Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

Annette McDermott
Traditional thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving day is the official start of the holiday season. If you're hosting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends, you'll need an arsenal of recipes to draw from.

Start With the Turkey

Turkey is the star of Thanksgiving dinner although it's unclear if it was served at the first Thanksgiving to Plymouth pilgrims. According to CNN, turkey likely became the go-to Thanksgiving meat due to the journal of colonist Edward Winslow. In his journal, Winslow mentions hunting and gathering "wild fowl" for the feast. Although this may have referred to duck or geese, turkey was the more practical choice and soon was the Thanksgiving favorite.

Turkey Buying Tips

When buying a turkey keep these tips in mind:

  • Get at least one pound per person. Get a larger turkey if you plan on having leftovers.
  • Consider getting a hen because they have more breast meat than toms. Since most people prefer white meat that extra breast meat will come in handy.
  • Toms are larger but, because they have a larger bone structure, any tom weighing less than 21 pounds is a bit on the bony side. That means you are paying for more bone than meat.
  • Whenever possible, get a fresh bird rather than frozen.
  • Follow all food safety guidelines whenever handling poultry. That includes making sure the turkey and stuffing (if you are stuffing the bird) are cooked to at least 165 degrees.

Preparing the Turkey

A little extra preparation before cooking will take a traditional turkey from good to great.

Dress the Turkey

Stuffing, also called dressing in some parts of the country, is an important side dish.

Reasons to Cook Stuffing Separately

Depending on your family tradition, you may cook stuffing in the turkey or bake it separately. However, there are several reasons to cook stuffing apart from the turkey:

  • According to Foodsafety.gov, the turkey and everything in the turkey has to be cooked to 165 degrees. If the turkey is done, but the stuffing is not, you have to keep on cooking. This will cause your turkey to be overcooked.
  • Since the turkey has to rest for 15 minutes before serving and the dressing usually only has to cook for 15 minutes, you can cook your dressing while the turkey rests and then serve both hot.
  • You have to stuff the turkey loosely for the stuffing to cook properly. That means you may have less stuffing than you need.
  • If you use a recipe for dressing that uses the giblets of the turkey, you get a great turkey flavor without cooking it in the bird.

Stuffing Recipes

The best turkey stuffing is a matter of personal taste.

Easy Cranberry Sauce

No traditional Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without cranberry sauce. It's so simple to make, you might not eat the canned stuff again.

Ingredients

  • Cranberry sauce
    Cranberry sauce
    ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, dissolve the sugars in the orange juice.
  2. Add the cranberries and stir to mix.
  3. Simmer the cranberries until they pop open.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool.

Classic Thanksgiving Side Dishes

All families have their own favorite holiday sides, but besides turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes a white potato dish, a sweet potato dish, other vegetables, gravy, and dessert.

Potatoes

For many people, potatoes are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. Take basic mashed potatoes to the next level with these ideas.

  • Scalloped Potatoes
    Scalloped potatoes
    Loaded mashed potatoes add flavor with add-ins such as bacon, cheese, and sour cream.
  • If you or your guests are watching carbs, serve mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes.
  • Scalloped potatoes made with fresh garlic, cheeses, thinly sliced potatoes, and seasonings make an impressive Thanksgiving side dish. You can also try a delicious recipe variation.
  • Herb-seasoned roast potatoes are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
  • Potato casseroles combine the delicious taste of mashed potatoes with the ease of a casserole. To save time Thanksgiving day, prepare the casserole the night before and store in the refrigerator until baking time.

Sweet Potatoes

No matter where your family falls in the marshmallow-topping debate, sweet potatoes always make an appearance at the Thanksgiving table.

Vegetables

Add delicious taste and elegance to Thanksgiving dinner with your vegetable dish.

  • Roasted Brussels sprouts
    Roasted Brussels sprouts
    String, or green, beans go well with most foods. The traditional green bean casserole is a Thanksgiving favorite. Or try a new string bean recipe, like one for garlic string beans, string beans with almonds, and Chinese string beans.
  • Corn pudding made from corn, eggs, cream, and herbs is a popular Thanksgiving side dish.
  • Roasting Brussels sprouts topped with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper brings out their flavor.
  • Everyone at the table will gobble up a broccoli casserole topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
  • A creamy cauliflower casserole made with cream cheese and shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack is a great lower-carb side dish.
  • Roasted or baked butternut squash is a nice holiday side dish.

Gravy

No turkey dinner is ready-to-eat until it's smothered in gravy. If you're crunched for time, you can serve jarred gravy, but homemade is much more flavorful.

  • Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
    Gravy on potatoes
    Giblet gravy is made by slow-simmering the neck, heart and gizzard of a turkey (or other fowl).
  • Country gravy, also known as pan gravy, is made using the pan drippings of just-cooked meat.

Desserts

Thanksgiving desserts are indulgent and decadent. Top off Thanksgiving dinner off perfectly with a sweet dessert.

  • Pecan Pie
    Pecan pie
    No Thanksgiving gathering is complete until everyone has eaten a slice of pumpkin pie spiced with ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, and topped with whipped cream.
  • Pecan pie gets its richness from corn syrup, vanilla, butter, and fresh pecans.
  • Few things are more American than apple pie. Try a pie recipe made with Gala apples or one made with raisins and walnuts.
  • Apple crisp includes a scrumptious topping made from sugars, oatmeal, almonds, and butter. It's a nice alternative to apple pie.

Other Thanksgiving Recipes

Add a starter, breads, and beverages to your table.

  • Pumpkin Soup
    Pumpkin soup
    Pumpkin soup is a nice way to start your holiday meal.
  • Serve a variety of breads and muffins in your Thanksgiving bread basket.
  • Don't forget to put thought into the beverages you'll serve. Iced tea and coffee are standards, but you may also want to serve other Thanksgiving drinks such as spiced cider, pumpkin spice cocktail, or apple pie shooter.

A Day of Traditions

Thanksgiving day centers around food but more importantly, it's an opportunity to celebrate family traditions. No matter what foods your traditional dinner includes, Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to share treasured memories around the table while creating new ones.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner