Few feasts are so steeped in tradition as Thanksgiving! And cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your and a partner or a small group can be just as warm and wonderful as a large group (sometimes more so!). Our Thanksgiving Dinner Recipe Ideas are all about classic comfort food as well as a little historic inspiration (as you might expect from The Old Farmer’s Almanac!). Take a look.
Thanksgiving Turkey and Fowl
Let’s start with the big bird, as it’s the one menu item that needs to be considered well in advance. If the turkey is frozen, you need to 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. Here are five different ways to cook turkey plus a couple more choices for a more historically-inspired feast.
- Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving Turkey (Almanac Recipe Contest winner)
- Roasted Brined Turkey by Sam Hayward (James Beard Award winning chef)
- Dry-Cured Turkey (Less messy than brining, excellent texture, but takes time)
- Bag-Roasted Turkey with Cornbread Stuffing (Almanac Recipe Contest winner)
- Beer-Can Turkey or Chicken (on the grill!)
Photo by Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
Small Thanksgiving Turkey or Fowl
If you’re cooking for one or two or a small group, there’s no need to buy a huge turkey that takes an entire day to cook—unless you want mega leftovers (never a bad thing)! Remember that you can always freeze leftovers. To save time, consider purchasing a fully prepared turkey that goes right in your oven.
Or, how about a roast chicken or Cornish hen instead of a big turkey? Some readers have even decided on turkey pies—a savory turkey or chicken pot pie and a sweet pumpkin pie! Here are five ideas to try:
- Stuffed Cornish Hens
- Mother’s Lemon-Baked Chicken With Cinnamon
- Turkey Breast Medallions With Blackberry Sauce
- Turkey Shepherd’s Pie
- Chicken Pot Pie
Also, if you’re keeping the meal small this year, just select two or three side dishes. Perhaps go with the classic trio: mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green beans. You can always find prepared items such as cranberry sauce and a prepared pie at the grocery store if you want to reduce cooking time. Or, if you have a family member coming over, ask them to bring dessert! See recipes for stuffing, side dishes, and desserts below.
Cornish hens, which are lower in fat than large roasting chickens, are an easy, elegant choice for a smaller Thanksgiving meal. Credit: Zoryanchik/Shutterstock
Turkey Cooking Tips
- Order one pound per person—or more, if you want to ensure leftovers! Order or buy 2 to 3 weeks in advance.
- 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.
- If you buy a frozen turkey, it’s important 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 days before cooking and let it air dry in the refrigerator so the air dries its skin tight.
- Review our advice on How to Cook a Turkey for roasting tips and times.
- 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.
- 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!
- Make sure you know how to carve a turkey before you’re facing the big bird! Watch How to Carve a Turkey.
- Need a great gravy recipe? Here’s one of our favorites: Cider-Sage Gravy
The traditional Thanksgiving dinner. All comfort food! Credit: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
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 the turkey. 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.
In recent years, more and more folks are cooking outside the bird 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).
Try some of our favorites:
- Classic Cornbread Stuffing
- Stuffing of Artichokes, Currants, and Grapes
- Traditional English Dressing
- Chestnut, Apple and Pancetta Dressing
- Roast Goose Stuffing
Cornbread Stuffing. Credit: Sam Jones from Quinn/Brein.
Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes
The turkey may be the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, but it’s the mix of delicious sides that make 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.
To go beyond the classic recipes below for something different—perhaps historically-inspired?—see our Best Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes!
Plain baked sweet potatoes are great; this way of preparing them is sublime.
This more festive Brussels sprouts with bacon dish might just give green bean casserole a run for its money.
This butternut-squash and rice dish could be a side dish or a vegetarian main dish.
Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes
Here are some classic Thanksgiving pie recipes plus a recipe for a delicious fall-flavored custard and a seasonal pound cake. See Thanksgiving Pie Recipes.
- Creamy Pumpkin Pie
- Pecan Pie
- Apple Crumb Pie
- Sweet Potato Pie
- Indian Pudding (baked custard)
- Sweet Potato Pound Cake With Pecan Crust
You may give the dessert responsibility to the guest who asks what he or she can bring to the table. However, if you want to try your own hand at pie, it’s really not as hard as it sounds—and it’s actually quite fun to make if you’re forgiving. Frankly, we’ll eat any style of homemade crust, perfectly latticed or delightfully lopsided. Here’s a recipe for an all-purpose butter pie crust.
Plus, check out our video showing you how to make pie crust!
Photo by Guy J. Sagi/ShutterStock.
5 Thanksgiving Table Tips
- Before Thanksgiving week arrives, clean out your freezer (to make space for leftovers) and see our Kitchen Cleaning Checklist.
- Whether you use table linens or place mats, be sure they are cleaned and ready. See How to Care for Table Linens.
- No matter what your style, we advise cloth napkins for your guests; paper gets too messy with a meal this big. See our tips on Napkin Folding.
- Refresh your memory on How to Set a Table or Set Up a Buffet. If you’re not sure how many plates or glasses to use, just use less. It’s really not that important for a family-style meal!
- Make some Thanksgiving dishes ahead so that you can relax with company on the feast day. See our Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes.
Happy Thanksgiving Feast to all of 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!