9 Store-Bought Thanksgiving Essentials These Grandmas Have Been Buying for Decades

updated Nov 11, 2022
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Senior woman removing groceries from shopping bag in kitchen at home
Credit: Getty Images/ Maskot

Grandmas are a great source for all things cooking-related, and every one we know has a few tricks up her sleeve for making meal prep easier, more efficient, and sometimes even more affordable. After all, they’ve been cooking up feasts and baking trays of cookies for decades.

So, as we prepare for our own Thanksgiving dinners, we went straight to the pros for the holiday staples they buy, rather than make themselves. And they told us!

Here are the canned, bagged, boxed, and frozen items that got nominated. How does the saying go — grandmas know best?

1 / 9
Cinnamon Rolls

Connecticut-based Barbara Costello, who’s behind the popular Instagram account Brunch with Babs, has a shortcut for Thanksgiving breakfast. She buys canned cinnamon roll dough like Pillsbury and doctors it up with more brown sugar and melted butter. You already have enough to cook for the main event of the day, says Costello: “Breakfast should be simple and easy.”

2 / 9
Pie Dough

This one comes from my own grandma, Ellen Bilow. Although she’s no longer with us, one of the last pieces of cooking wisdom she shared with me was that she always used store-bought dough for her pies. With nine children with farmer appetites, who can blame her? She was perfectly capable of turning out her own dough, but she always stocked up on the frozen stuff. That said, it wasn’t news she broadcasted. When she finally shared her Thanksgiving secret with me, my father refused to believe that he’d been eating store-bought dough all those years!

3 / 9
Or the Whole Pie

Ann Gross, a grandmother of three and prolific home cook in Concord, Massachusetts, buys her Thanksgiving pies at a local bakery. “They use butter for the crust, and the fillings are really good — made with local fruits and not overly sweetened or gloppy.” If none of your nearby bakeries turn out photo-worthy pies, you can still outsource the task: Some of the best pies around (and closest to homemade) can be found at your usual grocery store, or you can shop our favorites online and get them delivered right to your door.

4 / 9
Canned Pumpkin

It turns out these grandmas have a lot of opinions on Thanksgiving desserts. While we’re on the subject of pies: “Canned pumpkin is so much better than a fresh pumpkin for a pie. It tastes better and it is a LOT easier,” explains Roberta Mangano, a grandmother in Syracuse, New York. It’s worth stocking up on canned pumpkin this time of year, and it definitely won’t go to waste. (But just in case you do insist on making it yourself, this recipe is perfect for pie.)

5 / 9

“This one came out of panic,” says Kathy Newby. “What if there are not enough drippings to make enough gravy? You’ll need some for leftovers!” She still makes her own gravy, but she also keeps a jar of the store-bought stuff on hand in case she needs to stretch her own batch. While Newby doesn’t have a particular brand in her pantry, we’re fans of McCormick Turkey Gravy Mix. It was the best gravy mix to upgrade our pan drippings in a taste test alongside nine store-bought mixes, and can alleviate any concerns of not having enough gravy for dinner.

6 / 9
Canned Fruit

“I couldn’t have Thanksgiving without a fruit side dish on the table,” says Costello. Although she is a big fan of cranberries, not everyone in her family loves them. So each year, she whips up a nontraditional fruit casserole that relies on a variety of canned fruit. “Apple rings, pears, peaches, and maraschino cherries for color,” she explains. Once the fruit is layered in a casserole dish, it’s dressed up with a buttery sherry wine sauce and baked in the oven.

7 / 9

Costello doesn’t use boxed stuffing mixes, but she does buy the bread. “Good bakery bread makes all the difference in the world in your stuffing,” she says. And even better, she advocates for doing it before the big day. After you’ve torn or cut your bakery loaf into pieces, dry it in the oven set to a low temperature. “You can store it in a plastic bag until you’re ready to make your stuffing,” she says. “Do as much in advance as possible.” We love the bread subscription Wildgrain for its artisanal loaves, but also because it means our freezers or fridges are stocked in advance for stuffing.

8 / 9
Boxed Stuffing

If you do love a boxed stuffing, you’re in good company. Jane El Farra, a grandma of 10 grandkids (and 6 great-grandkids!) in Sunland, California, has been using Mrs. Cubbison’s Traditional Stuffing Mix for four decades for no other reason than it’s “the best she’s ever had.” A few DIY tricks transform the mix — El Farra uses turkey stock (made with the turkey neck and gizzards!) and adds extra eggs, as well as celery cooked in butter.

9 / 9
Cornbread Mix

Costello says a spoonable, creamy cornbread pudding is a must on her Thanksgiving table. “And I always use Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix,” she says, noting that she has made traditional from-scratch cornbread, and finds it dry in texture. There are a few other store-bought items that make her cornbread a knockout: a can of sweet corn, a can of creamed corn, sour cream, and melted butter. “Bake it in a 9×9-inch casserole dish,” she says. “And that’s basically it!”

Did your grandma rely on store-bought staples for Thanksgiving dinner? Share them with us in the comments below.