We Tried Every Thanksgiving Recipe to Find the Absolute Best in Each Category

updated Nov 23, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it’s time to finalize your dinner menu. (Or maybe even make some last-minute additions!) While our holiday dinners are certainly smaller this year, Thanksgiving is still all about putting together a memorable feast. It’s a day filled with good food and smart cooking.

Beyond our own list of essential recipes, the web is filled with Thanksgiving recipes — and it can feel overwhelming to narrow them down and figure out which ones deserve a coveted spot on your table. So we did the heavy lifting for you. In our recipe showdowns we’ve tested some of the most popular recipes across the internet (think: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pie, and more), and are sharing our top picks here.

You’ll find the winners of our most helpful skills showdowns, too. Because when you’re the holiday dinner cook, it’s helpful to have more than just a stack of solid recipes. Knowing the best cooking methods and techniques, like the best way to peel garlic or the best mashed potato method, can be invaluable and will help you become a smarter and more efficient home cook.

From all the very best Thanksgiving recipes and the most helpful kitchen skills you’ll use, here are our absolute favorites for the holiday season and beyond.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Best Turkey Recipe

It can feel like a lot of pressure when a turkey will sit at the center of your holiday table. For many, a whole turkey is the largest, heftiest grocery item that most of us haul into our kitchens all year. And we want that bird to be bronzed, beautiful, and irresistibly tender and juicy on the inside. To help you cook up a memorable main, we tested four extremely popular turkey recipes against one another. The one that deserves a spot on your table uses a smart, streamlined cooking method and yields moist, flavorful meat and nice pan drippings for gravy.

Read more: Who Wins the Title of “Best Turkey Ever”?

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Best Roast Chicken Recipe

If you’re scaling the main course down and going for a roast chicken in place of turkey this year, I’d like to offer a friendly reminder that not all roast chicken recipes deliver the same result. While each of these four popular recipes yields a delicious chicken, our top pick makes a totally classic roast chicken that’s juicy with crispy skin, has hints of lemon and herbs, and is perched on a bed of roasted vegetables lacquered in chicken drippings and schmaltzy goodness.

Read more: Who Wins the Title of Best Roast Chicken Ever?

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Best Classic Stuffing Recipe

We all know the real star of Thanksgiving is the stuffing. And after a hotly contended side-by-side taste test of four popular bread-based recipes that each had classic flavor profiles with a twist, we found a winning recipe you’ll want to serve for years to come.

Read more: We Tested 4 Famous Stuffing Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Best Cornbread Stuffing Recipe

If your stuffing style involves a cornbread base, then you know that there’s a lot that goes into making a truly delicious and memorable cornbread stuffing. Of the four popular recipes we tested, there’s just one that deserves a place on your table, and it includes brown butter, sausage, and a clever technique that promises just the right blend of soft and toasted, crispy pieces.

Read more: We Tested 4 Popular Cornbread Stuffing Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Best Mashed Potato Recipe

In the hierarchy of Thanksgiving side dishes, a big bowl of mashed potatoes is forever firmly planted at the top of my list. While some methods for making mashed potatoes are better than others (more on this below!), there are also recipes that are far superior than others. Of the four popular recipes we tested, the winning mashed potatoes were rich, creamy, felt fancy, and came together in just 30 minutes.

Read more: Who Wins the Title of “Best Mashed Potatoes Ever”?

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk | Design: The Kitchn

The Best Green Bean Casserole Recipe

If you believe Thanksgiving is not complete without classic green bean casserole, have we got a recipe for you! The winner of our recipe showdown gets big points for both flavor and looks. It’s creamy, flavorful and definitely a showstopper.
 
Read more: We Tested 4 Famous Green Bean Casserole Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Headshots, from left to right: Bobby Bank/Getty Images, Steve Granitz/Getty Images

The Best Parker House Roll Recipe

If you’re planning to bake dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, definitely go for Parker House Rolls. They are just about the most buttery, indulgent dinner rolls around, although not all recipes are created equal. We pitted two of the most popular recipes out there against each other — can you guess which one we suggest adding to your holiday table?

Read more: I Tried 2 Famous Recipes for Parker House Rolls

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Best Pie Crust Recipe

As you gear up for making your holiday pie, you’re going to need a recipe for a pie crust that’s as tasty as it is reliable and easy to make. If that sounds like a tall order, rest assured that we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. After testing four popular recipes from celebrity cooks, we found the fail-proof pie crust recipe you’ll want to use this Thanksgiving and beyond.

Read more: Who Wins the Title of “Best Pie Crust Ever”?

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Best Apple Pie Recipe

Apple pie is often the center of the holiday dessert spread. Yet it’s surprisingly difficult to make since there are many variables that can drastically change your experience of a recipe, from the kinds and quality of apples you use, to how evenly you slice them, to what kind of crust you lay on top and how you cut and crimp it. Of these four well-loved apple pie recipes, the winner yields a quintessential apple pie that’ll easily please a wide audience.

Read more: Which of These 4 Beloved Apple Pie Recipes Are Worth Making?

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Best Pumpkin Pie Recipe

It is impossible to think about Thanksgiving without considering pumpkin pie for dessert. We sorted through a nearly endless list of recipes and tested four of the most well-loved classic pumpkin pies out there to find the one that’s bound to become your new favorite. The winning pie has a filling that’s enhanced with molasses and bourbon, giving it complexity and depth. Whipped egg whites ensure it’s indeed fluffy: It’s light and almost soufflé-like.

Read more: We Tested 4 Famous Pumpkin Pie Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

The Best Classic Cheesecake Recipe

If you’re considering something a little different for the dessert table this Thanksgiving, you cannot go wrong with a rich and creamy cheesecake. We tested four of the most iconic cheesecake recipes to find the true standout star. The winner is really well-balanced and created a cheesecake that was both sweet and tart.

Read more: We Tested 4 Famous Cheesecake Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Design: The Kitchn

The Best Way to Peel Garlic

Garlic makes everything taste better — especially when you add a little more than a recipe suggests, right? You’re bound to use some when making your holiday dinners, which means you’re sure to encounter the pesky task of peeling garlic cloves. Many methods promise to be easy and painless, but we found the one that is truly the fastest and easiest.

Read more: We Tried 6 Methods for Peeling Garlic and Found the Fastest and Easiest Method on the Planet

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist Cyd McDowell | Design: The Kitchn

The Best Way to Toast Nuts

The very best thing you can do for those nuts you’re about to stir into your stuffing, sprinkle on your salad, or mix into a dessert? Toast them. Toasting nuts draws out their inherent flavor and makes them a big, bold, unstoppable ingredient wherever you use them. While all of these methods work, we have the one that produces the very best and most consistent results every single time.

Read more: We Tried 4 Methods for Toasting Nuts and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs

Between the stuffing and various other side dishes, it’s likely you’ll be picking up some fresh herbs this holiday. Consider this your PSA not to those leftover herbs wilt away in the back of the fridge. Read on for the very best way to keep fresh herbs bright and vibrant, with practically no spoilage for at least a week.

Read more: We Tried 5 Methods for Storing Fresh Herbs and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: The Kitchn

The Best Method for Cooking Spaghetti Squash

If you’re bringing to spaghetti squash to your holiday table, you’ll want to take note. We found the top cooking method that checks all the boxes: easy to prepare, quick on cooking time, and yields slightly sweet and perfectly al dente spaghetti squash strands. 

Read more: We Tried 7 Methods for Cooking Spaghetti Squash and Found 2 Very Different Winners

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The Best Pastry Wash for Pie Dough

Listen up, pie-bakers! A quick pastry wash over your unbaked pie dough will not only give it a golden-brown bakery-case sheen, but it can also help seal the dough and help toppings, like coarse sugar, stay put. We put six different methods to the test, and the best one is simple to make and consistently looks great, with a color that isn’t too yellow or brown, and a shine like a semigloss paint

Read more: We Tried 6 Ways to Brown Pie Crust and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Design: Kitchn

The Best Method for Making Mashed Potatoes

There are few simple foods as complex as mashed potatoes. The process (boil, mash, and stir) seems straightforward enough, but there are so many variations. We wondered, what if your basic cooking method could improve the taste or texture of your potatoes, or make cooking them easier or faster? The answer is yes. Our winning method, while not the fastest although very easy, happens to lend a subtle toasty aroma to the potatoes, which is the perfect complement to the butter and milk.

Read more: We Tried 6 Methods for Mashed Potatoes and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Best Method for Baking a Potato

Whether you’re going for a simple side dish or a blank canvas to pile on ingredients for an easy dinner, there’s a whole lot to love about baked potatoes. There are a lot of ways to make them, all with their own merits, but we uncovered the very best method for cooking baked potatoes that yields the best-tasting combo of crispy skin and soft, fluffy interior.

Read more: We Tried 6 Methods for Baking a Potato and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Design: Kitchn

The Best Way to Make Caramelized Onions

Want to make your Thanksgiving sides taste a little fancy and even more delicious? Add some caramelized onions. These tender strands of onion are bursting with rich, deep flavor and a totally irresistible melt-in-your-mouth texture. We put six different methods to the test, including some that claim to be faster or easier, to find the one that produces the very best results.

Read more: We Tried 6 Methods of Caramelizing Onions and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Image: Joe Lingeman, Design: The Kitchn

The Best Way to Soften Butter

If you’re making a cake or cookies this holiday season, you’ll likely have to start by softening some butter. There are many tried-and-true methods for softening, most of which are meant to speed up the process. We tried seven of them to find out which one really works the best, in terms of ease, consistency, and time.

Read more: We Softened Butter 7 Different Ways and Found an Unexpected Favorite