Thanksgiving in my family isn't exactly predictable. A child of divorce, I alternate between my parents from year to year; hosts change frequently, and with them the guests around the table, the group dynamic, the quality of conversation. But a few things are guaranteed, no matter where I am or who I'm with: There will be turkey; there will be stuffing; there will be cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, and pie.
These aren't really dishes we eat year-round (or, in my case, on virtually any day other than Thanksgiving), so striking that balance of familiar and delicious is paramount. From the best caramelized sweet potatoes you've ever tasted to a classic fluffy and moist sausage stuffing to a super-creamy pumpkin pie, here's how to do it right.
Crisp-Skinned Butterflied Roast Turkey With Gravy
Between defrosting, brining, roasting, and carving, cooking a perfect turkey is, at best, a daunting endeavor—one that all too often ends with a table of guests mustering the polite energy to plow through a dry, overcooked, bland bird. Which is why spatchcocking should be your new best friend.
By removing the turkey's backbone with a pair of poultry shears (I promise, it's easier than it sounds!), you'll wind up with a flatter bird. Changing the turkey's dimensions and surface area simultaneously cuts down on your roasting time and guarantees evenly cooked, moist, crisp-skinned meat. And don't throw out that backbone, since its extra cartilage and meat are the keys to forming the base of our thick, rich gravy. Just be sure to skip that bucket of brining liquid—our technique capitalizes on a dry brine that's as simple as rubbing some kosher salt all over the turkey and letting it rest in the fridge overnight.
Basic Cranberry Sauce
Sure, we've got a dozen or so cranberry sauce recipes, but if you're craving simple, traditional, and easy (but not quite can-shaped-easy), this is it. The recipe calls for little more than cranberries, sugar, water, and salt, with a splash of fresh orange juice to round out the sharp tartness of the berries.
Classic Sage and Sausage Stuffing (or Dressing)
I don't know about you, but in my book, Thanksgiving is all about the stuffing. Moist, fluffy stuffing, to be precise, fragrant with sage and laden with juicy nubbins of sausage. I could eat the leftovers for days—if they were to ever make it that long. Mildly garlicky and studded with tender chunks of celery and onion, this version gets its richness from a whole stick of butter (so worth it). If you're feeling adventurous, whip up a little extra to throw into the waffle iron. Haven't you heard? Stuffing waffles are all the rage.
The Ultimate Homemade Green Bean Casserole
The canned-soup version is all well and good...for some people. But if you want to satisfy your nostalgia without sacrificing flavor and texture, you're far better off taking the from-scratch route. I'm talking fresh-blanched green beans, mushroom sauce made out of real mushrooms, and your very own fried shallots. Sound like too much work? At the very least, start with fresh beans—you can thank us later.
The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes should always be delicious, so how come they sometimes come out bland and starchy? The trick to this recipe is par-cooking the potatoes in water between 135 and 170°F before you roast them. This temperature range activates an enzyme that converts their starches into maltose, making for extra-sweet, flavorful spuds. After that, only a stint in the oven will lie between you and those crisp, caramelized edges. The best part? You need only potatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil, and a little honey and parsley to make it all happen.
Easy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
If you haven't swapped out steamed or boiled Brussels sprouts for the crispy roasted variety, we need to have a talk. Actually, all we need to do is this: Trim and halve sprouts; toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper; roast; and serve. It's that simple, that easy, and so addictively good that you won't be stuck wondering what to do with the stinky leftovers gassing up your fridge.
Ultra-Fluffy Mashed Potatoes
Getting truly fluffy mashed potatoes all boils (ha!) down to removing as much starch as possible from the equation. We start by peeling and dicing russet potatoes and rinsing them thoroughly in cold water before boiling them until tender. Then they get another starch-cleansing rinse before we pass them through a ricer or food mill. Using the proper tool is crucial—unlike a food processor or blender, ricers and food mills won't damage the starch granules excessively, which means your mash will stay nice and light.
Extra-Smooth Pumpkin Pie
I've always found pumpkin pie a little too sweet and one-dimensional for my taste. That is, until I tried this version, amped up with tangy cream cheese. It may look like your average pumpkin pie, but the cream cheese doesn't just lend a savory quality to the filling—it gives the dessert a rich, stunningly silky texture reminiscent of mousse.
Classic Pecan Pie
Every Thanksgiving spread needs a nutty, sweet, custardy pecan pie. Honey, corn syrup, and brown sugar sweeten the filling, and a touch of vanilla and salt complement the warm toasted pecans. So long as you blind-bake the crust, you'll wind up with the perfect balance of crisp, crunchy, and incredibly smooth.
What's that? You want even more traditional Thanksgiving dishes? It's cool, we've got you covered. See the rest of the line-up right this way.