corningware or ceramic baking dish you plan on cooking it in.
If you want easy clean-up on Thanksgiving day, use a disposable pan for baking your dressing. I have a tip: aluminum pans are thin and can burn easier than regular baking dishes. So, place your aluminum pan on a cookie sheet in your oven. Doing so will help your dressing not burn to the bottom of the pan.
How to safely store make-ahead dressing
Be sure to cover the casserol dish with tight-fitting foil. I like to label the foil with a permanent marker of what is in the casserol dish, what temperature the dressing should be baked, and for how long. Doing this will help you and those helping you on a busy cooking day.
- If your dressing has been baked, keep it in your refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- If your dressing is raw, freeze it until you are ready to bake it.
How to freeze premade dressing ahead of time.
- Prepare the dressing mixture according to your recipe, but do not bake. Put stuffing in a freezer-safe dish and cover the pan with aluminum foil. If you plan to keep it in the freezer for more than a week, wrap it with foil and then freezer paper. Use freezer tape to secure all the seems. The dressing can be frozen for up to three months.
- Thaw: It is best not to thaw frozen dressing. Remove it from the freezer and cook immediately to 165 degrees F.
- Bake: Bake according to your recipe directions. However, you might need to add some extra baking time from the original recipe. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees.
How to make-ahead Thanksgiving stuffing
It is best to prepare the dry and wet ingredients for stuffing separately if you want to make it ahead of time. For a complete stuffing cooking guide, visit Butterball's How to Stuff A Turkey.
- Mix your stuffing mix in a large bowl. If your stuffing seems dry, add some more broth to the stuffing mixture. Heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Loosely stuff your turkey carcass.
- After stuffing your turkey, immediately place it in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees F.
- When your turkey is about done cooking, be sure to use a long meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of your stuffing is 165 degrees F. Be sure not to remove the turkey until your stuffing is at the correct, safe temperature.
Tip: How much stuffing can I put in a turkey?
As a general rule, you can put about 3/4 cup of uncooked stuffing per pound of turkey weight. Be sure not to pack it tight so it can cook properly. Be sure and sign up for my free Thanksgiving Printable to get your How Much Stuffing Do I Need Chart.
Tip: How long do I cook stuffing in a turkey?
It is advised by the USDA to only put stuffing in a small or medium size turkey. This will allow the stuffing to bake properly to a minimum of 165 degrees F. A large turkey has a much bigger cavity and would make it difficult to get to the center of the stuffing for a good thermometer reading.
Tips for serving Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing
How do you keep stuffing warm and moist for a Thanksgiving buffet?
Chafing is a great way to keep stuffing, mashed potatoes, or green bean casserole warm during a Thanksgiving meal. If you want to keep your stuffing moist, keep a pan of turkey broth warming on your stovetop. If you find your dressing is starting to dry out, drizzle a few spoonfuls of warm broth over it.
How long can dressing or stuffing sit out?
When serving cooked stuffing or dressing, it is best only to allow it to sit out at room temperature for no longer than 2 hours to avoid bacteria growth.
Tips for reheating Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing
With a few simple tips, your reheated dressing will be just as tasty as it was on Thanksgiving day.
How do you keep leftover stuffing moist?
Before you reheat your dressing, drizzle chicken broth, vegetable broth, or turkey broth over the top of your pan of dressing. You could also spread a few pats of butter if the top has a lot of dried-out brown bits on top. However, my favorite part about leftover stuffing is the little bites of crunchy browned bread.
How to reheat dressing in the oven
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Put the stuffing in an oven-safe dish. Cover with foil tightly so it will not dry out in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
How to reheat dressing in the microwave
Place your dressing in a microwave-safe bowl. Drizzle some broth over the top to help keep it moist. Microwave on medium heat, stirring it every few minutes until hot.
How long is leftover stuffing and dressing good for?
Leftover stuffing should be consumed or frozen within 3-4 days. Do not stuff a whole turkey (or any poultry) with leftover cooked stuffing.
How to reheat frozen stuffing
If you have frozen your already cooked dressing in an oven-safe dish, there is no need to defrost it before baking. Place the dish in a cool oven. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Be sure to keep your dish covered with foil so it doesn't dry out. If your dish does seem dry after baking, pour over a few tables spoons of broth and heat for 10 more minutes. If you like a crispy top on your stuffing, remove the foil during the last 10 - 15 minutes of baking.
FAQ Make Ahead Thanksgiving Dressing
Can you cook dressing the day before?
On turkey day, your oven is maxed out. You can cook your dressing the day before in an oven-safe casserole dish. After baking, allow to cool, then tightly wrap the dish and place it into your refrigerator if you plan on reheating it within two or three days. Freeze baked dressing if it will be more than two days until you need to bake it.
Is premixed stuffing purchased from the store safe to eat?
The USDA states that if the premixed stuffing is uncooked, it is unsafe, and consumers should not buy it. The stuffing would be safe to buy if the premixed stuffing is cooked and refrigerated. At home, reheat it to 165 °F before serving.
Is it safe to use raw oysters in stuffing?
If you plan to prepare oyster stuffing for your turkey, the USDA recommends that you cook the oysters prior to making stuffing.
Can you make stuffing in a slow cooker?
The USDA states it is safe to make stuffing in a slow cooker if you follow these guidelines:
- The stuffing needs to be very moist.
- Fill the slow cooker loosely, no more than 2/3 full.
- The lid should fit tightly on the slow cooker.
- Start cooking on the high setting for at least 1 hour before reducing the setting to low.
- Cook until the center of the stuffing reaches 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Consult your slow cooker manual for approximate times.
- NOTE: Never place frozen stuffing or other frozen food in a slow cooker.
Can you reheat leftover stuffing in a slow cooker?
Leftovers should not be reheated in a slow cooker due to the length of time it takes for the leftover food to pass through the "Danger Zone," the temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F. Reheat the stuffing in an oven set no lower than 325 °F or in a microwave oven. Once reheated, leftover stuffing may be served in a preheated slow cooker on the buffet.
More Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas
Favorite Make-Ahead Dressing and Stuffing Recipes
I have gathered some great Thanksgiving side dish recipes for you to try this year. The basic ingredients are the same, but each recipe has a unique twist on this classic side dish. Keep in mind all my tips for making your dressing before the big day. You are sure to find one that will take center stage on your holiday table.