Sorry, turkey. We're here for the sides.
Let's be real: Thanksgiving side dishes are the best part of the holiday. From decadent sweet potato casseroles to ooey-gooey mac and cheese, turkey-day side dishes are the pinnacle of comfort food. Even better? Most sides can take casserole form, which is great because casseroles tend to be less fussy and you can throw a bunch of them in the oven at once. Plus, many casseroles work well as make-ahead dishes, which can seriously trim your to-do list on the day of Thanksgiving.
We rounded up seven of our favorite make-ahead casseroles for Thanksgiving dinner, plus helpful make-ahead tips, so you can focus all of your energy on that turkey — or on all of the family members who will soon be gathering on your doorstep.
Tips for the Best Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Casseroles
- Many casseroles can be assembled a few days ahead of time then baked just before serving. To get even further ahead of schedule, make your casserole weeks in advance and freeze it unbaked.
- You can also bake a casserole complete, then freeze it—just let it cool completely first, then wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and store it in a freezer bag. If you know you'll be freezing your casserole, you can even line the pan with foil, cool and freeze, then pull out the whole frozen casserole and wrap it in foil, letting you use your casserole dish for other tasks.
- To bake a frozen casserole, transfer it to the fridge overnight to thaw, then bake the next day. If you're short on time, you can also put the frozen casserole straight into a cold oven; turn on the oven and allow the casserole to slowly heat up (if it's the sort of thing that benefits from a crisp top, just remove the foil in the last 10 minutes or so of baking).
- Always make sure to heat a casserole thoroughly before eating it; an instant-read thermometer inserted into the casserole should read 165 degrees F for safe consumption.
- Properly wrapped and sealed casseroles can be frozen for up to 6 months without damaging flavor or texture.
- Leave off the garnish until the end. If you're making a casserole that should be topped with crispy fried onions or pecan streusel, for example, wait until just before serving to add those components.
7 Classic Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Casseroles
This updated version of a traditional favorite includes fresh green beans, a creamy homemade white sauce, and a crisp topping with two kinds of cheese. It's a perfect make-ahead candidate because it takes a little extra time to make when you're not just dumping canned ingredients into a baking dish.
Allrecipes home cook Karen raves, "I tried this recipe exactly as written and it was,in a word, AWESOME!! It's my new holiday staple. I made it the night before, stored it in the fridge and just popped it in the oven with my other sides." Watch the video to see how to make it.
A classic baked macaroni and cheese is a welcome casserole any time of year, and makes a great addition to the Thanksgiving table (because is there anything mac and cheese doesn't improve?). According to many reviewers, you can leave out the jalapenos to appease more sensitive palates (Emily R even substituted peas, which pleased even her picky eaters).
Allrecipes home cook Virginia Lee Kanzler came up with a clever way to keep this warm for transporting it to a potluck: after assembling, she threw it in her slow cooker on the warm setting rather than baking it. If you're short on Thanksgiving day oven space, this could seriously simplify things!
When it comes to recipes, awesome, easy, and creamy are a few of our favorite words. Recipe creator LETSGGGO says "This truly is the most delicious stuff! A bit like a cross between corn soufflé and a slightly sweet corn pudding! Try it; I know you will love the ease of preparation and especially the taste. Everyone always wants the recipe!" LETSGGGO also points out that the recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9x13-inch baking pan (just add a few extra minutes to the cooking time).
If you want to get a head start on this crowd-pleaser, MommyFromSeattle—who says she has been making this recipe for years—notes that it can be made ahead and refrigerated before baking. Simply let it sit out on the counter for 30 to 45 minutes before putting in the oven to let it get to room temperature. Make-ahead Thanksgiving casserole for the win!
This wildly popular five-star recipe has been marked as "made" 6,000 times and has over 2,000 positive reviews! Recipe creator TINA B says that her family begs her to make it every year, and that the secret is the pecan topping (indeed, lots of folks commented that they doubled the topping).
Many reviewers suggest roasting the potatoes for extra flavor, and quite a few still found it plenty sweet even if they cut the sugar in half. Gunia20 says, "This was a hit. Not too sweet at all...I made the casserole the day before and stored it in the fridge overnight. Made the topping the next day and threw it in the oven for 30 minutes. Very easy to make."
This makes enough stuffing for a 14-lb turkey plus extra on the side, so you might want to cut the recipe in half. Here's how home cook LADY_MARMALAADE handled a full recipe: "This stuffing was incredible! I think that it was one of my most 'complimented' cooking efforts--and I cook all the time:) It made two pans (11x9) and I made one without onions and one with."
What's one the most time-consuming, dish-dirtying, labor-intensive things to make on Thanksgiving? If you said mashed potatoes, you're right! So do yourself a favor and add mashers to your make-ahead list.
Home cook tifray says, "I made this the day before serving it. I wanted mash potatoes but didn't want to be stuck in the kitchen when company was here!"
Recipe creator Merrittorious notes that this recipe can be made ahead of time, but that you should hold aside the breadcrumb mixture until you are ready to bake the dish.
Home cook good stuff says, "WOW!!! I always thought Thanksgiving dinner was complete with all of classics my family prepared... until I made this gratin. Now I can't imagine Thanksgiving without it."