Cooking for a Thanksgiving crowd doesn’t have to be stressful. With a well-planned timeline, a willingness to delegate tasks, and a few clever shortcuts, you can minimize time in the kitchen and maximize time with guests. Following some key tips will help ensure your Thanksgiving preparation goes smoothly. Read on for six can’t-miss recipes, helpful strategies, and pro tips for hosting an unforgettable Thanksgiving feast.
Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
A flavorful, silky gravy is the perfect complement to turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Skip last-minute gravy stress by preparing it 1-2 days ahead. Start by roasting turkey wings, neck, and giblets in the oven with chopped onions, garlic cloves, celery, carrots, and fresh herbs like thyme, sage, and rosemary.
Simmer for 1-2 hours in chicken or turkey broth. Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids. Discard solids. Return the concentrated stock to the stove. For a smooth gravy, make a slurry by whisking equal parts of melted butter and flour together.
Slowly whisk the slurry into the hot stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened to your desired consistency, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and additional herbs if desired.
Stir in a pat of butter at the end for added richness and sheen. Transfer the finished gravy to an airtight container and refrigerate for 1-2 days. Reheat gently over low heat while stirring frequently until hot and bubbly.
Sweet Potato Souffle
The sweet potato souffle is the perfect blend of spiced, velvety sweet potatoes topped with brown sugar and pecan streusel. It makes for a delicious Thanksgiving side dish.
Start by roasting 2 pounds of sweet potatoes. Poke holes with a fork and roast at 350°F for 1-1 1/2 hours until very tender. Scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup melted butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/2 cup milk. Mix well until smooth. Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish.
For the topping, combine 1 cup chopped pecans, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Mix with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the sweet potato mixture.
Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes until puffed and golden. The pecans will toast to a crunchy finish while the sweet potatoes become fluffy and light. This soufflé is the perfect ending to a Thanksgiving meal.
Classic Bread Stuffing
Thanksgiving stuffing baked inside the turkey is a tradition for many families. However, for food safety reasons, it is best cooked in a baking dish alongside the bird to ensure it reaches the proper internal temperature. This classic version includes cubed bread, onion, celery, sage, thyme, chicken broth, eggs, and butter.
Start by cubing day-old bread or bread rolls into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces to yield about 12 cups. Let the bread cubes dry out overnight on a baking sheet, which helps them absorb flavors. In a skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Saute 1 cup each diced onion and celery until softened. Add chopped fresh sage and thyme.
In a large bowl, toss the dried bread cubes with the sautéed vegetables. Beat 2 large eggs with 1 1/2 cups chicken broth. Pour over the bread mixture and toss gently to moisten, adding more broth as needed—season with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.
Transfer the stuffing to a greased baking dish. Dot the top with a few pats of butter. Bake uncovered at 375°F for 45 minutes until browned and crisp on top. For more flavor, add cooked sausage, mushrooms, cranberries, or other mix-ins to the stuffing.
Apple or Pumpkin Pie
Thanksgiving is incomplete without a pie. Bakery pies are convenient, but making them from scratch is rewarding.
For apple pie, peel, core, and slice 5-6 apples. Toss with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Pile into a prepared pie crust. Top with streusel, lattice, or a second crust. Bake at 375°F for 45-55 minutes until apples are tender.
For pumpkin pie, blend 15 ounces of canned pumpkin puree with 1 cup cream or evaporated milk, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, pumpkin pie spice, and a pinch of salt. Pour into an unbaked pie crust of 9 inches. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for 30-40 more minutes.
Let the pies cool completely before slicing. Topped with whipped cream, they make the perfect Thanksgiving dessert.
Tips for an Organized, Stress-Free Feast
To pull off a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner without feeling frazzled, follow these helpful strategies:
- Make as many dishes as possible 1-2 days ahead. Gravy and desserts can all be prepared in advance, leaving less for Thanksgiving Day.
- Assign dishes to share the workload. Let guests bring appetizers, drinks, or sides like stuffing. Delegate pie or other desserts.
- Set the table the night before. Roll silverware, fold napkins, and place centerpieces and serving pieces so the table is ready to go.
- Use disposable pans and platters. Fewer dishes to wash means more time to enjoy.
- Keep side dishes warm in a low oven or slow cooker. Place them out as you transition from appetizers to the main meal.
- Don’t be afraid to offer help or ask others to pitch in! Having an extra set of hands with cooking, cleaning, or running out for last-minute items can be a lifesaver.
With some organization, easy make-ahead recipes, and a relaxed mindset, you can truly ensure your Thanksgiving dinner is a memorable and delicious one. Focus on the joy of cooking and quality time with loved ones. Before you know it, you’ll be clearing empty plates and enjoying seconds of everything that turned out so wonderfully! Here’s to a warm, memorable Thanksgiving meal.