Best Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes: Turkey, Sides, and Desserts | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Best Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes

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

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By Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
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From simple turkey breast to the traditional "Big Bird"

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Few feasts are so steeped in tradition as Thanksgiving, the ultimate comfort meal! Perhaps you’re going for a simpler, smaller Thanksgiving meal this year? Or, are you still cooking the “Big Bird” for a bigger feast? We have you covered with 7 different ways to prepare the turkey—plus all the delicious fixings of course!

Thanksgiving Turkey

Option 1: The simplest roast turkey breast

Thanksgiving Turkey

Option 1: The simplest roast turkey breast

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

One advance of roasting just the breast is that it comes out juicy and doesn’t get dry.

cornish-hens-shutterstock_791180815_full_width.jpgCornish hens, which are 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’re planning to cook the traditional “big bird” this year, our #1 tip is: Think 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. 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 scooked on the grill.

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

turkey-plate-shutterstock_334603307_full_width.jpgPhoto 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 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.
  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. Make sure you know how to carve a turkey before you’re facing the big bird! Watch How to Carve a Turkey.

Gravy Recipes

Need a great 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 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).

Here are three recipe options to fit your your dinner menu

  1. Basic Stuffing
  2. Cornbread Stuffing
  3. Herb Stuffing

cornbread_stuffing.jpgCornbread 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.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes 

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

maple_mashed_sweet_potatoes.jpgPhoto by Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Basic Cranberry Sauce

cranberry_sauce.jpgPhoto by Anna Shepulova/shutterstock

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes 

recipe-garlic_mashed_potatoes_anna_kurzaeva_ss.jpgPhoto by Anna Kurzaeva/shutterstock

Green Bean Casserole

green_bean_casserole_1.jpgPhoto 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.


Fall Harvest Squash Rolls

recipe-squash_rolls_becky_luigart_stayner.jpgPhoto by Becky Luigart-Stayner

Curried Butternut Squash and Rice

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


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 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. Here’s a recipe for an all-purpose butter pie crust and a video showing you how to make pie crust!

See MORE Thanksgiving Pie Recipes.

recipe-sweet_potato_pie.jpgPhoto 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. 
  • 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!