Best Thanksgiving Recipes: Expert Chefs’ Top Picks

As the leaves change color and the aroma of pumpkin spice fills the air, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. This special holiday is a time to gather with loved ones and share gratitude for the blessings in life. A significant part of this celebration is the indulgence in mouthwatering, flavorful dishes that perfectly capture the essence of the fall season.

Discovering new and exciting recipes can elevate the culinary experience at your Thanksgiving table. From traditional classics to innovative twists, we’ve gathered some of the best Thanksgiving recipes that will delight your guests’ taste buds while creating cherished memories. These dishes highlight seasonal ingredients, bringing warmth and richness to every plate on the festive day.

In this article, we will explore these scrumptious Thanksgiving recipes, providing tips and guidance on preparation and presentation. There’s something for everyone, from appetizers to main dishes and decadent desserts, ensuring that your holiday feast is a success that leaves your guests savoring every last bite.

History of Thanksgiving Dishes

Thanksgiving food: What did the Pilgrims eat?

The origin of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century when English pilgrims and Native Americans gathered for a three-day feast. Since then, Thanksgiving dishes have evolved to become an integral part of the celebration.

One of the main highlights in traditional Thanksgiving recipes is the turkey. It is believed that turkey was chosen as the primary meat due to its abundance and ease of hunting during the early colonial days. As time passed, various ingredients and cooking techniques have been introduced to prepare the turkey, including stuffing, roasting, and deep-frying.

Stuffing, also called dressing, has been a customary part of Thanksgiving meals since the beginning. Early recipes usually consisted of herbs, onions, breadcrumbs, or cornmeal. Over the years, regional variations have developed, with some recipes including oysters, sausage, apples, or nuts.

Mashed potatoes and gravy found their way into Thanksgiving spreads in the 18th century. Potatoes were considered a staple food source and their adaptability to various preparations made them a popular choice. Gravy, made from the turkey’s drippings, quickly became a beloved accompaniment to the potatoes.

Cranberry sauce originates from the Native Americans who valued cranberries for their numerous uses, including food, dye, and medicine. The pilgrims adopted cranberry sauce as a symbol of gratitude for the help they received from the Native Americans.

Pumpkin pie also has its roots in the early Thanksgiving feasts. However, it did not resemble the dessert we know today. Pilgrims initially filled a hollowed-out pumpkin with milk, spices, and honey, then baked it in hot ashes. The modern version with its flaky crust became popular in the 18th century.

Over the centuries, Thanksgiving dishes have evolved to reflect regional preferences and ingredients. A typical Thanksgiving meal now consists of a variety of dishes that pay tribute to the origins of the holiday and encompass the diverse tastes of the American population.

Preparing the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

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Choosing the Right Turkey

When it comes to preparing a perfect Thanksgiving turkey, selecting the right bird is essential. Fresh turkeys are preferable over frozen ones, as they provide a more tender and juicy result. Choose a turkey that is between 12 to 14 pounds, as these are ideally sized for a balance of cooking time and flavor.

Brining and Seasoning

A key step in achieving a delicious Thanksgiving turkey is brining. This process enhances the flavor and tenderness of the meat. Create a brine mixture containing:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 cup of kosher salt
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • Optional flavorings such as garlic cloves, peppercorns, and fresh herbs

Submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours for optimal results. After brining, pat the turkey dry, and then apply a mixture of seasonings that may include:

  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage
  • Garlic powder or minced garlic
  • Paprika

Remember to season both the exterior and the cavity of the bird.

Roasting the Turkey

Once the turkey has been properly brined and seasoned, it’s time to roast. Preheat your oven or grill to 350°F (175°C). Place the bird on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, breast side up. To ensure the turkey is even more tender, you can cover the breast area with aluminum foil to prevent overcooking.

The approximate roasting times are as follows:

Turkey WeightRoasting Time (Unstuffed)Roasting Time (Stuffed)
10-12 lbs2.5 to 3 hours3 to 3.5 hours
12-14 lbs3 to 3.5 hours3.5 to 4 hours
14-16 lbs3.5 to 4 hours4 to 4.5 hours

Keep in mind that these are guidelines and actual times may vary. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. The internal temperature of the turkey should reach 165°F (74°C), in both the thickest part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing if applicable.

Taking these steps will ensure the preparation of a tender, flavorful, and perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey that will undoubtedly impress your guests.

Thanksgiving Sides

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Mashed Potatoes Combined with Other Ingredients

Mashed potatoes are a classic Thanksgiving side dish, and they can be easily elevated by combining them with other ingredients. For example, adding roasted garlic, herbs, or cheese can transform this traditional dish into something with a unique twist. One popular variation is to combine creamy mashed potatoes with cream spinach, creating a delicious balance of flavors and textures. Another option is to fold in some caramelized onions or bacon bits for an added depth of flavor.

Vegetable-Based Sides

Vegetable-based sides are an excellent way to add color, texture, and nutrients to your Thanksgiving meal. Green beans, corn, brussels sprouts, and roasted carrots are all popular options. Green bean casserole is a classic dish, often made by combining green beans with a creamy sauce and topped with crispy onions. Roasted brussels sprouts, either on their own or mixed with other roasted vegetables like parsnips and butternut squash, make for a hearty and flavorful dish. Acorn squash can be prepared in several ways, including roasting, stuffing, or even turning it into a seasonal soup.

Alternative options for Vegetarians and Vegans

Thanksgiving can be a challenging time for vegetarians and vegans, but there are many delicious side dishes that cater to these dietary preferences. Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can be roasted, mashed, or turned into a tasty gratin. Macaroni and cheese is a favorite comfort food, and there are vegan versions available that use non-dairy cheese substitutes and plant-based milk.

Consider the following vegetarian and vegan-friendly Thanksgiving sides:

  • Vegetarian options:
    • Macaroni and cheese
    • Sweet potato casserole
    • Twice-baked potatoes
  • Vegan options:
    • Roasted vegetable medley
    • Cauliflower rice
    • Creamy vegan mashed potatoes
    • Dairy-free cornbread stuffing

Cornbread Stuffing

Cornbread stuffing is a southern favorite that adds a delicious twist to the traditional bread-based stuffing. It often includes ingredients like cornbread, onions, celery, and broth, but variations can include sausage, roasted corn, or even pecans for added crunch. Using cornbread instead of white bread gives this dish a distinct flavor and texture, making it a unique addition to your Thanksgiving table. One popular variation is cornbread dressing, which combines cornbread with additional bread, seasonings, and sometimes egg to create a more cake-like texture. Regardless of the variations, cornbread stuffing is a must-try dish for those looking to expand their Thanksgiving side options.

Gravies and Sauces

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Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be complete without delectable gravies and sauces to accompany the meal. In this section, we’ll focus on two classics: Homemade Turkey Gravy and Cranberry Sauce.

Homemade Turkey Gravy

Making your own turkey gravy is easier than you might think, and the result is a rich and flavorful addition to your Thanksgiving feast. Start by collecting the pan drippings from your roasted turkey. You’ll need:

  • Pan drippings
  • 2 cups of chicken or turkey stock
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

To make the gravy, follow these simple steps:

  1. Skim the fat from the pan drippings and reserve 1/4 cup of the fat.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the reserved fat and flour, stirring constantly over medium heat until the mixture is smooth and golden.
  3. Gradually whisk in the pan drippings and stock, and bring the mixture to a simmer.
  4. Continue simmering until the gravy reaches your desired consistency, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this homemade turkey gravy over slices of your Thanksgiving turkey or a creamy potato gratin for an unforgettable culinary experience.

Cranberry Sauce

This tangy and sweet sauce is an essential part of any Thanksgiving spread. Making homemade cranberry sauce is simple, and requires only a few ingredients:

  • 12 ounces of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • Optional: orange zest, cinnamon, or nutmeg

To make the cranberry sauce, follow these steps:

  1. In a saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, water, and orange juice, stirring well.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  3. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the cranberries have burst and the sauce has thickened.
  4. If desired, add orange zest, cinnamon, or nutmeg to taste.

Chill the cranberry sauce before serving, as it will continue to thicken as it cools. This bright and vibrant sauce adds the perfect balance to a savory Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving Desserts

Traditional Pies

Thanksgiving is incomplete without indulging in some classic pies. Pumpkin pie is a staple at any Thanksgiving celebration and is best served with a dollop of whipped cream. Similarly, apple pie and pecan pie are all-time favorites that leave the guests craving for more. If you’re looking for an old-fashioned dessert, sweet potato pie is a delicious alternative to pumpkin pie, with a richly spiced filling in a buttery pie crust.

Innovative Desserts Combining Multiple Ingredients

For a twist on classic Thanksgiving desserts, try some innovative options that combine multiple ingredients. Pumpkin cheesecake is a delightful blend of the traditional pumpkin pie with the creamy texture of cheesecake. Pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake with salted caramel sauce adds the perfect amount of sweetness with a hint of spice. Caramel apple pie combines the familiar flavor of apple pie with a gooey caramel layer, making it a hit among guests. Another mouthwatering innovation is chocolate peanut butter pie, offering a heavenly combination of chocolate and peanut butter flavors.

Healthier Sweet Alternatives

If you’re looking to cater to health-conscious guests or those with dietary restrictions, there are some healthier alternatives. Twice-baked sweet potatoes provide natural sweetness and can be topped with nuts, dried fruits, or a sprinkle of cinnamon. Additionally, apple crisp is a lighter option that goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream without compromising on taste. For a gluten-free dessert, try pumpkin bread made with almond or coconut flour and flavored with warm spices.

Remember to enjoy these Thanksgiving desserts and come up with your own creative twists on these classic favorites.

Thanksgiving Breads

Cornbread

Cornbread is a classic Thanksgiving side dish that pairs well with various dishes. Traditionally made from cornmeal, flour, eggs, and milk, this savory bread boasts a slightly sweet flavor, thanks to the addition of brown sugar. One popular variant is skillet cornbread, which is cooked inside a cast-iron skillet, resulting in a crispy outer crust and soft, moist interior. To make skillet cornbread, follow these simple steps:

  1. Preheat the oven and preheat the skillet.
  2. Combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, and other dry ingredients.
  3. Gradually add the wet ingredients, mixing until smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake until golden brown.

Dinner Rolls

Dinner rolls are a must-have on any Thanksgiving table, as they complement the meal’s rich flavors. Two noteworthy options include Parker House rolls and angel biscuits.

Parker House rolls are soft, buttery, and slightly sweet. They are typically prepared by shaping the dough into circles, folding them in half, and then baking. Here’s a brief overview of the process:

  1. Prepare the dough by combining flour, sugar, yeast, and warm milk.
  2. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size.
  3. Shape the rolls and arrange in a buttered baking dish.
  4. Bake until golden brown and brush with melted butter.

Angel biscuits are a delightful cross between dinner rolls and biscuits. They’re light, tender, and slightly flaky due to the combination of yeast and baking powder as leavening agents. To make angel biscuits, follow these easy steps:

  1. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, baking powder, and other dry ingredients.
  2. Cut in cold butter or shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Gradually add in the wet ingredients and mix until a soft dough forms.
  4. Roll out the dough, cut out the biscuits, and bake until golden brown.

In conclusion, incorporating cornbread, Parker House rolls, or angel biscuits into your Thanksgiving menu can elevate the meal’s flavor profile. These bread options provide a comforting, delicious, and versatile addition to any holiday feast.

Drink Suggestions for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Punch

Thanksgiving is a time for family, food, and of course, drinks to complement the meal. Below are some non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverage options that are perfect for the holiday gathering.

Non-alcoholic Suggestions

  1. Apple Cider: This classic fall beverage can be served hot or cold, making it a versatile option for guests of all ages. Add a cinnamon stick or a few cloves for extra warmth and flavor.
  2. Orange Juice Mocktail: Create a refreshing and fruity drink by combining orange juice with sparkling water. Garnish with an orange slice and a sprig of mint for an elegant, non-alcoholic offering.
  3. Warm Broth: For those seeking a soothing and savory option, offer a cup of warm, aromatic broth made from either chicken, turkey, or vegetables. This can double as both a comforting beverage and a light appetizer.
DrinkIngredientsGarnish
Apple CiderApple cider, cinnamon, clovesCinnamon stick
Orange JuiceOrange juice, sparkling waterOrange slice,mint
Warm BrothChicken, turkey, or vegetablesNone

Alcoholic Suggestions

  1. Mulled Wine: A holiday favorite, mulled wine combines red wine, orange slices, spices, and a touch of sugar. Serve warm in a glass mug to keep guests cozy on a chilly evening.
  2. Bourbon-spiked Cider: Elevate the traditional apple cider by adding a splash of bourbon. This will create a smooth, warming drink with a slight kick for the adults to enjoy.
  3. Cranberry Mimosa: Mix equal parts of cranberry juice and champagne for a festive spin on the classic mimosa. Add a few frozen cranberries to the glass for a pop of color and a chilled effect.
DrinkBaseMixerGarnish
Mulled WineRed wineOrange, spicesOrange slice
Bourbon-spiked CiderApple ciderBourbonApple slice
Cranberry MimosaCranberry juiceChampagneFrozen cranberries

Remember to drink responsibly and enjoy the Thanksgiving festivities!

Common Mistakes to Avoid while Preparing for Thanksgiving

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When it comes to preparing a Thanksgiving feast, there are a few common mistakes that can be easily avoided. These missteps can impact the flavor and presentation of your dish, so it is important to be mindful of these potential pitfalls.

One common mistake is not allowing your turkey to properly thaw. To ensure a moist and flavorful bird, be sure to give yourself enough time to properly thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. This can take up to several days, depending on the size of the bird.

Another pitfall to keep in mind is not properly seasoning your dishes. A well-seasoned dish will be full of flavor and prevent your guests from reaching for the salt and pepper shakers. Be sure to taste your dishes as you cook, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

  • Slashing the cook time: Many people are tempted to slice their turkey before it has fully rested. Allowing the roasted turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing will help retain the juices, resulting in a moist and tender meat.
  • Overcooking the bacon: If you are incorporating bacon into your Thanksgiving dishes, be careful not to overcook it. Burnt bacon will negatively affect the flavor and texture of your dish. Cook it until it is crispy, but still maintains its savory flavor.

Moreover, pay special attention to the variety of dishes and balance your menu. Having a mix of lighter and heavier fare will ensure that your guests don’t feel overwhelmed or stuffed after just a few bites.

Finally, don’t forget to delegate tasks to your family and friends. By involving others in the process and dividing the workload, you can ensure a smoother preparation process and enjoy the holiday as well.

By keeping these common mistakes in mind and following the advice above, your Thanksgiving meal is sure to be memorable and delicious.

Conclusion

Incorporating a variety of dishes into your Thanksgiving menu can elevate the overall dining experience. By selecting recipes that showcase different flavors and textures, as well as considering dietary preferences of your guests, your Thanksgiving feast can be an unforgettable event.

Classic recipes such as roast turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, and flavorful stuffing are always popular choices. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ingredients and preparations to create lasting memories and cherished traditions. For a touch of sweetness, consider incorporating seasonal fruits like apples and cranberries into your dishes.

Another aspect to consider is presentation. Beautifully plated dishes can add visual appeal and pique interest, making the dining experience even more enjoyable. Use garnishes and creative plating techniques to enhance the overall presentation.

Remember, when selecting your Thanksgiving recipes, focus on using quality ingredients and preparing dishes that cater to the preferences of your guests. No matter the menu, the most important aspect of any Thanksgiving celebration is the gathering of friends and family, sharing love and gratitude.

Frequently Asked Questions

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What are some easy side dishes for a Thanksgiving feast?

There are several easy side dishes that can complement a Thanksgiving feast. Some popular options include roasted vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, a simple green salad, or a classic macaroni and cheese. These dishes can be prepared with minimal effort while still adding delicious flavors to the meal.

What is a unique stuffing recipe to try this year?

For a unique stuffing recipe, consider incorporating non-traditional ingredients such as wild rice, dried cranberries, and walnuts to bring a new twist to the classic dish. This combination can provide a satisfying mix of flavors and textures, while also setting your stuffing apart from traditional recipes.

What are some gourmet dishes to elevate my Thanksgiving menu?

To impress guests with gourmet dishes at your Thanksgiving dinner, consider sous-vide turkey, truffle-infused mashed potatoes, or herbed white wine roast squash. You can also choose to prepare a unique dessert, like rosewater panna cotta or a chocolate soufflé to step up your menu.

What are the must-have Thanksgiving dishes for 2023?

In 2023, the must-have Thanksgiving dishes include roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans or green bean casserole, a green salad, homemade cranberry sauce, and a pumpkin or seasonal fruit pie for dessert. These dishes represent the classic Thanksgiving fare that most people expect to find on the table.

How can I plan a Thanksgiving menu for a large crowd?

Planning a Thanksgiving menu for a large crowd can be made easier by dividing the menu into categories: appetizers, main course, side dishes, and desserts. To lessen stress, prepare dishes that can be made in advance or utilize a slow cooker. It’s important to select recipes that require a variety of cooking methods to avoid overwhelming the oven. Lastly, when planning, take into consideration dietary restrictions and allergies.

What are Martha Stewart’s top Thanksgiving side dish recommendations?

Martha Stewart is known for her impressive collection of Thanksgiving recipes. Some of her top side dish recommendations include glazed carrots with braised shallots, garlicky creamed spinach, whipped potatoes with chives, and cornbread and sausage stuffing. These dishes can add a touch of elegance and sophistication to your Thanksgiving feast.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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