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Thanksgiving can be a very stressful holiday for people who don’t love to entertain. I’m here to help you take the stress out of your Thanksgiving meal so that you can enjoy the company and not spend all day in the kitchen. Here’s your ticket to an easy Thanksgiving dinner!
I had to think about why we find cooking turkey stressful, yet many of the same people can throw a chicken in the oven and not think twice about it. It’s because it’s the center of the meal. It’s what most Americans are cooking that day, and in a time where everyone posts their prettiest pictures, you don’t want to fall behind.
Take a deep breath
- Option 1: Cooking a turkey isn’t any more difficult than cooking a chicken. You know what else? You don’t have to cook a turkey. Make this easy Thanksgiving even easier. I know this sounds crazy, but you can cook a chicken. It goes beautifully with the same sides as a turkey, so throw that stress right out the window and roast a chicken if you want to.
Want no stress at all? Take a look at this next option
- In fact, get rid of ALL of the bird cooking stress and pick up a rotisserie bird at the store the day before, carve it up and put some turkey gravy on top while warming it slowly in the oven. PRESTO! You’ve got a beautiful roast bird on the table.
Our second option
- Option 2:If you want to cook a turkey, I’m with you. I can admit that I too was intimidated at first. One year I cooked the whole thing- giblets and all. Another year I thought that the turkey had a tumor and was making desperate calls to my mother for ideas on where to find a fresh (not frozen) turkey on Thanksgiving morning. It all works out in the end! I’m sharing how I make the perfect roast turkey and you can too – just make sure to pick up a dry brine – they make it extra good!
Now I can boldly say that I make a darn good turkey – and I’m going to share my how-to with you!
How to Make the Perfect Roast Turkey
- The day before Thanksgiving take your turkey out of the bag, remove the giblets, rinse it off and pat dry.
- Use a dry brine all over the turkey. Follow the directions on the package
- Make your Thanksgiving Compound Butter (recipe in post), and spread all over the turkey. You will put this compound butter under the skin and on the skin.
- Tress the turkey and leave it on the counter for about 45 mintues to get to room temperature.
- Roast the turkey until the temperature of the leg is 180 and the breast is 170. You will baste the turkey every hour while cooking. Cover the breasts about 2/3 of the way through to prevent the turkey from getting overcooked.For about how long to cook the turkey refer to the packaging as this is based on weight.
- The turkey must rest when it comes out of the oven! I let mine rest for 30 - 40 minutes. This is when you put any of your sides into the oven that need reheating.
There are millions of amazing recipes out there for Thanksgiving Sides. I even have a few here. Check out my recipe for Thanksgiving’s Best Cranberry Sauce. Don’t let the barrage of recipes get you stressed. There are options, and I’m going to help you to decide which route is the best one for you.
Route 1 – The Shortcut Route:
This is the quickest and easiest route to take. I have gathered up the best sides that are pre-made and ready to go.
You’ll find these in the frozen section at your favorite grocery store. Pepperidge Farm Artisan Dinner rolls. They are my go-to when I need an easy dinner roll. In fact, if you were to open my freezer right now they are in there ready for a Sunday dinner. As much as I love the smell of fresh baked bread, and the memories of my mother’s kitchen that come flooding back, I don’t always have time for that.
Frozen vegetables are often just as good as fresh, and a place I would definitely recommend the shortcut route. Pick up some frozen peas, as well as some frozen carrots. Choose the steam in the bag option and fancy them up a bit with these tips:
- Peas – once cooked add melted butter, salt, pepper, and parmesan and stir together
- Carrots – once cooked add melted butter, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Toss in a skillet for 2 minutes.
- Green beans – once cooked add melted butter, salt, pepper, and a 1/4 cup of toasted almonds. Toss in a skillet for 2 minutes.
Purchase sweet potatoes that are individually wrapped for cooking in the microwave. One per person. Cook according to the directions. You’re done :).
We love Bob Evans pre-made potatoes in the grocery store. I don’t make them for Thanksgiving, but you totally can. And they really do taste great! How easy is that? You’re done :).
You can buy whole berry cranberry sauce in the store, Place it in a pretty dish and be done.
Cranberry sauce is my favorite
This is a tough one for a shortcut. I have never found a pre-made stuffing that I enjoy. However; if you don’t want to make it, go to a Boston Market the day before Thanksgiving and pick up one or two large sides of their stuffing. Wah-lah! Your stuffing only needs to be warmed up the day of!
The same goes for gravy. I’ve never found a jarred gravy that I’ve enjoyed, but I have actually used McCormick gravy mix in a pinch and it has been good. I’ve always added some pan juices to it, but you can mimic this by mixing in some of the juices from the rotisserie chicken if you aren’t cooking your own turkey.
Route 2: The Semi-Homemade Route
The semi-homemade route gives you easy fixes to making store bought ingredients (prepackaged foods) more special by adding some of your own touches.
- Peas: Start by heating 1 tsp of oil (per bag of frozen peas) into a skillet. Place 3 oz of diced pancetta (you can buy this near the deli section in your grocery store – or ask the deli for a 3 oz slice). Cook the pancetta and a sliced medium sized shallot in the oil. Place the frozen peas in the skillet. Toss in a pinch of salt and pepper. You’re done :).
Does it get easier than that?
- Carrots: Steam the carrots per package directions minus 2 minutes. When finished place the carrots into a skillet with 2 tbsp of melter butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Salt & pepper to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes.
- Green Beans: Steam the beans (I don’t recommend cut beans) per package directions. Place the beans into a skillet with butter and add toasted almonds. Season with salt and pepper. Top with toasted panko breadcrumbs.
The day before Thanksgiving cut your 5 pound bag of unpeeled, washed russet potatoes into quarters. Place the potatoes into cold water with a small handful of salt and boil until tender. Remove from the stove and mash with a stick of room temperature butter, 1 tbsp of kosher salt, and a tsp of pepper. Add 1 cup of fresh parmesan. Place into a baking dish that can be used to serve the potatoes in and place several pats of butter on top. Cover and refrigerate.
Critical Step (and one I may have missed one Thanksgiving resulting in “chilly” potatoes, ugh.)
Take the potatoes our of the refrigerator one hour before the turkey is done. When the turkey comes out of the oven place the potatoes in the oven. Covered for the first 20 minutes and uncovered for the final 10-15 minutes.
The day before Thanksgiving open a can of Sweet Potatoes. Stir in 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 tbsp of cinnamon, and 4 tbsp of melted butter. Place in a buttered baking dish, cover, and place in the refrigerator. Take out of the refrigerator one hour before the turkey is done. When the turkey comes out of the oven place the sweet potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes covered.
No need to make your own breadcrumbs. I highly recommend Pepperidge Farms Stuffing mix. Follow the directions on the package. Cover, and place the stuffing in the refrigerator. I do this a day in advance.
This is important….
Take this dish out of the refrigerator one hour before the turkey is done and place into the oven when the turkey comes out. The directions are on the package. You can add your own touch by adding 1/2 pound of cooked bulk sausage to the mix.
All of the essential pieces for cooking at Thanksgiving dinner can be found in this post about Thanksgiving Essentials!
Entertaining on Thanksgiving
Keep it simple. That’s my biggest piece of advice for you! I have gathered some Thanksgiving Tablescape ideas that can help. Take a look!
Remember, hosting Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be stressful! Plan ahead, and you’ll be the pro everyone is hoping to be someday!
PS: Do you have any funny Thanksgiving stories to share?