We've all been there. The roast is in the oven, you've got your sister peeling Brussels sprouts, you're keeping an eye on the dog to make sure it isn't grabbing a sneaky taste of the pies cooling in the hallway, your stuffing is getting packed into its casserole dish and—f*&k me, did I really just run out of kosher salt? I'm not going to say there's nothing worse than having to run out to the store in the middle of a marathon cooking session on Thanksgiving Day, but, like root canals and bicyclists while driving, it's the kind of thing that's just best avoided.
Here's a quick list of all the perishable and nonperishable goods you should have on hand to make sure that your Thanksgiving goes off without a hitch. To make it easier for you, we've assembled these items into a super-simple checklist that you can print out.
Essential Thanksgiving Ingredients: For the Fridge
All of these items can be stored in the refrigerator at least three weeks in advance.
Some vegetables, and even some meats, will last over a week in the refrigerator. Stock up on them early to save time and headaches with last-minute shopping.
- The turkey! A frozen bird will last for months—just remember to give it a few days to defrost in the fridge—and even a fresh bird, if packaged in a sealed airtight bag, will last for several weeks. Check the expiration date on the bag when purchasing, and take a look at our guide to buying turkey to figure out the size and type you need.
- Sage sausage, for your Classic Sage and Sausage Stuffing.
- Bread, for that same stuffing. We recommend using high-quality white sandwich bread or challah for the tastiest stuffing.
- Hearty herbs, like fresh thyme and rosemary.
- Celery, kept in its plastic bag in the fridge.
- Brussels sprouts, stored in a loose plastic bag in the fridge.
- If you're planning to make your own cranberry sauce, fresh cranberries will last for several weeks in the fridge. We have a number of cranberry sauce recipes for you to choose from. If you're going store-bought, Ocean Spray makes our favorite jellied sauce, while Trader Joe's carries the winner of our store-bought-cranberry-sauce taste test.
- Beets, if you're the kind of person who likes beets. If you think you aren't, then you should really try this salad and get back to us. Or this salad, or this one. We'll wait.
- Eggs, for your Butternut Pumpkin Pie and your stuffing (not to mention your day-after-Thanksgiving hash!).
- Unsalted butter, for making pies, cooking the roux for your gravy, greasing baking dishes for casseroles, and stirring into your mashed potatoes. Butter is one of the ingredients that you should always have more of than you think you'll possibly need.
- Heavy cream, for your homemade green bean casserole, your over-the-top creamed Brussels sprouts, and this crisp-and-creamy Hasselback potato gratin.
- Bourbon, because it's always nice to slip it in somewhere it doesn't belong.
- Bacon, for your bacon-braised green beans or your seared Brussels sprouts with bacon (and, of course, for the day-after turkey clubs).
Essential Thanksgiving Ingredients: For the Freezer
- Nuts can be stored in the freezer for months. Use them in salads, like this warm Brussels sprout salad with bacon and hazelnuts; to make a crunchy garnish for a butternut squash soup; to make glazed pecans or spiced cashews for pre-dinner snacking; and, of course, to make a classic pecan pie.
- Frozen puff pastry is a great shortcut to easy appetizers and hors d'oeuvres, like a goat cheese tart. (Try swapping out the eggplant for fennel for a seasonally appropriate variation!)
- Bay leaves, for flavoring your stock and gravy.
- Frozen pearl onions compared favorably with fresh in our pearl onion taste test. We'd recommend them in any of our pearl onion recipes.
Essential Thanksgiving Ingredients: Dry Goods
Keep dry goods in a dark, cool cabinet to maximize their useful life, and please, for the love of all that is holy, do not store your oils above or near your stove. Heat will cause them to turn rancid very quickly. Keep them far from a heat source, in a cool, dark space.
Jarred and Canned Goods
- All-purpose flour, for all of your baking needs: yeast-raised angel biscuits, brown butter cornbread, and pie dough, to name a few. (If you'd rather use a store-bought crust, Trader Joe's pie crust won our taste test.) You'll also need flour for most any gravy recipe, and many baked casseroles, like classic baked mac and cheese. And, if you're planning to throw tradition to the wind this year and substitute pumpkin cake for pie, you'll probably want to pick up a box of bleached cake flour—we like Swans Down brand.
- Baking powder and baking soda. You'll need them for baked goods, of course—but baking powder is also a key ingredient in achieving the crispiest turkey skin.
- Granulated sugar.
- Brown sugar.
- Corn syrup or maple syrup. The secret to great pecan pie or great mashed sweet potatoes.
- Pecans, if you don't already have them in the freezer. Know what else you can't make a great pecan pie without?
- Confectioners' sugar, to make your American buttercream frosting for a tradition-busting cake, or just to lend a nice, pretty dusting to all your baked goods. Use organic powdered sugar if the conventional stuff feels gritty to you.
- Graham crackers, for an easy pie crust alternative.
- Canned pumpkin purée—not to be confused with canned pumpkin pie filling!—to make an Extra-Smooth Pumpkin Pie, a beautifully golden yeast-raised pumpkin bread, or a pumpkin coffee cake to feed any overnight guests you're having for the holidays. (And check out our fresh-versus-canned-pumpkin taste test to see why you should really make your pie filling from scratch.)
- Chicken stock is a Thanksgiving necessity for gravy, stuffing, and tons of other dishes. You can make it yourself, or, if you'd prefer, buy the low-sodium stuff from the store. Swanson's Chicken Cooking Stock was the winner of our taste test of store-bought chicken stocks.
- Kosher salt.
- Black pepper—and we're talking real black pepper here. Please grind it fresh. That powdered stuff is good for one purpose only: covering your food in little black specks, without altering its flavor at all.
- Olive oil, for all of your salad dressings.
- Marmite, soy sauce, and fish sauce, for enhancing the flavor of your gravy.
- A neutral oil, like canola, vegetable, or rapeseed, for high-heat sautéing.
Essential Thanksgiving Ingredients: The Produce Aisle
Some produce is better kept at room temperature. That includes:
- Onions and all other alliums. Keep yellow onions and garlic around for cooking with, smaller cipollini or pearl onions for cooking and serving whole, and shallots for flavoring dishes, like this recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots and balsamic vinegar.
- Potatoes. They'll last for several weeks in a cool, dark place. Check out some of our favorite potato side dishes, as well as our guide to choosing the right potatoes for the job.
- Sweet potatoes and squashes. These are great candidates for long-term storage. Here are some things to do with 'em, plus a handy guide to the colorful array of winter squash varieties.
- Golden Delicious apples, for that Perfect Apple Pie. Check out the results of our taste test of common apple varieties to see why we prefer Golden Delicious.
If You Wanna Cheat a Little
Thanksgiving is busy. We get it. Ain't nothing wrong with using some store-bought help if saves your sanity.
- Jarred or powdered gravy, if you don't want to make your own. Heinz is our recommended jarred-gravy brand, while Knorr is our recommendation for powdered.
- Instant mashed potatoes can be perfectly fine so long as you add enough cream and butter to them. Betty Crocker Yukon Gold and Whole Foods 365 Brand Original Instant Mashed Potatoes won our taste test.
- Stovetop stuffing is great comfort food for people who were raised on it. Stove Top and Pepperidge Farm won our taste test.
- Frozen apple pies can be a little gooey and sweet, but Marie Callender's and Vermont Mystic came out on top in our taste test.
Essential Thanksgiving Kitchen Supplies
- Extra rolls of paper towels, because you never know when that mess is gonna strike.
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil, for lining your roasting pans, making for easy cleanup.
- Parchment paper, to keep your roast vegetables from sticking.
- Storage containers, to make sure that everyone takes some home at the end of the night. I like to use pint-size and quart-size plastic deli containers. They stack, nest, and are dirt-cheap.
- Plastic wrap, for wrapping up the extra turkey and casseroles.
- Dishwashing liquid.
- Trash, recycling, and compost bags.
I feel like this list expands every single year, and I still manage to find something I left out (usually by running out of it on Thanksgiving Day). To make it easier for you, we've turned it into a simple PDF checklist that you can print out.
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