Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Cue the Peanuts cartoon and the neighbors who put up their Christmas decorations too early. If you’re hosting your family’s gathering this year, chances are your menu will include at least a few of the elements of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Whether this is the first time you’ve prepared Thanksgiving dinner, or you’re a seasoned pro searching for a way to inject fresh ideas into a traditional Thanksgiving menu, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn all the options for a traditional Thanksgiving menu as well as a few options if you want to mix it up and do something non-traditional as well.
It’s pretty rare for all of your Thanksgiving guests to arrive at once. More than likely, they’re traveling from different places and often have traffic to contend with or other stops to make. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a few appetizers prepared to keep them occupied.
Keep in mind the fact that you’ve got a large dinner planned for later and you want to make sure your guests save room for the main attraction. Concentrate on small, bite-sized appetizers that will be mouthwatering and delicious without ruining anyone’s appetizers. Here are a few suggestions.
- Smoked salmon dip
- Shrimp cocktail
- Artichoke dip
- Vegetable crudites
- Cheese platter with fruit
- Smoked meats with pickles
- Buffalo-flavored cauliflower bites
- Stuffed celery
- Olives and peppers
You can’t host a Thanksgiving dinner without a main dish. Well, you can, but you might have some disappointed guests. And when most people think of a traditional Thanksgiving, they think of a roasted turkey. Succulent and moist, with meat falling from the bone and a crispy layer of golden skin on top. That kind of turkey.
Many cooks, even experienced ones, find roast turkey to be the most intimidating part of their Thanksgiving menu. All it takes is one mouthful of dry, tasteless turkey to know that not all roast turkeys are created equal and sometimes things go wrong. But don’t panic, there are even turkey hotlines set up to help out cooks who’ve somehow gotten over their head.
Fortunately, whether you’re using a tried and true recipe or you’re making a roast turkey for the first time, there are a few guidelines you can follow to make sure the star of your Thanksgiving meal comes out as juicy and delicious as possible. The only problem you’ll have is worrying about what you’re going to do with all those delicious leftovers. Here’s what to do for the moistest possible turkey.
1. Start with a fresh turkey
Whenever possible, cook a fresh turkey, rather than a frozen one. Frozen turkeys often lose moisture when they defrost. This means no matter how expertly you cook them, they aren’t quite as juicy as they would have been if you’d started with a fresh turkey instead.
2. Brine your turkey before cooking it
In order to brine your turkey, simply soak it in a salt and water mixture. Your turkey will absorb the brining solution. The water will help the turkey retain moisture and the salt will make it more flavorful. You can add other spices to your brine as well if you want to infuse your turkey with other flavors such as garlic, curry, or cajun spices.
3. Rub olive oil or butter under the turkey’s skin.
Pat olive oil or butter under the turkey’s skin to moisten the turkey while it cooks. This will also add an extra dose of light, delicious flavor.
4. Begin roasting with the turkey upside down
Start roasting your turkey with the breast side down for the first hour or so. The fat and juices will run down and baste the breast side while it cooks.
5. Allow your turkey to rest after cooking.
Don’t cut your turkey immediately after cooking. If you allow it to rest the juices will redistribute and the turkey will retain more moisture. 15-20 minutes will usually do the trick.
If you want to venture a little bit outside of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, here are a few of our favorite ideas.
- Prime rib
- Vegetarian lasagna
- Pork tenderloin
These main dishes are slightly less traditional but equally delicious.
Turkey is delicious. But a Thanksgiving meal without sides is like a movie with one cast member. It just doesn’t feel right. Go nuts on the sides, as there is no such thing as too many. Your guests will want to taste as many as possible, therefore, it’s okay to keep the individual portions small, people will want to make sure they leave room for the next one.
Traditional Thanksgiving Side Dishes:
- Yams or Sweet Potatoes
- Cranberry sauce
- Brussel Sprouts
- Green Beans
- Green salad
- Jello salad
- Mashed Potatoes
- Cauliflower rice
- Rolls or bread
Yes, your guests are stuffed. They’re loosening their belts and probably feel like they couldn’t possibly eat another bite. But does that mean they’re going to skip dessert? Absolutely not. For many. the dessert is the highlight of the meal. And we’ve prepared a list of suggestions that won’t let them down.
- Hot chocolate
- Chocolate fondue
- Lemon meringue pie
- Lemon bars
- Red velvet cake
- Strawberry poke cake
- Dessert nachos
- Cookies and dessert dips
- Cookie fries
- Chocolate mousse
- Stuffed cookies
- Chocolate lasagna
- Pumpkin spice lattes
If you plan to serve wine alongside your Thanksgiving meal, you might be unsure which varieties would be best given the dizzying and exciting array of dishes you’ll be serving. Don’t worry. Here are some terrific suggestions.
There is perhaps nothing more synonymous with a holiday celebration than sparkling wine. A dry champagne-style sparkling wine can be perfect if served with the appetizers or a pre-dinner toast. If you’d like to serve a sparkling wine to accompany your meal, we suggest a sparkling Shiraz, which pairs beautifully with Thanksgiving staples such as turkey and cranberry sauce.
If you’d like to serve a white wine with your Thanksgiving dinner, we suggest a Viognier. Its peachy notes are a perfect accompaniment to the fall favorites that are traditionally served in a Thanksgiving meal.
If a chardonnay is your speed, ask for one that’s been aged in metal barrels instead of oak as it will be less likely to overwhelm the delicate notes of your meal.
Rose is a versatile wine that goes with darn near everything. Better yet, you can often find a good bottle for less than $10. This is rarely the case with other wines. Your best bet for Thanksgiving is to find a dry, French-style Rose.
We recommend steering away from bold, heavy reds on Thanksgiving. They’ll overpower most any of the traditional main dishes. Instead of a Cab or Merlot, reach for a bottle of Grenache. It’s a red wine that pairs wonderfully with any type of game. It will enhance the flavor profiles of your food and bring out the best in your Thanksgiving meal.
Tip: If your guests offer to bring wine, don’t be shy about telling them what type you’d like them to bring. They’ll appreciate it when they find out how wonderfully your selections pair with the meal.
Now that you’ve got a handle on all the elements of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, only one question remains: When can we expect our invitation?