Everything You Need to Know for a Traditional Thanksgiving at Home

updated May 29, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Some of the magic of Thanksgiving lies in the fact that in every kitchen across the country, families are gathering to share a meal. The energy of this high cooking holiday practically floats in the air, carrying the scent of herby bread stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, and a golden roast turkey wafting from our kitchens.

This menu is for the traditionalist, for the home cook who always serves a side of nostalgia, who might be going home for the holidays and will finally take over making turkey in a bag without changing a thing. For those who like their Thanksgiving the way it’s always been, this menu is for you.

A Traditional Thanksgiving Menu for Simplicity & Ease

This is almost an impossible question to answer since the spread of all our tables are unique to our heritage and experiences, but in the collective memory a traditional Thanksgiving has its icons, and the glistening, roast turkey holds the throne. Around it are the mashed potatoes (pools of butter gathering in every hollow), the trove of cranberry sauce, the stuffing everyone waits all year for, the just-sweet-enough sweet potato casserole, a green bean casserole made 99 percent from scratch, maybe some mac and cheese (especially if you’ve got ties to the region south of the Mason-Dixon line), and a vessel of gravy to pour over it all.

All the memory and tradition of the holiday is held in these dishes — and in the way they’re prepared. It’s why, for some of us, we don’t need the recipes to be different year after year. The turkey should taste the way mom made it, no matter who’s cooking it. But here’s the big secret about a traditional Thanksgiving menu: It also tends to be the easiest Thanksgiving menu. Flavor becomes a function of simplicity, and so the recipes we’re sharing in this menu bare that particular quality as well. Keep things simple, and they shine.

Everything You Need to Plan a Traditional Thanksgiving

To plan a traditional Thanksgiving, you need a menu, a little strategy, and a little inspiration. Let’s start with the inspiration and strategy. After all, it’s the little tips and tricks that make a traditional menu feel special.

A Menu for a Traditional Thanksgiving

The turkey is basted, but not brined. The mashed potatoes can be made on the stovetop (although this is one place to emphatically suggest the revelation that is slow cooker mashed potatoes), the stuffing is full of herbs and butter, and the rolls can be made ahead. The recipes in this menu for a traditional Thanksgiving are loaded with the wisdom that comes from making a dish over and over again. Yep, there’s always something to learn when you’re cooking what you love.