Politics get heated, but November is when we traditionally settle down, stop, and appreciate the harvest and the end of the season. We forget this in modern times, because grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and food delivery and shipping services make bountiful feasts available for anyone. If you can’t cook, there’s a Boston Market delivery easily accessible through Google Assistant.
But that’s not what Thanksgiving is actually about – it’s about getting together with family at home and showing off how plentiful our lives our. We show grace and humility while reflecting on the past year and making plans for the upcoming winter and its festive holiday season.
It’s also about watching football, parades, and gossiping about who did what to whom wherever everyone’s from. Also turkey…and naps…and catching up on Thanksgiving TV…and naps…
Turkeys are the only animal that doesn’t enjoy November, so it’s a shame so many people have incorrect assumptions about turkey being dry. Your mom’s turkey is dry, but a well-prepared bird is juicy and delicious. Think of that smoked turkey leg at the Renaissance Festival. Here are a few ways to cook a turkey, followed by turkey alternatives for those who still don’t like it, sides, desserts, and drinks.
Click a picture to read the full recipe and instructions, and check out this article on sous vide vs slow cooking vs pressure cooking to find new ways to prepare your favorite Thanksgiving dishes.
How to Cook a Perfect Turkey
Turkeys can be cooked a lot of ways (even in a Crock-Pot), but the most important ways to understand are roasted, smoked, and fried. Regardless of how it’s cooked, the general processes of seasoning and brining need to be determined ahead of time.
You can also take things up a notch by adding a beer can or creating a turducken. Any creative filling you come up with is sure to be a hit (vanilla ice cream maybe?). Here’s what you need to know about cooking the perfectly moist, juicy, flavorful turkey. Click a photo to learn more.
Whether you want that picturesque fully-roasted showpiece or a spatchcocked version that many argue tastes better, the most accessible way to cook at turkey is baking it in a roasting pan within your oven. It’s a long process that takes up to 7 hours (even more with preparation), but do not take shortcuts (we’ll all taste if you do). Every step is important to ensuring the best possible results.
Deep-fried turkey became the du jour thing to do at the turn of the 21st century. Cooking technology improved a lot since then, and you can choose to deep fry your turkey either in peanut oil or an oil-less infrared fryer, like Char-Broil’s The Big Easy. Deep-frying (especially in oil) is a lot more forgiving for inexperienced cooks, and it’ll come out amazing every time, so long as it’s left in long enough and you manage not to burn your house down.
Smoking a turkey is arguably the absolute best flavor and fall-off-the-bone texture you’ll ever get from a turkey. If you have a workhorse smoker like the RecTec Bull wood-pellet smoker, you can easily cook the most impressive turkey dinner anyone ever tasted. But it’s even possible on your stone-age grill, so long as you know what you’re doing. Like anything else you smoke, not much is needed for ingredients, but the end result will make you realize why so many barbecue places have turkey.
And of course, you can’t forget the gravy. Regardless of what meat you cook, a gravy can be made using the drippings (fat and juices from the meat). Just mix with a little bouillon or broth, flour, and salt/pepper to taste.
Stuffing That Turkey
If you’ve never made stuffing, you’re missing out. You don’t have to actually stuff it in the turkey (although that’s definitely a great way to at least get started). It’ll still taste better than the Stove Top stuffing, so long as you make it right. I like to get the bread a few days earlier than everything else to give it time to sit out. Any bread loaves will do, but obviously bread quality is a major part of this dish.
Of course, some people just inevitably won’t like turkey, no matter how it’s cooked. It’s always nice to have a secondary meat available for those weirdos. Here are the classics.
There’s a reason you see ham and turkey intermingling at deli counters across the country. These two meats are practically interchangeable as traditional classics for any festive holiday meal. Honey-glazed ham is the perfect choice (although it can be cooked any of the ways mentioned above), an the honey mustard-glazed ham recipe above takes the flavor up a notch to satisfy even the most finicky eaters.
If you’re not smoking your turkey in the smoker, a trimmed brisket adds flavor to any Thanksgiving meal. It’s tempting to use the same wood to smoke it all (if so, hickory is the way to go to get a bacon-like taste throughout), but brisket is best smoked with Oak, Pecan, Hickory, or Mesquite (depending on your tastes). Meanwhile, you can smoke your ham in Hickory, Maple, Apple, or Cherry, and turkey is best smoked with Cherry, Apple, Hickory, and Maple.
A hearty leg of lamb is a great way to shake things up for Thanksgiving dinner. The same basic herbs and spices are needed (salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary), but the red-wine pairings are opened up immensely with this amazing recipe. Americans don’t eat lamb often, so this dish will make the occasion even more special in the hearts of your guests.
Cornish hens are the perfect way to reimagine the Thanksgiving plate. Instead of everyone splitting a giant turkey, each plate can feature its own individual bird. Plus rock cornish game hens have a unique flavor when roasted that will put smiles on every mouth that eats one. This roasted hen recipe uses a bed of carrots and celery, but you’re welcome to change it up with whatever vegetables suit your mood.
Side Dishes to Bring
Even if you’re not hosting Thanksgiving this year, it’s pretty much expected that you bring something. These side dishes are guaranteed to fit in on any table you sit at for the holiday meal.
As a kid, the marshmallows on my mom’s candied yams were one of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving dinner. I hadn’t developed a refined pallet yet, and quite frankly neither did mom, who used canned yams to make this dish. A friend of mine instantly scolded me when I questioned her lack of marshmallows when we shopped together several Thanksgivings in a row. She said only bad cooks use marshmallows in sweet potato casserole, and every since I tried her version, I couldn’t help but agree.
Cranberry Sauce People Will Eat
Cranberry sauce is another dish you may have experienced coming from a can your whole life. Whether the gelatinous version or the chunky kind, canned cranberries are more dare than delicacy. Making your own homemade cranberry sauce with this recipe guarantees the complex flavors of this misunderstood berry will be appreciated and even enjoyed by those willing to overcome psychosomatic trauma to try them.
Classic Green Bean Casserole
Green bean casserole is a staple Thanksgiving side dish and a tasty way to show you know your way around a kitchen. Fresh garlic, French’s fried onions, thyme, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese help give this dish its signature flavor. Even people who normally wouldn’t eat their vegetables will devour these delicious greens.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
It’s not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes, and butter and cream cheese are the secrets to making them with the perfect consistency and texture. Add in garlic, rosemary, and thyme to take them even deeper into flavor country. You’ll know you’ve made them right when your mashed potatoes can stand on their own without gravy (although it’s still nice to pour on top anyway).
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
People’s macaroni and cheese recipes are sacred, and I know quite a few women who will punch you in the throat for saying you make better mac & cheese. My personal secret lies in the extra sharp cheddar (the sharper the better) and gourmet mustard. These key ingredients are game changers in amping up that cheesy flavor people love. And don’t feel like you need to use macaroni – rotini, bowtie, and tons of other pastas will work just as well. Sometimes I even like to mix it up on people for a new experience.
Whether you go with collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, or something else, this soul food classic is the perfect complement to a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s cheap and easy to make, so you can bring a Crock-Pot full anywhere. And if you’re dealing with mostly white people, it’ll feel like an exotic addition to their normal mayonnaise-filled taste palates.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not dealing with my family without drugs. The Magical Butter machine makes herbal infused butters and oils that can be medicated with a lot of THC, CBD, and even garlic if your host doesn’t know how to cook. Bring a stick of butter with you to add to whatever food you eat and make the Thanksgiving holiday a little less stressful. Use magic mushrooms if you’re in Colorado and your family is seriously fucked up.
Let’s face it, as good as Thanksgiving dinner is, everyone squeezes in dessert. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend trusting anyone who doesn’t eat dessert, especially during the holidays. Pie is the quintessential after-turkey delight, so let’s start by breaking down the perfect pie crust.
The Perfect Pie Crust
Pie crust is made with only a few simple ingredients (flour, salt, butter/lard/shortening, and water), yet everyone’s crust comes out completely different. Like everything in life, the secret is in the attention to detail. When you cut corners on a pie crust, it comes out in the taste and texture. Use ice cold water, mix until you get pea-sized beads (and don’t go overboard), and prepare your oven to create an edible work of art people will ask for every year.
4-Flavor Sheet Pan Pie
Once you’ve mastered the pie crust, you can skip ahead to this combination of everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving pies. Cherry, apple, pumpkin, and pecan all get equal space on this pan, and everyone can pick their favorites or mix and match for a new experience. This is how you cook cafeteria-style with class to feed an army of hungry family moochers…I mean members…
Pop culture humorist Charles Phoenix fed America’s taste for stuffing foods with other foods by creating the dessert version of the turducken. Traditional Thanksgiving pies are baked into different flavored cakes and layered on top of each other with a cream cheese frosting. There’s no better way to tell remind your family your wife’s cheating on you, you have a tiny dick, tribal tattoo, and a career trajectory that ends in a cubicle in middle management.
Monkey bread is a bit of a time commitment (although you can use biscuit dough to save steps). It’s so worth it though, once you taste that sweet, ooey, gooey, mouth-watering flavor. Bake it right before you head out (or even do it when you get there, if there’s room in the oven) to honor everyone with this warm, sweet treat.
Boozy Libations and Aperitifs
You’ll need something to take the edge off family conversations. I use weed personally, but alcohol is the social convention. Pregame it with a few beers in the truck, bring a bottle of wine for your host, and mix up some of these amazing cocktails to really get the party started.
Slow Cooker Bourbon Apple Hot Toddy
Hot toddies are great Thanksgiving drinks that make the perfect digestif at the end of your meal. Pour a bottle of your favorite bourbon, fresh apple cider, orange zest, nutmeg, and a few vanilla beans in a Crock-Pot and fill your home with the inviting smell of warm spices. Top off with whipped cream and a few gratings of nutmeg or brown sugar to create the perfect atmosphere for after-dinner talk.
Cranberry Pineapple Punch
Cranberries are the perfect pairing for any Thanksgiving dishes, and it can be sweetened up with pineapple juice and a mixture of rums to create the base for a perfect party punch. Add a two-liter bottle of ginger ale for sparkle, and juice a few limes to bring out the cranberry flavors. This is a go-to drink that can be stretched to fit any budget or crowd size.
Glass of the Good Scotch
Sometimes it’s nice to just sit out back with dad, smoke a cigar, and drink a glass of scotch. Lagavulin 16 is a good start, but if you really need to show off, a 20-year bottle from any Scottish distillery will do the trick.
Kids and your recovering alcoholic uncle can’t drink (something your uncle will tell anyone who listens long enough). So we need to create a few special drinks for those who can’t partake without getting preachy or interrupting the pre-meal prayer with a long-winded story about anarchy or his ex.
Pumpkin Spice Latte
Fuck Starbucks – this homemade version uses pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin puree, vanilla, and maple syrup to make a much better version. Top it off with whipped cream and sprinkle more of the pumpkin spice on top to add the finishing touches. And if you really want to go the extra mile, a cinnamon stirring stick will do the trick.
Spiced Apple Cider
There’s a farmer’s market somewhere near you that has fresh apple cider. Pour a couple gallons into a slow cooker, along with some cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla beans to create a smell and flavor that’ll draw in the entire neighborhood.