The Best Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes

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Full homemade Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, stuffing, vegetables, and sweet potatoes.

Photo Credit
By Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

From a simple turkey breast to the traditional "Big Bird," these dishes are a hit!

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Few feasts are so steeped in tradition as Thanksgiving, the ultimate comfort meal! Perhaps you’re going for a more straightforward, smaller Thanksgiving meal this year? Or are you still cooking the “Big Bird” for a more enormous feast? We have you covered with seven different ways to prepare the turkey—plus all the delicious fixings!

Thanksgiving Turkey

Option 1: The simplest roast turkey breast

While a traditional Thanksgiving feast may involve carving an entire turkey at the table, a more intimate Thanksgiving works by simply roasting the turkey breast. 

roasted cornish hens on a platter
Cornish hens, lower in fat than large roasting chickens, are an easy, elegant choice for a smaller Thanksgiving meal. 
Credit: Zoryanchik/Shutterstock

Option 2: The Big Bird

If you plan to cook the traditional “big bird” this year, our #1 tip is: Think in advance! If the turkey is frozen, you must start defrosting days in advance—one day for every four pounds!
For the Thanksgiving feast, you want a turkey that brings out the flavor with roasting, brining, rubs, glazes, and basting. This is not your lunchmeat turkey. Explore the delicious options!

  1. Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving Turkey (Almanac Recipe Contest winner) 
  2. Roasted Brined Turkey by Sam Hayward (James Beard Award-winning chef)
  3. Dry-Cured Turkey (Less messy than brining, excellent texture, but takes time)
  4. Bag-roasted turkey with Cornbread Stuffing (Almanac Recipe Contest winner)
  5. Grilled Roasted Turkey (which comes with Herb Stuffing)
  6. For the adventurous, we also have Beer-Can Turkey , which is also cooked on the grill.

For a more historically-inspired Thanksgiving and something different, cook Roast Goose or Stuffed Cornish Hens.

Photo by Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Turkey Cooking Tips

  1. Ensure one pound per person—or more, if you want to ensure leftovers! Order or buy 2 to 3 weeks in advance!
  2. Have a good roasting pan and a rack (which often comes with the pan), plus an instant-read thermometer for safety, if not peak flavor. See how to use a meat thermometer.
  3. If you buy a frozen turkey, it’s essential to start defrosting days in advance—one day for every four pounds—and it is recommended that you defrost it in the refrigerator. If your turkey is not frozen, unwrap it a couple of days before cooking and let it air dry in the refrigerator so the air dries its skin tight.
  4. Review our advice on How to Cook a Turkey for roasting tips and times.
  5. You don’t need to truss your turkey (tie up the legs) unless you’re stuffing the bird. Keep in mind that a trussed turkey takes longer to cook.
  6. Have plenty of turkey or chicken stock on hand. Avoid the boxed stock for Thanksgiving. Here’s a simple recipe to make your own homemade turkey stock!
  7. Ensure you know how to carve a turkey before facing the big bird! Watch How to Carve a Turkey.

Gravy Recipes

Need an excellent gravy recipe? Here’s one of our favorites: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

Stuffing and Dressing Recipes

First, what’s the difference between “stuffing” and “dressing”? Traditionally, “stuffing” is cooked inside the turkey, whereas “dressing” is cooked outside. Nowadays, the terms tend to be interchangeable, though there are purists. Southern cooks have always served their “dressings” as separate side dishes so you’ll more often hear the term “dressing” in the South.

More and more folks are cooking outside the bird in recent years due to safety concerns. Warm, moist stuffing is a potential breeding ground for bacteria such as salmonella (unless you know how to cook the stuffing properly).

Here are three recipe options to fit your dinner menu

  1. Basic Stuffing
  2. Cornbread Stuffing
  3. Herb Stuffing
Cornbread Stuffing. 
Credit: Sam Jones from Quinn/Brein.

Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes

The turkey may be the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, but the mix of delicious sides makes it memorable. Think about selecting side dishes that add color—bright red cranberry, deep orange sweet potatoes, and bright green Brussels sprouts—against the neutral of the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes 

Plain baked sweet potatoes are great; this way of preparing them is sublime. 

Mashed Sweet Potatoes 
Photo by Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Basic Cranberry Sauce

Basic Cranberry Sauce
Photo by Anna Shepulova/shutterstock

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes 

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes 
Photo by Anna Kurzaeva/shutterstock

Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole
Photo by Sam Jones/QuinnBrein

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Shallots and Bacon

This more festive Brussels sprouts with bacon dish might just give green bean casserole a run for its money.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Shallots and Bacon

Fall Harvest Squash Rolls

Fall Harvest Squash Rolls
Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

Curried Butternut Squash and Rice

This butternut-squash and rice dish could be a side or vegetarian main dish. 

Curried Butternut Squash and Rice

Want to go beyond the classic recipes below for something different—perhaps historically inspired? See more Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes!

Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes

Now, dessert! You can always ask a guest to bring a dessert. Or, below are some classic Thanksgiving recipes that we enjoy:

  1. Creamy Pumpkin Pie
  2. Pecan Pie
  3. Apple Crumb Pie
  4. Sweet Potato Pie
  5. Indian Pudding (baked custard)
  6. Sweet Potato Pound Cake With Pecan Crust

If you want to try your hand at pie crust, it’s not really difficult—and it’s quite fun to make if you’re forgiving. Here’s a recipe for an all-purpose butter pie crust!

See MORE Thanksgiving Pie Recipes.

Photo by Guy J. Sagi/ShutterStock.

5 Thanksgiving Table Tips

  • Before Thanksgiving week, clean out your freezer (to make space for leftovers) and see our Kitchen Cleaning Checklist.
  • Whether you use table linens or placemats, be sure they are cleaned and ready. See How to Care for Table Linens.
  • No matter your style, we advise cloth napkins for your guests; paper gets too messy with a meal this big. 
  • Refresh your memory on How to Set a Table or Set Up a Buffet. Use less if you’re unsure how many plates or glasses to use. It’s not that important for a family-style meal!
  • Make some Thanksgiving dishes ahead of time to relax with the company on the feast day. See our Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes.

Happy Thanksgiving Feast to all Almanac readers—from sea to shining sea!

Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway—
Thanksgiving comes again!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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