Help! It’s Our First Thanksgiving

The Best Thanksgiving Sides

For the past ten years, Alex and I have celebrated Thanksgiving at our friends’ house in Brooklyn. We’ve built a fire, enjoyed their cooking, and stayed late drinking wine. But! This year, our friends will be out of town, so WE ARE HOSTING 12 PEOPLE…

Here’s our plan:
My aunt is handling the turkey and gravy.
My dad is bringing wine.
We’re in charge of the rest.

In Sam Sifton’s funny (and incredibly opinionated) book Thanksgiving, he shares his rules for the feast. Here are three…

Keep drinks flowing. Start serving drinks the minutes your guests arrive, no matter the hour. Thanksgiving is not a time to judge.

Skip the appetizers. I did not sit in my kitchen on Saturday night making lists, and deal with brining a bird on Monday night, and bake pies on Tuesday night, and spend all of Thursday cooking turkey, sides and gravy, then set a table appropriate to presidents and kings, so that you could come into my house and eat a pound and a half of nuts and guacamole before sitting down for the Thanksgiving feast.

Desserts need not be extravagant. It absolutely should not be experimental or overly cute. It must not involve individual tartlets or parfaits, nor marshmallows in any form. Save the chocolate for nights of depression and anxiety. Instead, focus on the proper execution of the American classics: apple pie, for instance, with a mound of whipped cream, or pumpkin pie with same. These represent Thanksgiving’s highest achievement.

Thoughts? Do you agree with any or all?

Yesterday I tried out Food52’s menu genie. You answer questions about yourself and it gives you a menu to fit your personality and tastes. My menu included a delicious-sounding pumpkin pudding and ricotta toast.

So, here are my questions from the group: Do you have any side dishes you really love? Or overall favorite things? Do you do a kids’ table or cram everyone in? Please share… (My one big tip so far is to invite friends who are not American, so they won’t judge:)

P.S. A dinner conversation starter.

(Image by Norman Rockwell. Sam Sifton quotes via Dinner: A Love Story.)

  1. I love to do fruit for table decor. Maybe combined with a lovely cheeseboard down the center of the table. It looks pretty and encourages guests to stay around the table together longer.

    I totally agree about serving something fresh and green – such a nice contrast on a plate filled with rich things! That being said my favourite holiday side dish is a wonderful, cheesy, eggy cauliflower and bacon gratin from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table. Most people don’t expect cauliflower on a Thanksgiving table but it’s soooo delicious!

  2. Joanna Koziol says...

    It’s our first Thanksgiving hosting too! We bought our first house about a month ago and we are excited to host, but we are still painting so there is much to do between now and then. I’m going to have a couple of apps b/c I want too, but I agree that it seems silly to eat before you feast!!!

    Favorite sides from childhood: sweet potato casserole & watergate salad

    Potential new favorite: Butternut squash, arugula, pomegranate seeds. I made it for the first time this week and I’m hooked. I used Trader Joe’s pre-cut squash, microwaved it, and then mixed it with maple syrup, butter, cinnamon and salt. Delicious.

  3. My menu planning tip (for Thanksgiving especially, but really for any dinner party) is to picture the plate in your mind and bump up all the contrasts as much as you can. What colors are represented? Thanksgiving food tends to be brown and orange, so get some bright greens and red in there, like kale salad, pickled red onions on something, and a raw cranberry relish. What about texture? If everything is soft, add some crunchy and chewy components. And of course, contrasting flavors is important—not everything needs to be sweet! Even naturally sweet dishes like sweet potatoes taste better with a spicy kick, like a drizzle of chimichurri.

  4. keri says...

    I’m a bit late to this post but

    Dry brine your turkey. Seriously. Do it. Just rub it with salt and herbs the night before and pop it back in the fridge in a pan.

    And then cook the turkey upside down (breast down)! This makes all the juices drip down and make the breast meat juicy and yummy.

    Good luck and just have fun! Everyone else will just be glad they didn’t have to cook.

  5. Hannah says...

    I would love to share from my household’s Thanksgiving experiences, because I really feel like we’ve nailed down some-sort of a routine and have learned quite a few lessons along the way.

    First of all, what we do for Thanksgiving varies greatly year to year. Neither my boyfriend or myself have much family, and what family we do have is spread throughout the country. So, we have been a lone Thanksgiving duet more than once and we love it. Even when we fly solo, we’ll have friends over for cocktails, leftovers (for them) and desserts in the evening since we eat late and everyone else seems to eat early. Other years we have had our official Thanksgiving with family or at friend’s family’s houses, but I still have a few go-to recipes and will bring several dishes.

    First: decide what’s worth your time. Nothing, absolutely nothing is worth a nervous breakdown standing in your kitchen on Thanksgiving day. Sit at your table at least a week before and decide what’s worth it to you. For example, my boyfriend’s favorite dish of the year is legit, homemade green bean casserole that I make using Deb’s recipe on Smitten Kitchen. If you haven’t tried it once, please consider it. As Deb points out, it uses more dishes than ideal when your kitchen is teeny tiny like hers or mine, but what you end up with will cause you to swear off the French’s Crispy Onions and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup version immediately. On the other hand, I refuse to make a cranberry sauce or relish that takes more than 5 minutes. I recently saw a recipe for cranberry apple relish that sounded delicious for 15 seconds until I realized that it simmers for 35-40 minutes. For me, that is Not Worth It. I will continue to throw cranberries into a small lidded sautée pan exactly ten minutes before dinner is plated with an eyeballed-amount of sugar and water and a grating of lemon and possibly nutmeg if I remember.

    Deciding what’s Important to you (him: green bean casserole, a meat, turkey, rabbit, or duck, & real plates; me: sweet potato casserole, sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce, & a stack of good-looking disposable napkins) and what’s Really Not (salad, a two hour potato dish, lots of choices, rolls that need to be kneaded by hand, place cards, napkin rings, & complicated decorations). I say do a few things but do them well.

    For dessert, I typically make pie: traditionally pumpkin, but last year was Smitten Kitchen’s tart cranberry pie. BUT, if I lived in New York City instead of Eastern North Carolina, I would totally order a pie or a cake from a fantastic bakery ahead of time. There are plenty of things other people do better and that’s perfectly okay. Oh and always serve coffee with dessert.

    Wishing you the very best results. Remember, it’s an experience. No one is following you with a camera.

    P.S. after mulling over cocktail ideas, I decided that I’ll serve champagne with Thanksgiving dinner this year and I’m so excited about it. Now to find an Audrey Hepburn-esque outfit and the perfect toast.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes to the audrey hepburn outfit! love it :)

  6. Hannah Avery says...

    We have to have sausage stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce. I was raised eating the canned cranberry sauce, but now love the homemade one, because it gives such nice tartness to the meal. I’m from the South, and we love a really yummy sweet potato casserole too. My parents are organic sweet potato farmers in Oklahoma, so they provide us with them! I think this year we are going to make a sweet potato pie too, with lots of whipped topping.

  7. jess says...

    After my mum died, I started taking charge of christmas dinner (i’m sure if we did thanksgiving that it’d fall to me too!). I quickly learnt the following: turkey takes a really long time to cook, put it on earlier than you think and leave it to rest. people care about potatoes more than anything else so if you have to sacrifice something, don’t make it the potatoes. if you forget something, no one will notice or they’re too polite to say. mostly no one even wants pudding, they only eat it because it’s there. cheat where you can. I’m cooking for 7 adults and 3 kids this weekend and i’m cutting as many corners as i can (pre chopped veg? pre mixed yorkshires? ready made gravy? yes yes yes)

  8. Sara says...

    I worked at a cooking school for years and we did a ton of classes on Thanksgiving. The BEST thing I got out of testing and preparing all of the recipes season after season was Diane Phillips’ make ahead mashed potato recipe. She has a bunch of cookbooks but you can find this recipe online The last thing you want to be doing is mashing potatoes when you have guests. Hope this helps. Cheers!

  9. I loved reading all the comments from your readers! I’m excited to be hosting Thanksgiving this year for my own family of five plus my son’s basketball team from Middlebury College! They have a game on the Sunday after Thanksgiving so we will host the whole crew at our place in Cornwall, Moxie Hill Farm. We have a great party barn and a shuffleboard table that I can convert in to a long harvest table. I try to make as much ahead as possible and the pioneer woman’s mashed potatoes are a big hit as well as a sweet potato dish and lots of stuffing. I buy my gravy from a local high end grocery store which is a lifesaver and I usually order a few pies from the bakery. I also am cooking a feast for my two vegan daughters so I usually make most of the sides vegan friendly. Check out my photos of the day on my instagram @mamanaughton. Have a great day and good luck in the kitchen!

  10. Caroline says...

    GREEN BEAN BUNDLES. Seriously your kids will thank you and so will your taste buds.

    Its a simple story really…
    Kindergarten. I had a crush on Grant Caudell. Enter the Mother’s Day Class Cookbook. Flipped immediately to the page featuring Granny Caudell’s Green Bean Bundles. Obviously Mom and I had to make them that very night because she is a kick-ass mom. 22 years later, we are still eating green bean bundles for every holiday meal (though we did consciously decide to drop dear old Granny Caudell from the name after her grandson broke my 7 year old heart).

    -2 can green beans
    -1/2 slab of bacon (literally. cut it in half so they become short strips)
    -1/2 pack dry Italian seasoning
    Wrap about 3-4 beans in a strip of bacon. Fill up a casserole dish with as many of those suckers as you can and sprinkle with seasoning. Bake for 30-40 minutes with whatever else is obviously already in the oven. EAT. You’re welcome.

    • Ilene Lion says...

      Hi! I like your sense of humor Caroline. And have enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts.

      Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday for me, particularly because I went into labor with our first born, soon after stuffing myself with a 2nd helping of Pecan Pie, after our annual family dinner at my Aunts house.
      Our daughter will turn 40 November 27th! So exciting! ?
      We’ve had Thanksgiving at her home in Bethesda Md. since she got married and had kids. She refused to travel on her birthday, 6 hrs. to Ct.

      Her husband and mom are in charge and do everything. The kitchen is their domain. They are organized, experienced, methodical, and excellent cooks. They’ve got it down to a science and I’m always in awe.

      Everyone will be coming to our home in Ct. this year.
      And will not be arriving till Thursday. We have 5 grandkids ages 6 months to 7 years old.
      There’s a possibility they will arrive the night before and we will wake up to a houseful which might be chaotic although truly wonderful.

      I am beyond nervous about hosting this year. I don’t have anyone that I can count on to help. Everyone works full time and already has their plates full.
      I haven’t entertained more than 6 people at a time, for as long as I can remember. I tend to get overwhelmed when my to do list is larger than usual and prefer simplicity and calm.
      I feel I can’t even organize my thoughts or wrap my head around all I need to do start doing, in order to “get the party started”!
      Let alone order the turkey, shop, prepare, cook, set a lovely table and be dressed and relaxed to welcome 16 guests.
      Any thoughts to create a great, stress free and wonderful Thanksgiving?
      Feeling overwhelmed.

  11. Liz says...

    We live in Brooklyn and get our turkey from Dinosaur BBQ. It saves so much stress and it has an amazing smoked flavor.

  12. Anna says...

    Smitten Kitchen’s from scratch green bean casserole is so worth it! A classic done right, except for frying the onions, that part you can skip and just buy the tinned ones!

  13. I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving dinners of one type or another for more than 25 years. I do have some advice…

    1. Don’t stress. It’s not a competition. It’s a dinner party.
    2. My mom (who was the world’s most amazing cook) used to say that as she got older, things got simpler. Eventually she tried not to make any dishes with more than five main ingredients. Especially in a small Brooklyn kitchen (been there many times), it’s sound advice.
    3. This is in case something happens to the turkey that is being brought to you (this has happened to me): Turkey is really, really, really hard to get right. Do something to it that will keep the breast moist. The best turkey I ever made was larded with prosciutto under the breast skin (adapted from a Lynne Rossetto Kasper chicken recipe which I would give you if I could find it online). I bet this treatment would be delicious too:
    In my experience, the expensive heritage turkeys are not worth the $$. An organic free range turkey IS worth the cost, however, if you can swing it.
    4. Do as much as you can in advance (cf. small Brooklyn kitchen).
    5. Accept help, primarily in the days before.
    6. Whenever I’m having a complicated dinner, I write out a very detailed plan for cooking that starts with the time I want to sit down at the table and moves in reverse through the day. This helps me figure out which dishes have to be in the oven at which times, and also helps me if I have to adjust cooking times because a dish needs to be cooked in a slightly lower or higher temperature.
    7. You know that piece of advice your grandmother gave you? The one that goes, “Before you leave the house, look at how many accessories you have on, and take one off?” That goes for your menu.
    8. Make or buy a spectacular dessert. People always remember the last thing they ate. I used to make a chocolate glazed pecan tart that satisfied everyone’s dessert cravings; this one is similar:
    Some Mast Brothers Chocolate on the table doesn’t hurt, either.
    9. These nuts make everyone happy (they’ve been on my Thanksgiving table every year now for 25 years!), and look who originally published the recipe!
    10. Plenty of wine.
    11. Set the table the day before.
    12. Don’t stress. It’s not a competition. It’s a dinner party.
    Congratulations on inheriting the Thanksgiving host mantle!

    • For “if a dish needs to be cooked in a slightly higher or lower temperature,” substitute, ” if a dish needs to be cooked at a slightly higher or lower temperature because you have multiple dishes in the oven at the same time.” Sorry!

  14. Melissa M says...

    I live in Toronto, and I was lucky enough to be visiting my brother in LA this year in early October, so we celebrated “Canadian Thanksgiving in the US”!
    He’s a very celebrated pastry chef (you’ll find his name on Top 10 lists (so proud!)) We spent 2 days prepping, and one of the things on his prep list was mac and cheese. I was skeptical – how does mac and cheese go with turkey and stuffing? But he told me to trust him – I mean he does know a thing or two about food – and so I did.

    We sat down to dinner and I was passed the mac and cheese dish – it wasn’t *just* “mac and cheese”; it was “truffle mac and cheese”, made with truffle-flecked gouda, old cheddar and pepper jack – I took a spoonful to two, and you know what? It was delicious! It cut through the sameness of the turkey, stuffing, gravy and potatoes, and added a complexity to the meal that is usually otherwise missing.

    Last weekend I hosted an early “American Thanksgiving in Canada” for the rest of my family, and one of the dishes on the table as we all sat down to eat was, you guessed it, mac and cheese! It’s now a tradition. That, and me dropping the turkey on the floor (but that’s a whole other story).

  15. I’ve never hosted an official Thanksgiving, but the past two years we’ve hosted a little vegetarian Friendsgiving (AKA a meal full of things I can actually eat!). We don’t do tofurkey so it’s mostly a meal of sides. Last year was rotini with butternut sage sauce (got the recipe here, actually!), vegetarian stuffing, roasted veggies, green beans with butter and garlic, corn pudding, salad (greens, cranberries, walnuts and feta cheese in a raspberry vinaigrette), Hawaiian rolls and pumpkin pie. All my favorites, so delicious.

  16. Sarah says...

    I host about 20 family members every year. I roast the turkey and provide drinks. Of course I clean my house and make sure we have all the dinner details set. However I ask each guest to bring a side dish to share. It’s more of a Thanksgiving potluck. I think my guests like contributing their own traditional family dishes. Often times I’ll make a banana pudding and/or apple pie too!

  17. Andrea ( aka rokinrev) Stoeckel says...

    Brine it if you can. If its frozen and you choose to thaw in fridge it may take up to a week. My mom swore by the paper bag cooking method. My prof in cooking school said upside down. We do a spin on Tyler Florence’s maple and bacon, and we use turkey bacon.

    Ignore the pop up timer and forget frying it. If you want to have a surprize, try a turducken. Simple stuffing ( rice based or Rachel Ray’s cranberry muffin stuffing are good).

    Don’t overload the table. Use everything…even making turkey soup with the bones. No turkey lasts as long as the jokes say…2 meals tops.

    And, let the poor thing rest at least 30 minutes. Then no one should complain about being dry.

    Baking powder helps stabilize mashed potatos. Leave the salt out of the green bean cassarole. In fact, how about just cooked plain veggies…leave the gravy/cheese/sauces out. Less stuffing in the people means less snoring afterwards.

    DON’T stress out. Turkey, a starch, a few veg, maybe rolls. It’s just another meal

  18. Jill says...

    Sweet potatoe casserole!

  19. Tia says...

    If you do a kid table (or even if you don’t), check out Caravan Shoppe! It’s an adorable website dedicated to instant digital downloads, with several for Thanksgiving. The idea is that you can download the file and take it to a copy place (like Staples) and have it printed as an engineer print for just a few dollars. They have adorable “tablecloths” that you could throw on the kid table with a bunch of crayons and let them color away. They also have beautiful Thanksgiving quotes and wall hangings.

    I grew up getting together with my huge extended families (on both sides) and it was quite chaotic, so we never had really formal traditions. My mom always contributes a really delicious spinach salad to the spread, and I love it. It’s simple, fresh, and rounds out the meal well. I also love the jello with a raspberry layer, cream cheese layer and pretzel crust–it’s basically a dessert, but we serve it with the meal. It can be made ahead and is such a festive delicious side. Pumpkin rolls are also so easy and can be made ahead and kept in the freezer. My favorite!

    I’m due with a baby the week of Thanksgiving, and we no longer live near to either of our parents, so it will be interesting to see how it goes this year! I’m wondering if I should put a small turkey breast in the freezer to have on hand in case we have our own tiny celebration with a teeny tiny newborn :)

    • Megan says...

      My daughter was born 11/19 last year and though we live near family we decided against attending a Thanksgiving dinner, instead we just wanted to enjoy being new parents. My twin sister came over and helped us cook and eat turkey legs and a few small sides. We have a pic of my husband holding a giant turkey leg next to the baby, who we placed in a bassinet next to the table. It was funny and a memorable meal.

    • Lisa says...

      This is a great link. Thank you! And blessings to you and precious little one.

  20. Thanksgiving is my family’s biggest affair! We gather in Palm Springs every year with aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole shebang. Wine is poured at noon, and scotch served shortly thereafter (and long into the night). Kids and adults always sit together and much to my husband’s dismay, football is NEVER on. Instead the day is full of music, stories, food and, ahem, scotch. Most importantly, right before eating we gather in “the circle.” Everyone stands outside holding hands and anyone is invited to speak. Sometimes a person will give thanks, another will share a struggle, or one of the kids will talk about the birds in the trees. There are no rules, just one moment during the year that we are all profoundly connected. The circle is one of my earliest childhood memories, and a cherished tradition my cousins and I are now passing on to our own littles. Cheers to starting your own beloved traditions this year!

    • Krystal says...


  21. Laurel says...

    I moved to Australia a few years ago from Seattle (I feel like I start every comment with this, ha!) and oddly enough, the majority of my friends are American. My friend Lisa hosts Thanksgiving every year and the first year we went, I felt like everything was going to be ok. She does a signature cocktail (outsourced to a friend who makes them) which is usually a kier royale. The local butcher brines the turkey for her which she orders in advance. She also does a potluck dessert table where guests make and bring their favorite dishes. And of course, the green bean casserole. She gets the French’s crispy onions shipped! There’s also lots of wine, lots of kids being silly, and since it’s early summer here, we all sit outside. I can’t wait!

  22. I love to do fruit for table decor. Maybe combined with a lovely cheeseboard down the center of the table. It looks pretty and encourages guests to stay around the table together longer.

  23. Isabelle says...

    I totally agree about serving something fresh and green – such a nice contrast on a plate filled with rich things! That being said my favourite holiday side dish is a wonderful, cheesy, eggy cauliflower and bacon gratin from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table. Most people don’t expect cauliflower on a Thanksgiving table but it’s soooo delicious!

  24. Kelly says...

    i laughed out loud at the Food 52 category “Orange Sides” — you really do have to have some sort of sweet potato/squash thing even if most people don’t eat. at least at our house no one eats it but there it is year after year!

  25. Lindsay says...

    I highly recommend serving something fresh and green. Like arugula tossed with lemon & olive oil, or any greens with a simple dressing. Being vegetarian (and now gluten free :/), I always crave this. Helps with digestion too!

  26. I have hosted Thanksgiving for 10 years now. I am so used to it. The clue is to ask everybody to bring something to contribute, so you don’t have to be a kitchen slave.

    Why don’t you make that french silk chocolate pie you posted a couple of years ago? It is easy and so GOOD. I am making it this year.

    Drinks flowing constantly are a must, but I think you need some appetizers so people don’t get too drunk.

  27. You’ll do great!! It’s my turn to be with my husbands family this year but it’s just his parents this year and they aren’t doing anything for the holiday. So we are coming to you, to NYC for 6 days! Thanksgiving in New York! I can’t wait

  28. ac says...

    I love cramming everyone together: kids, adults, family, guests. Ditch assigned seating, let everyone choose their seat. Produces conversations and food choices that might never otherwise occur.

    Definitely excuse the kids to play after the main course. They find their way back for dessert :)

    And yes, ditch appetizers in favor of a light lunch (for anyone there).

    One thing for planning side dishes: it is easy at Thanksgiving to add fruit to every dish or cover the “sweet” profile. Try to cover savory, salty, different textures, too. Helps balance your plate and lets you look forward to dessert. We love Paul Newman’s “Use a Spoon” Chopped Salad as a refreshing break in the meal:

    Dessert is best kept simple. One or two pies, tons of whipped cream go a long, long way. We also do a special kids dessert: Jello chocolate pudding (with same whipped cream on top) served in a “fancy” glass. It’s so amazingly easy to make and never is denied.

  29. Nikki says...

    I’ve never personally hosted anything other than Friendsgiving (rotisserie chicken for the win!), but my parents host Thanksgiving every year for our extended family. My dad, who used to be a chef, does a “rustic” style feast which, as someone who doesn’t really love the Thanksgiving “classics” like stuffing and yams, I LOVE. It also seems, overall, much easier. He barbecues a whole turkey (maybe not applicable for you because it requires a big outdoor stone oven), bakes cheesy mashed potatoes in a big glass dish with a lid, and the best part: seasonal veggies chopped big (“people should have to cut them up on their plate,” says my dad), sprinkled with salt and pepper and a bit of lemon, and tossed into the oven on a metal baking sheet. It’s super easy, and the veggies are from his garden, making them absolutely delicious, even as simple as they are. He also does green beans sauteed in butter and garlic and tossed with a little soy sauce and parmesan as an answer to the typical green bean casserole, and they are amazing. My mom usually makes homemade rolls that are to die for, and my grandma and aunt are in charge of endless apple, pumpkin and pecan pies. Anyone who wants the more classic dishes is free to bring their own, but no one really eats those :P ahh this is making me WAY too excited for Thanksgiving now!

  30. Courtney says...

    I cook the potatoes in the SLOW COOKER all morning. There are like a million recipes on Pinterest for this. It saves time, mental energy, and space on the stove. Use white or yellow skinned potatoes and don’t even peel them. Stir in fresh chives and parsley at the last minute. Also, an extravagant amount of heavy cream and butter, of course. Anyway, I always get complements on my mashed potatoes and it’s the easiest thing of the day!

  31. Brenda says...

    I agree with a few other commenters that you should keep things simple and do as much as possible ahead of time. Definitely don’t leave any house cleaning for the day of. If you have a kids table, a coloring project (like making hand turkeys) can keep them occupied for a little while! And make sure to save the wishbone for the boys to break the next day. Also, my family does a gift exchange for Christmas, and we always choose names after Thanksgiving dinner. We put the kids in charge of the process and they love it.

  32. Naomi P says...

    We’re in the same boat! First time hosting. 17 adults. 5 children. (I’m not scared. I’m not scared)

    Here’s our plan for “success” (i.e. least stress for me): whole foods catered on the big stuff (I’m not a big cook), have friends/family help bring the smaller stuff, use kraft paper as a table cloth, decorate with mini pumpkins and a few candles, draw placemats on the table cloth with pens lying around (pinterest!) – tell people to feel free to write on the table, what they are thankful for. (take a photo of all the notes and drawings after), use disposable plates (we’re doing compostable palm plates, sourced from a restaurant supplier) for easy cleanup (seriously – who has 17+ place settings? I don’t), and lots of wine.

    For the kids table: kraft paper on the table, printable coloring placements, cups of crayons, silly straws…

    We have been generously hosted by others for 10+ years, so I look forward to paying it back.


  33. Lucy says...

    Don’t stress out if the food is late, cold, or dry. Remember it’s a celebration of gratitude and giving thanks. Have a good time and enjoy your loved ones.

    Also, here is a recipe for the World’s Best Corn Casserole. It’s a multi-generational sleeper hit.

    (6 – 8 Servings)
    1 pkg. “JIFFY” Corn Muffin Mix
    1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
    1 can (8-3/4 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained
    1 can (8-1/4 oz.) cream style corn
    ** I’ve used up to twice as much corn as it calls for. It’s sort of your preference. **
    1 cup sour cream
    2 eggs
    Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish. Pour margarine or butter and corn into dish. Blend in sour cream. In separate bowl, beat eggs and stir into casserole. Add muffin mix. Blend thoroughly. Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until center is firm.

  34. Home made cranberry sauce. So easy and can be made way ahead. Add a splash of grand marnier if you have it.

    • Courtney says...

      Omg yes! We do the grand mariner too! And I make it like 2 days ahead. So easy but feels special.

  35. We’ve hosted Thanksgiving in our Brooklyn apartment a few times and always relied on Fresh Direct, which is FANTASTIC! This year we are hosting in our new home upstate and will be making everything ourselves from scratch, which will be nerve-wracking but fun! And I agree with Sifton about the (heavy) appetizers. I want guests showing up to the table hungry!

  36. Lindsey says...

    Are you making a turkey (or two?)? Rub that bad boy down in a salt and pepper mix, liberally rub it in butter a la Julia Child, then stuff it with thyme and lemon!

    Start with your oven on a higher heat to crisp and brown the skin then turn the heat down to finish it off :)

  37. Erin says...

    My sister and I hosted our first Thanksgiving meal about 5 years ago. I love to cook whereas she…..tries. It was such a huge undertaking, but it was so rewarding in the end! Everyone stuffed their bellies full & she and I had the best time. Make lists of your lists & make Pinterest your best friend! Good luck!


  38. Paige says...

    And have fun! Don’t over do it! Prioritize your favorite dishes and skip some non-essentials (or delegate)! Also try not to pick all oven recipes. Spread the love with the stove top, oven, crock pot, etc!

  39. Myev says...

    My tip, make a simple green salad with light vinaigrette in addition to your sides. Every time I’ve done this it is appreciated. It is so nice to have something crunchy, fresh, and tangy to off set all the heavy cooked food.

  40. Maggie E. says...

    The best thing my family ever started doing was making the mashed potatoes (or sweet potatoes, or squash) TWO NIGHTS before. We make the potatoes with an irresponsible amount of butter, (and the trick is 1/2 of block of cream cheese for a 5 lb bag of potatoes) and then put them in the fridge to wait. Thanksgiving morning we scoop them into a CROCK POT, drizzle a little milk to help them soften, as well as help disperse the heat from the sides and keeps it from burning. Turn it it high to get it going, stirring occasionally, then to low and keep them covered. There is no exact science. It just keeps them warm and ready for whenever you are. The crock pot keeps them way from where the work is happening on the busy morning. We’ve even put them in another room just to keep the chaos at bay.

    • Elizabeth says...

      This is an amazing tip! I’m always trying to finish the mashed potatoes while getting everything out of the oven and it’s very stressful! I’m also a HUGE fan of anything I can make in the crock pot! Thank you!!!

    • Total genius! Thanks for the great tip. Making mashed potatoes as we’re trying to do ten other things stresses me out each time and this sounds like a brilliant solution!

  41. Amanda says...

    When we have a lot of people we do a kids table. There was always a kid table when I was growing up and we just continued it. My biggest tip though is prep the day before. Many Thanksgiving dishes can be made the day before and just put in the oven the day of. It makes for a lot less clean up and less stress the day of Thanksgiving. It also gives you more time to enjoy your guests since you aren’t making 5 different dishes to go with the turkey. Good luck! This is the first year we have 3 thanksgivings we are going to and our first Friends-giving with our new Brooklyn neighbors which will be fun. Do you have any tips for hosting dinner in a small space!? Definitely will be different than previous years when we lived in NC in the suburbs!

  42. Elizabeth says...

    While I don’t think appetizers need to be crazy, I do think they are important while guests are waiting for the main course. I usually do a cranberry brie puff pastry tart, which is easy to throw together and some veggies and dip.

    What helps me from going insane is doing as much as I can ahead of time.

  43. Lisa says...

    I think your readers are amazing! There are so many fantastic ideas and recipes here. If you ever do the turkey, Food52 has a dry brined turkey in their genius recipe section that truly is a game changer. For me, after years of elaborate meals requiring not just hours but days of prep, I realized it’s much better to share the work, and simplify my menu (and expectations) so I can enjoy the most important part of the celebration: the people! Enjoy!!

  44. Outsource as much as you can! As expats with a tiny over, we always order from a hotel for the big bird (or multiple turkeys). Then we focus on homemade sides and dishes important to us. Instead of wine, we just serve champagne and a signature cocktail or punch. Good luck!

  45. Sarah DW says...

    We had a side dish with a Blue Apron meal recently that we plan to recreate for Thanksgiving. It was diced baby potatoes, butternut squash, and apples, all roasted together with olive oil and S&P. It was seasonal, simple, and delicious!

  46. Naomi says...

    Don’t over think it, go with the classics. Mashed Potatoes with butter, something green, green beans with butter. Plus warm fresh buns (bakery is a okay), warm them up before dinner and have lots of butter. Classic desserts as well can’t go wrong.

  47. Amy says...

    Stuffing is my favorite part! The smell of onions and celery cooking in butter always makes me think of Thanksgiving and my mom. This last year was my first time making the stuffing by myself because I live across the country from my mom. But she hand wrote my grandma’s recipe on these gorgeous recipe cards (which still exist and which I bought for her) so I could recreate it. I also called her at least three times to make sure I had it right.

    If you do want an appetizer, I always do cranberry jalapeño dip. Sounds weird, tastes so good and is festive and pretty! It’s always requested again and again. (Not my blog, just the recipe I use.)

    I think meals like this get so much pressure put on them, but in reality, it’s a time to enjoy the company of friends. I hope you can enjoy some wine and the process. Good luck!

    • Yulia says...

      Amy, this dip sounds genius! I’m going to make it. Last year I heard a Nigella recipe for a cheese dip called “Liptauer” on NPR and it was such a success that now I’m into unconventional dips in a big way. They’re so easy and usually you can make them ahead of time, and if a dip is good then it’s hard to stop eating and everyone is happy. Here’s the link if you’d ever like to try something new: (Nigella recommends dark bread but I use a variety of crackers and it’s perfect.)

    • Kim Bowers says...

      I agree with the stuffing comment! My co-workers and I recently made Thanksgiving for lunch because we’re all obsessed. I was in charge of the stuffing and asked my MIL for her recipe. It fed 6 hungry ladies with no leftovers. :-)

      It was simple, so delicious and only 20 min prep. I made it the night before and then warmed it in the crockpot the next day. I’m scared now to have the recipe because it would be easy enough for a weeknight.

      1 package Pepperidge Farm CUBED Herb Stuffing (12oz)
      1/2 lb unseasoned breakfast sausage
      stick butter (1/2 cup)
      2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
      1 large onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
      2 1/2 cups Chicken stock (or broth) (more at first or while baking if it looks too dry)
      1 egg beaten
      1 Tbs light brown sugar
      1 Tbs poultry seasoning (sage/marjoram/rosemary/nutmeg)
      1/2 tsp salt
      1/2 tsp ground pepper

      Brown sausage, then drain and set aside.
      Melt butter and saute chopped onions and celery til softened.
      Add stock to sauted vegetables to warm.
      In larger mixing bowl thoroughly mix together the stuffing mix, sausage, vegetable and liquid mixture, egg, brown sugar, and spices.
      Bake at 350 degrees for 30-60 minutes til warm and a little crusty. Watch while baking and add more stock if it looks too dry

  48. Court says...

    Disagree about no appetizers, especially if you are handing alcohol to guests the moment they arrive. How do I know this? One of my guests got way too tipsy and I was late with dinner so it was not a good situation. Nuts and guacamole are not great appetizer choices, too filling. I did a cheese ball, some fancy thinly sliced salami, and olives and little veggies with a creamy dip. This was perfect and everyone still devoured the main meal.

  49. We do a turkey and big tin casserole containers of these: mac & cheese, sweet potato mash, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and of course Hawaiian rolls. Lots of them. We like to keep it simple!

    Oh and for dessert, usually just 1 or 2 apple and pumpkin pies.

    Good luck!

  50. Julianna says...

    My grandma always set out a little bowl of green olives, baby dills, and baby sweet pickles as the appetizer. Thanksgiving just doesn’t feel right if I don’t do this!

    • SarahJo says...

      My parents did this too!

  51. SarahJo says...

    I definitely agree that Thanksgiving is not the time to experiment or be overly cutesy-cutesy. My biggest tips would be don’t skimp on the pie, I usually bake two pumpkin, one apple, and one pecan. My parents growing up probably baked 4 of each… it was insane but there was plenty to send home with friends and family and still have pie for breakfast for the next few days. My sister married into a family who introduced us all to collared greens in the 90s so that has been on my must-have side-dish list ever since. There are a lot of simple variations as well, and none should cost $66 like Neiman Marcus…

  52. Leigh says...

    Make the stuffing with a corn bread base and cook it in a separate pan- not in the turkey. It tastes 100 times better than soggy processed white bread cooked in a turkey. This recipe has been in my family for four generations.

    • jen says...

      Eeeek. Heresy. Cornbread stuffing, lots of sage, stuffed int he turkey. That and turkey skin is my fave part. No appetizers, that’s silly. Have a drink and bring out the bird!

  53. Rebecca says...

    I spent the year after I graduated from college in Tours, France, teaching English at the university there. It was my first time living on my own, and I was determined to create a Thanksgiving feast for my non-American friends who had never experienced the glory of turkey day. I went back and forth with my mom over email for several weeks beforehand, gathering our classic family recipes and getting notes on how to cook the bird, make the gravy, etc. I then spent 3 days cooking on one electric hot plate. I had 2, but if I used them both at the same time, they would short out the entire 17th century century building I was living in. I made 2 desserts which had to be trekked across town to a friend’s convection oven and then the whole meal (minus the bird) had to be carted down to a country house an hour away. The bird had been entrusted to a young Frenchman, and on our drive south, he called to ask whether frozen would be alright (NO!) or, if not, pre-stuffed (NO! NO!), or then a rabbit? NO! NO! NO! Finally we agreed upon a capon, a castrated coq, which turned out to be a good thing as the tiny oven would never have accommodated an American-sized bird. The house was freezing with a capital F, the capon took forever to cook, and the gravy was so gloppy (note to future self: add flour gradually) it clogged the ancient farmhouse plumbing. But there was a fire, great tunes, and plenty of wine to go around, and we were all having so much fun that it didn’t matter. I’m also proud to say that Mom’s recipes and the little kitchen that could back in Tours turned out a remarkably delicious and memorable dinner, one that I’ve replicated in more recent years. The menu consisted of my grandfather’s fabulous smoked oyster stuffing, balsamic glazed pearl onions, crispy sauteed brussels sprouts, a purée of carrots and parsnips, homemade cranberry sauce (with orange zest and sometimes ginger), a spiced pumpkin loaf, and an apple walnut upside down cake. (You’ll note that there were no potatoes, mashed or otherwise, on the plate. This is mostly because my mom, who despite growing up in the thick of Elvis and cherry Coke, was famously anti-Americana. So the ubiquitous mashed potato was out. A glaring omission for some, but she sure made a mean Thanksgiving dinner.)

  54. Melissa says...

    Can’t say I’ve ever hosted thanksgiving (thankfully lol) but I have been bringing sides to my parents house for the past couple years. My favorite was roasted Brussel sprouts with gorganzola cheese and cranberries. Simple and yummy.

  55. allie says...

    my tip is to pre-order the bulk size of banana pudding from magnolia bakery in advance – everyone loves it, and then you can skip that part of the menu!

  56. Jess says...

    Ha. If you had my family, the tip would be HIDE ALL OF THE WINE from your mom. ;-) Also, one never regrets making two apple pies!

  57. Tina L. says...

    Thanksgiving is super fun to host! My tips: Hand your guests a cocktail as soon as they arrive (wine is fine too if you run out of time to mix something up), then I do a very simple appetizer. That way, if dinner is few minutes late, you’re not stressed. I usually do veggies with a delicious homemade dip I’ve made a day or two before, or a homemade cheese ball with veggies and crackers (so easy). I also live by Ina Garten’s hosting advice for all parties I throw: 1) make as much beforehand as possible (aforementioned dip, Pioneer Woman’s mashed potatoes – which are really wonderful, and you can do a day or two before Thanksgiving, pie crusts, cranberries, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, etc…) 2) buy a few high end items to supplement (my favorite Kale salad from a local deli, maybe a dessert such as cake or cupcakes, if I’m doing homemade pies for those that don’t like pie (what??). Then it’s down to the early morning work – bake the pies, and then get the turkey in the oven (I do it in a Reynolds turkey bag and there is literally no labor once it goes in). The only thing I do once my guests arrive is the gravy (listen, I make mine and I find it easy, but I’ve also had, and really enjoyed, the bottled pre-made gravy from Williams Sonoma), my husband carves the turkey, and we both get everything on the table. My only other little tip is to give yourself time to get ready because after all that work, you deserve to bask in the Thanksgiving afterglow and look good in the pictures!!

    • Sarah says...

      I do everything almost the exact same way. It’s uncanny. Make as much as you can ahead. I love Pioneer Woman mashed potatoes and make them every year- they are zero stress and taste fabulous.

  58. Jing says...

    I’ll leave the recipe suggestions for everyone else— we all have our favorites (and flops)! Each person seated at our Thanksgiving table gets a special place card sharing what we are most grateful for about them. Imagine a cluster of small pinecones tied with brown twine, and a small manila shipping tag with Aunt Barb’s name on front and on the back “We are so grateful for your bright, artistic blue-eyed spirit.” We tie these around the napkins. People love knowing why we think they’re special!

    • Lauren S. says...

      Great idea!

  59. Meredith says...

    I was responsible for Thanksgiving for about 15 people for about 10 years. I didn’t know about mashed potatoes in a slow cooker at that time but it would have been a lifesaver

    Plus they are the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had and is the only way I make them now.

    Regular old stuffing with bread cubes (Martin’s Potato Bread Cubes!), celery, onion, poultry seasoning and a crap ton of butter (seriously, double that amount). Similar

    This corn casserole

    This pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust.
    People still talk fondly about that. And is even better if made ahead.

    Pickles and olives! Even though I was the only one that ate them.

    Good luck!

  60. Who’s doing the clean up?

  61. If in future years you host and own all the food, do the turkey in pieces! It’s easier, faster, and always comes out great.

    I do this turkey:

    With this MAKE AHEAD gravy:

    The Cook’s Illustrated green bean casserole is time intensive but delicious and such a fun throw-back that involves no can of anything (I lie, still a can of fried onions on the top. Requirement.)

    Last year I did mashed potatoes in the slow cooker and it really helped with timing:

    But most of all: get prepared the day before with getting out all the serving plates/bowls/utensils, napkins/plates/glasses/utensils for guests for dinner AND for dessert. It’s all fun and games until you’re ready to put out the food and there’s no spoon for the mashed potatoes …

    • Jen says...

      Agree! Set the table the night before. Make a list of every serving spoon needed so you don’t have to worry. Put everything out for tableware the morning of so while you cook and assemble the dinner you have the settings all taken care of. Make a small list of jobs others can help with- like filling water glasses and refreshing wine.

  62. Jane says...

    My carrot salad is legendary: Grate a pound or two of carrots; add fresh mint, a couple of handfuls of dried cranberries, the juice and zest of at least one orange (sometimes I add more), a bit of olive oil and a teaspoon of sugar. Mix well and let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.

    Also: roasted beets, onions and sweet potato. Just chop into cubes, add oil, rosemary, garlic and any other herbs (I’ve been experimenting with thyme for a bit now) and roast at 400F for about 45 minutes (for a big pan full of veggies; probably less time for a smaller amount). Delicious, beautiful and absolutely no effort.

  63. Jenny M says...

    Wear your running shoes while cooking! You will be so happy later.

  64. Meg says...

    This was me a couple years ago when we first hosted. I went straight to America’s Test Kitchen for the traditionals. (Their Turkey method saved us HOURS.) Added a few extra classic with a twists including my favorite: jalapeno lime tequila cranberry sauce. It gives turkey a huge umph and there is just a tiny bit of tequila so the kiddos can have some too.

  65. Emily says...

    Hi! You’re in for an exhausting treat! We hosted our first Thanksgiving last year, and I can say with conviction, it’s been one of my favorite Thanksgivings ever. My go to: Pioneer Woman for almost everything. Her green bean casserole steals the show every holiday I ever bring it to, and also – BRINE THAT TURKEY. You’ll be so glad you did. Links? Of course!
    ALSO – roast some veggies for a hearty side with little/no prep! Good luck! Happy Thanksgiving!

  66. Teresa says...

    When we host we ask each person which dish is their favorite. If it is something not yet covered, we ask them to bring it (and people are always happy to). That way, everyone gets the Thanksgiving food they love best without you having to make mashed potatoes and yams and potatoes au gratin. (You get the idea.)

    My other suggestion is to take notes on what you do so when you end up hosting in a future year, you’ll know what worked and what didn’t. I write down exactly what we cooked, when, how and how much (e.g. six yams on Tuesday, in fridge Wednesday wrapped in foil, crockpot Thursday at 10 am). It adds an extra step as you are preparing, but it is golden to have in future years.

    Good luck!

  67. Thanksgiving is one of my most favorite holidays! I love the all-day bustling kitchen, endless cocktails and late night board games. But the real winner is my Aunt’s cranberry salsa recipe. She’s an awesome cook, and introduced us to this tangy, spicy and deliciously raw recipe years ago — and I’ve never been able to part from it since. I love that among a plate full of baked casseroles, turkey and creamed dishes, you have something bright to elevate the flavors.

    1 (12 ounce) bag cranberries, fresh or frozen
    1 bunch cilantro, chopped
    1 bunch green onions, cut into 3 inch lengths
    1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
    2 limes, juiced
    3/4 cup white sugar
    1 pinch salt

    Combine cranberries, cilantro, green onions, jalapeno pepper, lime juice, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a medium blade. Chop to medium consistency. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Serve at room temperature.


    • Julia E says...

      Thank you for sharing. This sounds really good.

  68. Hayley H says...

    Don’t be intimidated by the task of making and hosting a Thanksgiving meal! I made my first Thanksgiving dinner when I was 16 when I lived in Mexico as a junior in high school. The day I arrived in late August, my host mother opened the freezer to show me the turkey they had purchased so I could make them Thanksgiving dinner in November. When the time came, my mom mailed me a box of essentials that I wouldn’t likely be able to find in Mexico – pumpkin puree, Stove Top stuffing (haha! – ok, I admit, it is good in a pinch!),etc.

    It turned out that we had about 20 people for dinner that November with all the traditional sides and fixings – nothing fancy, but it was all there. It was such a wonderful memory & 15 years later, my host family still prepares a proper Thanksgiving meal every year!

    • Courtney says...

      The true spirit of Thanksgiving! I love it.

  69. lomagirl says...

    Keep it simple- and I like the idea of inviting foreigners- we’re all foreigners at my house- except the kids! One year the only grownup who had actually been born in the US had only lived here about 1 year total and spoke less English than all the rest of us.

  70. Deborah says...

    My menu planning tip (for Thanksgiving especially, but really for any dinner party) is to picture the plate in your mind and bump up all the contrasts as much as you can. What colors are represented? Thanksgiving food tends to be brown and orange, so get some bright greens and red in there, like kale salad, pickled red onions on something, and a raw cranberry relish. What about texture? If everything is soft, add some crunchy and chewy components. And of course, contrasting flavors is important—not everything needs to be sweet! Even naturally sweet dishes like sweet potatoes taste better with a spicy kick, like a drizzle of chimichurri.

  71. Just thought of this…if you are doing the cooking, make sure you aren’t also doing the child care. That way madness lies. Decide who is cooking and who is doing everything else. I have been married a long time and my husband and I NEVER cook together and never have. Two bosses = knife crimes. If you aren’t having a kids’ table, make sure the kids know how to behave at the table or everyone will suffer. And let them get down to play after the main course. I guarantee they will return at the sight of pie and ice cream.

  72. Maggie says...

    My wonderful mom does 99% of the cooking for Thanksgiving, so she does no other cooking the entire day (rightfully so)! My brothers are in charge of breakfast sandwiches and coffee, and we skip lunch in favor of easy appetizers – pigs in blankets, shrimp cocktail and a cheese plate. By the time dinner is served around 5pm, we are ready to fill our plates. And then refill. And then refill. :)

    So my advice would be to assign the other meals, while you focus on the main dishes! Good luck :)

  73. ellie says...

    Girl! You got someone else to tackle turkey and gravy! You are golden! My sister and I have ruined gravy for years, to the point it’s now tradition. Enjoy!

  74. Kate says...

    Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday to host, but that’s probably because I am a project manager who likes spreadsheets. Regardless of what you’re serving, make a plan, build a spreadsheet with two main tabs – a schedule for the days leading up and day of (including oven temperatures!) and a list of what is being served. This will let you see whether things are balanced (heavy and light dishes; wine pairings, if that’s your thing) and timed appropriately to what your kitchen can allow.

    Do that and the rest will follow

  75. Susan says...

    Our family traditions, always—-homemade applesauce and cranberry sauce. much easier than you would think. apples, peeled and cooked with a little water and cinnamon. add sugar, brown or white to taste. Can be frozen for months.
    Cranberry sauce- silver palate
    12 ounces fresh cranberries, well rinsed
    1 cup maple syrup
    1 cup cranberry-raspberry juice
    1 orange, zest of (from one orange)
    1 cup walnut halves
    Combine all ingredients except the walnuts in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the cranberries pop open.
    Skim off the foam and stir in the walnuts. Allow to cool. Keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
    OR use the recipe from the back of the bag and sub in some maple syrup.
    This also freezes beautifully without the walnuts.

  76. CK says...

    A couple years ago my boyfriend and I opted not to travel home for Thanksgiving, so I decided to make a full spread for the two of us. Our favorite from that day was the bacon-shallot gravy from F&W ( and the pecan pie recipe from Pioneer Woman ( Now, we look forward to these each year whether we’re home for the holidays or not! Hope all goes well and you have a wonderful time. If you’ve got the wine covered, you’ll be fine! ;)