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 of paramount importance. From the best caramelized sweet potatoes you've ever tasted to a classic fluffy and moist sausage stuffing to a "pumpkin" pie made with deeply roasted butternut squash (which doesn't sound traditional, but it is!), here's how to do it right.
We understand that a big, classic spread may be impractical this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also know that, for some people, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the big roasted bird and all the usual sides. While our only suggestion with respect to the turkey is to buy a smaller one, we've updated a few of the side dishes with instructions for how to scale them down for a smaller gathering—you can also check out our tips for a scaled-down Thanksgiving for more ideas and recommendations. You'll still likely have a lot left over, but that's part of the point of Thanksgiving, after all.
What's that? You want even more traditional Thanksgiving dishes? It's cool, we've got you covered. Check out our guide to Thanksgiving for our complete lineup of turkey recipes, pie recipes, and more.
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 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.
Do be sure, though, to skip that bucket of brining liquid: Our technique uses a dry brine that's as simple as rubbing some kosher salt all over the turkey and letting it rest in the fridge overnight.
Sure, we've got plenty of cranberry sauce recipes to choose from, 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.
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 ever to 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 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.
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 (57 and 77°C) before you roast them. This temperature range activates an enzyme that converts their starches into maltose, producing 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 sweet potatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil, and a little honey and parsley to make it all happen.
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 good—rest assured, you won't have to worry about any stinky leftovers gassing up your fridge.
Getting truly fluffy mashed potatoes all boils (ha!) down to removing as much starch as possible. 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.
PSA to anyone who’s been buying canned pumpkin purée with the goal of making pie from real pumpkin: You’ve actually been making butternut squash pie all along. And with good reason! Butternut squash delivers more concentrated flavor than pumpkin, with way less hassle.
For a shining example of this, look no further than Stella’s butternut pie. Enhanced with sweet and creamy homemade condensed milk, her purée starts with roasted squash and gets its warm fall flavor from cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, vanilla extract, and brown sugar. It’s an entirely from-scratch affair, from the crust to the condensed milk to, of course, the filling itself. Sure, that means it takes some extra work, but with a bit of planning, you can space it out over several days (or even weeks) to lighten your load.
Still sound like too much work? You may want to look to our rich and creamy extra-smooth pumpkin pie, which starts with canned
pumpkin butternut squash instead. It's plenty delicious, though it may come with fewer bragging rights.
Every Thanksgiving spread needs a nutty, sweet, custardy pecan pie. Our recipe uses honey, corn syrup, and brown sugar to sweeten the filling, and a touch of vanilla and salt to 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.
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