Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner (Part 1 of 3) — Turkey Brown Stock

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile – Perfect for Early Christmas Shopping

It is almost Thanksgiving and the start of holiday season here in the U.S.  This is when I wish the moratorium on human cloning had expired, and I could be in multiple places at once.

Instead, this Thanksgiving we will visit family in Minnesota and return to the Chicago area to have a second Thanksgiving at our house.  While I don’t think it is possible to have too many Thanksgivings, the problem is that I won’t have much time to prepare our second Thanksgiving when we return home.  But even if I weren’t traveling, I would cook ahead so I can relax and enjoy my guests.

So, a “do-ahead” menu is in order.   Now, admittedly, this menu is not 100% do-ahead – as I highly recommend cooking the turkey on Thanksgiving Day.  Yet, using a few tricks from my private chef days, you’d be surprised how much cooking you can do in advance without sacrificing quality and flavor.  Other than reheating sides/gravy and carving the turkey during the last hour, you can do most everything ahead.

My “do-ahead” menu left me with so much extra time that I could take visiting family/friends into Chicago for a river tour and a bit of early Christmas shopping.  If you too happen to be in Chicago, hop on the water taxi (still running) and give your guests a lovely tour for a whopping $3 fare (!).  Hop off on Michigan Avenue, The Magnificent Mile, and do some shopping before a relaxing return river “cruise”.  If you can’t get to Chicago, just relax and enjoy your guests – wherever Thanksgiving is for you….

Chicago Water Taxi – Michigan Avenue Stop at the Wrigley Building

Busts of Great American Merchants (AKA the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame) – View from the Water Taxi

Chicago River North Fork – View from the Water Taxi


Turkey with Sherry and Orange Glaze

Turkey Gravy with Homemade Turkey Brown Stock (recipes below)

Herbed Sausage and Apple Stuffing

Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips

Roasted and Spiced Sweet Potatoes

Broccoli with Lemon Wedges

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Apple Cranberry Pie

* Recipes with links are found in other blog posts.


One Week Before:

  • Order fresh turkey for pickup the day before Thanksgiving
  • Shop for all ingredients except turkey/broccoli
  • Make turkey stock
  • Make gravy and freeze
  • Mix stuffing (do not bake first) and freeze in an oven-proof dish.
  • Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate
  • Make your apple pie and freeze or, better yet, ask someone to bring one!
  • You’ve now prepared everything except the turkey and the three easy vegetable sides.

One Day (or Two) Before

  • Make potatoes and refrigerate in oven (or microwave) proof container.
  • Make roasted sweet potatoes and refrigerate in oven (or microwave) proof container.
  • Pick up fresh turkey and broccoli at the store (a frozen turkey will require more than one day to thaw in the refrigerator).
  • Prepare broccoli for steaming, refrigerate in a plastic bag and have a steamer ready on the stove top.
  • Remove stuffing and gravy from the freezer, and thaw in the refrigerator.

Thanksgiving Day

  • About 4 hours before dinner:  Get the turkey started in the oven. Now you have a few hours to relax and enjoy your guests 🙂
  • About 1 hour before dinner:  Bake thawed stuffing (bake during the last hour of cooking turkey if you have oven space; alternatively, partially bake ahead of time and reheat with sides after removing turkey).
  • About 40 minutes before dinner:  Reheat sides (if you only have one oven, make sure these are at room temperature and put them in a 375 F convection oven to reheat while you rest and carve turkey.  Alternatively, store vegetables in microwave dishes and reheat in the microwave).
  • About 30 minutes before dinner:  Remove turkey to rest, and ask someone else to carve for you while you prepare remaining dishes.
  • About 30 minutes before dinner:  Steam broccoli.
  • About 20 minutes before dinner:  Reheat gravy and add pan juices to taste.  The pan  juices will change the flavor of your turkey gravy, so you’ll need to decide how much you want to add.
  • About 10 minutes before dinner:  Check to see that everything is warm and that the carver has finished the turkey.  Put cranberry sauce on the table.
  • Serve and enjoy your Thanksgiving Dinner!

Turkey Brown Stock

Recipe By:  A Global Garnish, LLC
Yield: 6 quarts, approximately

Gluten-Free:  Yes

6 lbs turkey parts, (I use about 1/2 wings and 1/2 drumsticks/thighs)
12 ounces onions, about 3 medium or 2 large onions
6 ounces celery
6 ounces carrots
2 tablespoons oil, olive
4 ounces tomato paste, or 3 small tomatoes
8 sprigs parsley, fresh
2 sprigs thyme, fresh
1 bay leaf
3 cloves, whole
12 black peppercorns


1. Preheat oven 375 F or higher.   (Higher temperatures will brown turkey faster, but require monitoring for smoking/burning.)

Place turkey parts on baking or roasting pan – leaving space between each piece.  If you have a Demarle Silpat for lining your roasting pan, this will help your clean-up and make it easier to remove the fond (see below).   Roast turkey until browned.  If roasting @ 375 F, this will take about an hour;  if roasting @ 400 F, this will take less than 1/2 hour although time will vary based on the volume of meat in your oven.   Keep an eye on rendered fat as you may need to remove (and reserve) some of this during roasting.

Turkey Parts Ready For Roasting

2. While meat is roasting, prepare vegetables.  Peel carrots.   Cut onions, carrots and celery in very coarse chunks. (These will get tossed after cooking so no need to fuss).  Set aside.

Browned (Carmelized) Turkey Parts

3. Remove turkey pan from oven, being careful not to spill any rendered fat.  Increase oven temperature to 400 F for the vegetables.

Fill a large stock pot with about 1 gallon of COLD water and add turkey to the pot.  Add additional water to completely cover turkey, and bring to a boil. Skim the foam that forms at the surface during the early boiling phase.  Reduce heat to a hefty simmer.

4. Drain rendered fat from the roasting pan and reserve.  Deglaze pan, and add the fond to the stock.

  • COOKING FUNDAMENTALS:  DEGLAZING.  Deglazing is the process of capturing caramelized (browned) foods and flavors left in the base of your pan (see photo above) using water, wine or other liquids.   If your roasting pan can be placed on a burner, add a bit of water and bring to a simmer while scraping brown bits from the bottom of the pan.   If you used a Silpat or non flameproof pan (something you cannot place on a burner), add some boiling water and scrape the pan with a nonstick tool.  The resulting mixture of caramelized food from the pan surface and deglazing water is the fond

Vegetables – Oiled and Ready For Roasting

5. Now add your reserved turkey fat to a bowl of your chopped vegetables, and mix to coat.  If you don’t have a sufficient oil coating, add a bit of olive oil.  Spread the vegetables in a baking pan and roast @ 400 F.  Roast for about 20-30 minutes, just until browned.

(Turkey as well as vegetables can also be browned on the stove-top.  I find oven browning less time-consuming and less mess.)

By now, your turkey stock should be boiling.  Skim any brown/foamy material that has risen to the surface.

When vegetables brown, remove from oven and add to stock.  Deglaze the vegetable pan just as you did for the turkey pan, and add the fond to the stock.

6. Add remaining ingredients (tomato, herbs and spices) to the stock.  I do not recommend salt.  In professional kitchens, stock is rarely salted when prepared. Instead, salt is added, as needed, at the time of food preparation. (If you are making stock for a specific purpose and know the salt level needed, it may be easier to salt ahead of time.)

7. Simmer stock for about 6 hours.  Add water if necessary to keep turkey/vegetables covered.

8. Remove stock from heat.   Place a colander over another large pot and strain stock into second pot.   Discard turkey bones/vegetables.

Cool stock as quickly as possible by one of the following methods:

  • Pour into a shallow pan, creating more cooling surface area, and cool stock. Then place in a covered container and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Place stock pot in a sink filled with cold, iced water (blue ice works).  Place a rack or blocks under your pot to allow water to circulate below the pot.  Water in the sink should be low enough that the pot will sit securely in the sink. When cooled, refrigerate or freeze.
  • COOKING FUNDAMENTALS:  FOOD-SAFE COOLING.  The reason for cooling large volumes quickly is to get all your food (or stock) through the temperature danger zone (40-140 degrees F) as quickly as possible.  If you place a large stockpot of very warm liquid in the refrigerator, the liquid will cool from the outside in.  You risk that the liquid in the center of the pot will cool too slowly, which will allow bacteria growth. The two methods for rapid cooling are to increase surface area or to increase the rate of change in the temperature differential at the exterior.  You can increase surface area by transferring to wide, shallow pans.  You can increase rate of temperature change at the exterior by placing your stockpot in ice water rather than a refrigerator and stirring the contents occasionally; the contents of the pot will cool much faster.

9. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS:   Stock is great for gravies, sauces, braising vegetables, soups, etc.   Depending on your uses, you should freeze in appropriate quantities.  When I make stock, I usually freeze it in one quart, one pint, and one cup containers.  That way I have a mix of portions available to me.  

Turkey Gravy

Recipe By:  A Global Garnish, LLC
Yield: 5 cups, approximately

Gluten Free: No, but can be made gluten-free by using starch thickeners (e.g., cornstarch) instead of flour/butter and using homemade stock

2 ounces butter, (about 4 tablespoons)
2 ounces flour, all purpose, (about 6 tablespoons)
6 cups turkey stock, approximately
pan juices
black pepper


1. Melt butter in pan. Add flour.  Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mix begins to thicken and color slightly.

2. Gradually add heated stock, stirring/whisking with each addition.  I like to whisk in about a cup of stock initially; once that is blended and thickened, I whisk in another cup; once thickened, I add the remainder.

3. When gravy is thickened, flavor with pan juices (if you have them), salt (you will need a significant amount if using unsalted stock) and pepper.   If the gravy is thin or lacks flavor, cook until the volume is reduced and the flavor strengthens.

4. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS:  Cool and package into freezer containers.   Freeze until needed.  The day before use, remove from freezer and thaw in refrigerator over night.  At service time, heat and enjoy. If your thickener breaks down a bit from freezing, just reduce your gravy when you heat it on the stove top.

If you like a thick gravy, rather than reducing the final gravy, you can start with more butter/flour for the same quantity of stock.  Butter/flour ratio should be the same. If you need to add more thickener to a finished gravy, be sure to cook the flour/butter (roux) first and add the gravy to it — not the other way around.  


Since you’ll be finishing your dinner preparations early, don’t forget to plan your visit to Chicago.  More of my favorite places to see at Chicago’s Love Affair with the Hotdog…..

Chicago River – South Fork at Night

15 thoughts on “Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner (Part 1 of 3) — Turkey Brown Stock

  1. A post featuring 2 of my favorite things in the World: Thanksgiving dinner and Chicago! Your menu sounds great and following your timeline ensures that T-Day will be relatively relaxed. That in itself is something to be thankful for. This post will come in handy for quite a few cooks next week.
    As for Chicago, I came here for the 1st time in ’78, loved it, and moved here in ’80. I’ve had offers to move elsewhere but turned them all down. None measure up to here.

    • A great city, isn’t it? I had lived in 6 states (including two major cities) before I came here for a job interview in ’85. I was astounded at all Chicago had to offer and, like you, settled in. I think it is one of the most beautiful and livable U.S. cities.

      Have a great Thanksgiving. I’m sure any guests lucky to be at your table will be eating very well!!

  2. Pingback: Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner (Part 2) – Sausage, Sage and Apple Stuffing | A GLOBAL GARNISH

  3. Pingback: Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner (Part 3) – Cranberry Orange Sauce | A GLOBAL GARNISH

  4. I’d love to visit Chicago one day! I’m all for doing as much as possible a few days ahead of a dinner party. It’s good for my sanity and my relationship (I’m not good when panick-stricken!) And this year I’ve decided to host a Thanksgiving do even though I’m all the way in Greece! Should be fun 🙂 Prep starts today!

  5. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks!

  6. Pingback: Ireland’s Burren and Beef Stew | A GLOBAL GARNISH

  7. Pingback: 30 Years of Ukrainian Egg Parties – Painted Eggs, Menu and Paskha | A GLOBAL GARNISH

  8. Pingback: Russian Easter “Ham” – Buzhenina | A GLOBAL GARNISH

Please enter your questions and comments here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s