How To Not Screw Up Thanksgiving

how to host thanksgiving well
how to not screw up thanksgivng

Thanksgiving wisdom to keep everyone happy (about the food anyway).

Thanksgiving is almost here and we are all trying to put together a great crowd pleasing menu. If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you probably enjoy cooking (because really, isn’t that who reads food blogs?). But this time of year there are those who rarely enter the kitchen nervously googling up Thanksgiving menus.  And maybe you have landed here. Because somehow it has happened that you are hosting Thanksgiving this year. Or perhaps you’re just looking for that one perfect dish to bring to your mother-in-laws. To be clear, this “How to Not Screw Up Thanksgiving” advice pertains to all these types of people. Because in my experience they all make the same most common mistake when it comes to a Thanksgiving menu.  So which ever you are, pay careful attention. You do not want to screw up Thanksgiving.

This time of year the magazine stands and food websites are filled with new and creative ways to jazz up your Thanksgiving menu. Because really, how are they going to entice you to buy another issue or click on a recipe if they didn’t? I get it. And perhaps like many of you, I absolutely love the thick food magazine issues and recipe laden web pages of Holiday feasts. I do get bored cooking the same thing and see these new recipes as a creative outlet.

Tempting creative ideas like these-

Southwestern Spiced Turkey

10 Desserts that aren’t Pie

thanksgiving desserts

A delicious dessert that is not and will never be pie.

Parmesan Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

“31 Totally Unexpected Sides

how to not screw up thanksgiving

While honey yogurt sauce and pepitas are surely delicious on your sweet potatoes you have to ask, “What would Grandma think?”. Yeah, mine too.

“Chorizo Almond Stuffing

how not to screw up thanksgiving

This is NOT a whole bird. Read warning below.

and “Cranberry Pomegranate Gelatin“.how to not screw up thanksgiving

These are all real recipes (with links) I’ve found just today as I googled Classic Thanksgiving Recipes. And they both intrigue and tempt me as I look forward to Thanksgiving. But here’s my very best advice. Honed from both eating and cooking many a Thanksgiving meal.


This is not the time to try out a boneless turkey breast stuffed with kale and cherries. The heritage grains you’ve been itching to try can wait for another day. I know those creative takes look fun and are probably delicious. And maybe you’ve made simple buttery whipped potatoes a hundred times. But this is the one time of year to stick with the classics.

how to not screw up thanksgiving

No one is tired of these. Make a double recipe.

Because no one is tried of eating buttery whipped potatoes at Thanksgiving. No one. Trust me on this. People come to your table with strong taste memories. And this, more than any other Holiday is built around those food traditions which you grew up with. With out them, it just doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving.

I remember back to my first year hosting Thanksgiving. I did fall prey to the idea of a boneless stuffed turkey breast. I thought, “I don’t want to have to carve that thing!”. I told myself, ” No one eats the dark meat any way. Everyone wants the breast.” And I’ll make an Asian glazed pork tenderloin to go with it!  Everything turned out delicious.  But the look on my father in laws face when my neatly rolled breast and pork tenderloin came to the table said it all.  You do not want to see that face looking back at you this Thanksgiving. No Big Golden Bird guarantees disappointment.  I never made that mistake again.

And here’s the trick.  Do collect those fun fall entertaining recipes and please do give them a try.  They make perfect “friendsgiving” meals, birthday celebratons, or company dinners.  Even a romantic date night in cooking together.  I love the fall flavors and produce this time of year.  But do it before Thanksgiving .  Do it after Thanksgiving.

The very best advice on “How Not to Screw Up Thanksgiving” is make the tradition foods that mean the most to your family.  And do them to the very best of your ability and budget.  The freshest produce and the best turkey you can afford.  Make your own pie crust and multiple pies the day before.  Buy that special Oregon Pinot Noir.  Make a killer cocktail. Get some rich European butter.  Think back to your very strongest Thanksgiving food memories and make sure those items are on your table.  Make sure if your hosting people from outside your family (think in-laws), that you know what dishes they are looking forward to most.  And find the best recipes you can get your hands on for some of them.  Here is a great basic wisdom resource for Thanksgiving from Martha Stewart.

hno can green bean casserole

From the food blog Handle the Heat, a no canned casserole that keeps those classic onions. Feel free to fry your own shallots.

Don’t use canned soup and beans in your green bean casserole (yes that is truly possible and much more delicious). Or anywhere on your table. It is amazing what really good ingredients can do for Grandma’s classic recipes. Here is a link to Alton Brown’s perfect Roast Turkey with video to get you started. And some “do ahead” help from the trusted Silver Palate.  Make ahead Creamy Mashed Potatoes

How To Not Screw Up Thanksgiving

Making Mashed Potatoes ahead can be tricky, but here’s how. Thanks Silver Palate.


how to not screw up thanksgiving

Yes, you can and must make a perfect whole Turkey.

And if you just have to make that Grape and Goat Cheese Stuffing recipe from Food52, make sure its not the only stuffing on your table. Ditto for Giada’s Spiced Pear and Gorgonzola Tart. Because while they make be “smack the table good”, no one has been dreaming of these recipes on their 5 hour car trip in holiday traffic whilst small children complain in the backseat. No one. They want your mother’s stuffing, or if your mom wasn’t gifted in the kitchen, what they wished their mom had made. Juicy herb and butter basted turkey with a golden crispy skin. Served whole. Mashed potatoes like clouds with rich turkey gravy. Buttery rolls. And yes, at least 2 kinds of pie. I’m partial to making 3 or 4 ( James Beards Pumpkin, Mile High Apple, and Pecan). This is a feast and we will require leftovers (Pie makes a great breakfast). Chocolate Cream and Lemon Ice Box vie for my fourth place. Fresh whipped cream not from a can is mandatory (or maybe vanilla ice cream). I have the recipe below for how to make homemade whipped the day before Thanksgiving without it deflating. (Now you have no excuse. Put down that can.) Because really, how often do you make pie? Or if your buying it, serve pie? No one is tried of these dessert classics because we rarely get them any more. Maybe by New Years we will be ready for a change.

cedar planked pork chops on evo grill

Here is my Cranberry Apple Stuffing inside Pork Chops. I cedar plank cooked them on my EVO grill. Delicious but DO NOT serve this on Thanksgivin

But not at Thanksgiving.

How to make a perfect thanksgiving dinner

Criag Clairborne’s Perfect Pecan Pie is within everyone’s reach. Top with my make ahead whipped cream.

pumpkin pie

For some people it will not be Thanksgiving unless they have a slice of Pumpkin Pie. So here is a great one from James Beard.

Go ahead and make those creative recipes and try fruit or oysters or goat cheese in your stuffing. But put it in your pork chop this Sunday night.

Everyone will love it. Because its not Thanksgiving. On that revered day just don’t put anything into your stuffing your grandmother would push aside and say, “Interesting” about.

That is “How to Not Screw up Thanksgiving”. Warning- following this advice and perfecting classic recipes that your family looks forward to will usually result in your hosting Thanksgiving quite often. So if that’s not your ideal- reverse all this. Click here for that creative Spiced Pear and Gorgonzola Tart recipe and forget apple or pumpkin. Your welcome. And Happy Thanksgiving!


1 t unflavored gelatin dissolved in 2 T cold water

1 1/2 C Heavy Cream

1/2 C Sugar

1/2 t vanilla extract

Beat cream, sugar , and vanilla until very soft peaks form. Slowly fold in gelatin mixture until soft peaks form. Refrigerate over night to serve on side or use to top cream pies immediately.