Our Classic Thanksgiving Menu
Relax and enjoy. This is the Thanksgiving that goes off without a hitch. We cover it all with a delicious menu that features step-by-step guides to help you master the essentials or riff where you like.
What's a Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner?
The history of the American Thanksgiving tells us that turkey and venison were likely two of the main features at the first feast. Today, a classic Thanksgiving dinner still features roasted turkey, plus a whole host of delectable sides—sourdough bread stuffing, silky gravy, buttery mashed potatoes, crispy green bean casserole, and more. This traditional holiday menu includes all of those things, plus other favorites, including our best pumpkin pie and tart fresh cranberry sauce.
Tricolored Beet Tart
Start your holiday meal with a simple yet gorgeous beet tart, topped off with tangy goat cheese, crunchy hazelnuts, and flaky sea salt. Par-bake the crust to get a lovely raised edge (what forms the shell of your tart) and ensure that the bottom will be cooked through. If you or your guests are not beet fans, substitute sweet potatoes: Wrap 4 (4-ounce) sweet potatoes in parchment paper, and microwave at HIGH 3 minutes. Then cool, peel, and slice. You can also sub feta for goat cheese and pecans or walnuts for hazelnuts.
We use the tart-shell method from the master recipe for a fuss-free version of the classic Greek spinach-and-cheese-pastry. A little pimiento, brightened with vinegar, adds pop; you could also sub chopped olives. Make sure to drain the spinach mixture well; extra liquid could make the crust soggy. Let the spinach drain while the crust bakes. Build and finish baking the tart shortly before guests arrive.
Caramelized Leek and Spinach Dip
Beautifully caramelized leeks and onions cannot be rushed; resist the urge to crank up the heat. Leeks become especially silky and sweet when left to cook awhile. If they start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a tablespoon or two of water, and stir (the liquid will evaporate during cooking). Instead of bread or crackers, serve the dip with an array of vegetables, such as baby carrots, endive leaves, radishes, diagonally sliced cucumber, and mini sweet bell peppers for a bit of freshness, color, and crunch. You'll also save calories and room for the rest of the meal.
Broiled Shrimp With Buttermilk Rémoulade
If preboiled shrimp and cocktail sauce is a standard starter at your holiday gathering, try these quick broiled shrimp with a spicy rémoulade dipping sauce—a homemade alternative that takes minutes, tastes much better, and is much lower in sodium. Like cocktail sauce, the rémoulade gets a pungent kick from prepared horseradish, though you could also try Creole mustard. We leave the tails on the shrimp for easy handling. Keep a small bowl next to the serving plate for discarded shrimp tails.
Honey Whole-Wheat Pull-Apart Rolls
These light and tender whole-grain rolls are everything we love about holiday breads: warm, nutty, and just barely sweetened with honey. Bake these light and tender whole-grain rolls ahead and freeze up to 1 month, or make the dough ahead and bake on the day: Punch down the risen dough to form a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill 8 hours or overnight. Return to a bowl and let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours before shaping.
Modify the recipe for our Honey Whole-Wheat Pull-Apart Rolls by stirring in Asiago cheese and chopped rosemary. Substitute 1 tablespoon sugar for honey and reducing butter to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Add 1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese and 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary to milk mixture with butter, sugar, and eggs in step 1. Sprinkle 1 tablespoons grated Asiago over rolls before baking.
Whole-Grain Spelt and Cornmeal Biscuits
Gently pat the dough flat instead of rolling with a rolling pin. Patting preserves all the pockets of fat needed for flaky biscuits, whereas rolling pancakes them into small, dense pucks. Cut the biscuits into squares to avoid any leftover scraps. This will also help you avoid the twisting motion of using a cutter that can also lead to flat biscuits. Spelt flour adds a deep nutty flavor, but you can use white whole-wheat flour if you can't find spelt.
Whole-Wheat Seeded Breadsticks
Just a couple of turns of the wrist transforms ordinary breadsticks into lovely holiday twists. The key is to twist the dough no more than three times, otherwise the breadsticks will become too tightly wound and lose their subtle corkscrew shape. Gently score the rectangle of dough to measure out the strips before cutting them (a 12-inch ruler is especially helpful here). We love an “everything” mix of seeds, but you can use any combination you like. You can also substitute chopped fresh herbs, grated fresh orange rind, or freshly cracked black pepper.
Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables
A mix of colorful root vegetables may be your star side. Peeled, prechopped butternut squash saves time, but pieces tend to be irregular and small—we prefer peeling and cubing it yourself.
Lemon-Herb Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables
Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine butternut squash, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes from master recipe in a large bowl, then follow remaining steps.
Orange-Tarragon Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables
Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine butternut squash, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes from master recipe, then follow remaining steps.
Grapefruit, Endive, and Arugula Salad
Tossing the endive leaves in the vinaigrette first softens their bitter edge. You could also sub thinly sliced fennel or chopped Romaine hearts.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Pomegranate and Pine Nuts
For a bit of showmanship, bring the whole cauliflower to the table, and then "carve" and dress with the vinaigrette, pomegranate arils, pine nuts, and parsley.
Skillet Green Bean Casserole
We've shortened (and lightened) this holiday classic by bringing everything together in one pan and using the stovetop and broiler rather than baking.
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Keep mashed potatoes warm by placing in a heatproof bowl, covering with plastic wrap, and setting over a saucepan of gently simmering water. This will keep them moist and warm without scorching. A ricer finely breaks up the cooked potatoes without activating the potato starches, which could make the consistency gluey. It also allows the butter and liquid, such as milk or buttermilk, to quickly incorporate so the mash is smooth and free of lumps. If you don't have a ricer, use a potato masher, being careful not to overwork the potatoes. Our Butternut-Swirled Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Mashed Potatoes variations require a little extra time but are well worth the effort.
Potato and Leek Gratin
A mandoline will slice the potatoes quickly and to the same thickness, though a sharp knife will also work. Instead of being buried in cream, the potatoes and leeks are simmered in and drizzled with milk so the potatoes get wonderfully crisp and tender and the cheeses form a melty, golden crust. The result is a rich, rustic potato side with contrasting flavors and textures—a bit of crunch to round out the stuffing, sauces, and mashes on the plate. Reheat leftovers in the oven until crisped and warmed through, and then serve with eggs and a side of fruit for breakfast.
Sweet Potato Stacks with Sage Browned Butter
Holiday sweet potato sides can lean toward too-sweet territory; a dose of salty, nutty Parmesan balances the flavor in these adorable, delicious stacks. Get the kids to help by having them stack the slices and cheese in muffin cups as you follow behind with the browned butter. Use small potatoes so the slices will fit into the muffin cups. Make sure to slice the potatoes on the thin side, about 1⁄4-inch thick, so they’ll cook through (insert a toothpick in the center of each stack to test for doneness). You can also alternate with slices of baking potato or parsnip for pretty white and orange layers.
Sweet Potato Casserole With Crunchy Oat Topping
This classic casserole often straddles the line between side and dessert (indeed, we've enjoyed the leftovers both ways). We dial down the sugar to steer the dish back to savory territory, and add a crunchy oat and nut topper for texture. A final drizzle of maple syrup just before serving gives the casserole a lovely sheen. While we call for a ricer in our master mashed potatoes, a potato masher is perfectly acceptable here since the spuds will be bound with an egg, topped, and baked. Chopped almonds or walnuts would be a delicious sub for the pecans.
Classic Herb Stuffing
A straightforward holiday stuffing calls for great bread; we love the nutty toasty dimension of a bakery whole-grain loaf. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrot mixture until tender but not browned. The added moisture from the veg will help soften the bread and make for a more cohesive stuffing. Combine the wet and dry ingredients in a bowl rather than a baking dish for more even coverage, and let the mixture stand a few minutes before baking. The bread will soak up the eggy liquid like a sponge so nothing is left behind.
Chorizo and Roasted Poblano Wild Rice Stuffing
Hot cooked wild rice is incredibly nutty and fragrant, a perfect counter to smoky paprika, quick roasted poblano peppers, and spicy fresh chorizo. Look for ground, raw Mexican chorizo rather than Spanish chorizo (cured, cased sausage). The rice will absorb the drippings from the sausage as the two bake together in the casserole dish. If you can’t find Mexican chorizo, try hot Italian pork or turkey sausage. We treat the rice the same as a bread stuffing—binding it with a mixture of stock, eggs, and butter—for a richer, more cohesive stuffing that will brown beautifully in the pan.
Apple, Cranberries, and Pecan Stuffing
We give the classic holiday side a fall spin with fresh apple, toasted pecans, and dried cranberries. For the vegetarians at your table, you can substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. Raisins and walnuts can work in place of the cranberries and pecans.
Dirty Farro Stuffing
Give nutty whole-grain farro the dirty rice treatment with the classic trinity (onion, bell pepper, and celery) and spicy andouille sausage. The chicken liver adds incredible richness without any livery flavor—it's the "secret" ingredient that will have guests scraping the dish clean. Use turkey liver if your bird comes with one, or omit the liver all together for a side with a little less depth that’s still delicious. You can try brown rice, barley, or wild rice in place of farro. To turn this side into a leftover main, reheat with a splash of chicken stock and stir in a can of unsalted, rinsed, and drained black-eyed peas.
For a holiday side with earthy, savory depth, add a trio of mushrooms: creminis, meaty shiitakes, and mild white button mushrooms. A splash of sherry vinegar picks up the browned bits in the pan and rounds out the flavors beautifully. The mushrooms will release plenty of liquid after a couple of minutes in the pan; be patient and let these juices evaporate so your stuffing will be rich, not soggy.
Forget dry, tasteless turkey. A rub of roasted garlic and fresh sage permeates every ounce of the bird, while a Dijon and white wine baste locks in moisture for juicy, tender meat. Save the giblets for our Classic Turkey Gravy. If your turkey starts to overbrown after the first hour in the oven, cover loosely with foil, and continue roasting. Remember to let the turkey rest so juices can redistribute and the bird can cool enough to carve.
Turkey pros swear by brining for tender, succulent meat. Line a disposable roasting pan with the brining bag before adding liquid and turkey. If it won't fit in your fridge, nestle in a cooler with ice—the temperature will stay in the safe zone until you're ready to roast. Make sure to pat the bird very dry after brining so the extra liquid doesn’t slow down the roast.
French Onion Turkey Breast
Guests will swoon—we know we did—over this masterful turkey breast. Caramelized onions become the base for a gravy that tastes like the best French onion soup ever. Don’t fret if the sliced onions overflow from the pan at first; cooked slowly, they will collapse to a fraction of their original volume. The bone keeps the breast meat moist and props up the breast in the pan so it can brown evenly. Save the bone for turkey stock. If you leave the skin on, as shown, it adds 20 calories and 1g sat fat per serving. Serve with our Skillet Green Bean Casserole, Classic Herb Stuffing, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, and Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce.
Smoky Spatchcocked Turkey
Grill a spatchcocked turkey for a smoky, robust bird that's ready in half the time. We remove the backbone and roast the turkey flat so that every part has access to the heat at the same time. The turkey won't have grill marks (it cooks flesh side up over indirect heat) but will absorb that chargrilled flavor. A smoky spice rub of paprika and ancho chile powder seems fitting for the grill, but you could use any spice combo or minced fresh herbs combined with a couple of tablespoons oil.
Honey-Bourbon Spatchcocked Turkey
The brine is all the seasoning you need for this fantastic bird. While the amount of bourbon used in the brine may seem generous, it will impart a very subtle flavor to the meat once all the water is added, diluting it slightly. If you want a more intense smoke flavor, add a handful of soaked applewood chips to the grill. For a deeply bronzed, almost mahogany look, brush the skin with a mixture of water and honey each time you go to rotate the bird.
Classic Turkey Gravy
Slow-roasted turkey juices reduce and intensify for a divine sauce. It gives the meat a little extra moisture and richness and rounds out the rest of the plate. Use any reserved giblets here. If you didn't roast the neck, sauté it for 8 minutes. Remove and discard the neck once the gravy is done. For a sweet twist, try our Maple-Pepper Gravy or Gravy Bordelaise with sliced shallots and dry red wine.
Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce
What makes this sauce extraordinary isn’t the orange liqueur, though it rounds out the tart and sweet flavors beautifully. It’s the whole fresh cranberries reserved before cooking and stirred in just before serving. You might think the fresh berries would be too tart without simmering—we did too—but the result is simply outstanding. This jammy sauce is punctuated by pops of whole cranberries. You can sub fresh orange juice for the orange liqueur if you like. Double the batch and use as a breakfast jam or sandwich spread, or spoon warm sauce over frozen yogurt.
Spiced Apple-Cranberry Sauce
A trio of warm spices takes this holiday staple out of candy-sweet territory and into the world of robust holiday condiments. The sauce is equally delicious with roast turkey and roast pork, an easy way to top off your holiday protein for the rest of the season. Apples counter the tartness of the cranberries and help the sauce thicken. No fine dice on the apples here; the rustic chunky look of the two fruits is what makes the sauce beautiful and enticing. If you’re feeling extra generous, double the batch and spoon into small jars for guests to take home. Omit the water and orange liqueur from the master recipe. Sub 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar for granulated sugar, and follow the remaining steps using apple cider, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground nutmeg.
White Balsamic and Rosemary Cranberry Sauce
If you’re looking for a way to amp up your traditional sauce, this is it. Fresh rosemary gives the sauce a light herbal flavor (the berries are robust enough to stand up to the piny herb). White balsamic vinegar balances the sweet and adds a dimension of fruity tang to the tart cranberries. If you don’t have white balsamic, use white wine vinegar or cider vinegar—regular balsamic is a bit too strong and would darken the finished sauce. Beyond your holiday plate (and inevitable holiday leftovers), add to a cheese plate or sandwich buffet. Omit the orange liqueur from the master recipe. Simmer cranberries with rosemary sprigs, sugar, water, and cranberries. Stir in balsamic vinegar.
Roasted Pumpkin Pie
By roasting the pumpkin whole, you avoid cutting it open and scooping out the seeds and membrane. If you'd like, serve pie with a dollop of lightly sweetened 2% reduced-fat yogurt.