Thanksgiving dinner is an iconic meal for many Americans. We gather to spend time with our families or friends and to reflect on what we’re thankful for, and we do it around a table brimming with delicious foods. Thanksgiving is a day when both our hearts and our plates should be full.
If you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, your expectations for this day may come paired with a bit of stress. No one wants to get Thanksgiving dinner “wrong.” The good news is that there’s no wrong way to put out a delightful holiday spread, as long as you have plenty of food for everyone. We’ll explore some easy Thanksgiving menu ideas that can help you hold onto traditional dishes and add some delicious surprises to your table.
For the most part, you have to cook your main course and sides the day of your dinner, so when it comes to appetizers, it’s smart to choose some make-ahead recipes and hors d’oeuvres that require very little preparation. Having some finger foods out for your guests can elevate your food for Thanksgiving and give everyone something to graze on while they enjoy pleasant company and anticipate dinner.
Here are some appetizers that are perfect for a gourmet Thanksgiving menu.
- Deviled eggs: Deviled, or dressed, eggs are a classic at many family gatherings, and they’re a great make-ahead appetizer. Choose your favorite deviled egg recipe and top with chives, paprika or crumbled bacon. A cold appetizer can be a good source of variety, since your meal will mainly consist of hot dishes.
- Sweet bacon-wrapped smokies: Cut slices of bacon into thirds and wrap them around little cocktail wieners. Then, toss the wrapped smokies in brown sugar and place them in a pan. You can do these steps up to 24 hours ahead. Bake the smokies and serve them up before dinner.
- Charcuterie board: When you want to prioritize both style and substance, why not create a beautiful charcuterie board, complete with an assortment of cheeses, smoked meats, crackers and more? This appetizer doesn’t require any cooking — only some assembly.
- Caramelized onion and Swiss dip: Combine your favorite Swiss cheese with cream cheese, chopped onions, broth, white wine, butter, flour and seasonings into a slow cooker and let it go for several hours. The result is a delicious, cheesy dip that will whet your guests’ appetites before dinner.
When it comes to the main course, turkey is an obvious favorite for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. In a 2018 survey, 81% of respondents said turkey would be on their Thanksgiving dinner list of items. No other food on the survey received such a high percentage of affirmative answers.
While turkey is undoubtedly a popular choice, note that 19% of respondents did not plan to serve turkey. If your family would prefer a different main course, don’t be afraid to break the mold. You can also offer two main dishes: turkey and ham, for example.
Methods of Preparing Turkey
If you settle on turkey for your main course, you’ll find an array of ways to prepare it.
- Roasting: The most traditional way to cook a turkey and the only option for stuffing it is to roast it in the oven or in an electric roaster on your countertop. Roasting will leave the turkey with a lovely golden color, and basting it throughout the cooking process will help it cook evenly. Cooking time depends on the size of your bird. A general guideline to go by is 13 minutes per pound, but that could differ depending on your oven temperature.
- Deep-frying: Frying is another popular method of preparing turkey for Thanksgiving. You need a turkey fryer full of hot peanut oil for this technique. For safety’s sake, note that these fryers are for outdoor use only. Frying is a much faster cooking method than roasting and is sure to leave the skin on your turkey crispy. However, you cannot stuff a turkey before frying it.
- Smoking: If you own a smoker and enjoy smoked meat, you can try smoking your turkey. Smoking involves cooking the turkey with indirect heat and infusing it with that smoky flavor. Smoking a turkey will take longer than roasting or frying it, so you’ll need to start it early in the day and let it slowly cook until it’s time for dinner.
However you choose to cook your turkey, you can turn it into a beautiful centerpiece for your table by placing it on a large platter and surrounding it with some finishing touches to add color. You can’t go wrong with greens like kale or leafy herbs along with fruits like apples, pomegranates, oranges or fresh cranberries. Taking the time to carefully plate your turkey also gives the meat a chance to rest, which will make for juicier slices.
Alternative Main Courses
You can consider plenty of alternatives if you choose not to serve turkey or want another option for guests to choose from. If your goal is to have your main course look as good as it tastes and achieve that picture-perfect Thanksgiving table, consider these showstoppers.
- Ham: With its delicious smoky-sweet flavor and glistening appearance, it’s no wonder ham is a popular choice for nearly any holiday, including Thanksgiving. Choose from boneless hams, which are especially easy to slice, or bone-in hams, which have a more rustic appearance. You can also choose a bone-removed ham if you want a traditional look without the bone.
- Chicken/goose/duck: You might want to offer your guests a different type of poultry. You can serve a chicken or even individual Cornish hens. Or, it could be an impressive-looking goose or duck. Each of these birds offers different flavors you may enjoy as an alternative to turkey.
- Pork crown roast: When you want your main course to serve as the centerpiece for your table, a crown roast is an excellent choice. A pork crown roast is a pork loin rib roast served in a circle with the rib bones facing up, so it resembles a crown.
- Pot roast: If your favorite meat is beef, you can make your tried-and-true pot roast for Thanksgiving. Place the roast on a tray surrounded by root vegetables and cut some slices on one end to make the roast appear more mouthwatering and attractive for your table.
Thanksgiving dinner sides tend to be comfort food classics and seasonal fall favorites. Let’s look at some crowd-pleasing sides you can include with your Thanksgiving meal, along with some more unexpected options that can help you mix things up this year. First, here are some popular Thanksgiving staples to consider.
- Mashed potatoes: Mashed potatoes and gravy are practically a requirement at the Thanksgiving dinner table. The most straightforward preparation includes boiled potatoes with milk, butter, salt and pepper to make a traditional mash. You can also try recipes that include cream cheese, sour cream or other add-ins.
- Stuffing: Stuffing is another staple you can’t do without. There are endless recipes for stuffing. Southern varieties, which tend to go by the name dressing instead of stuffing, may use cornbread as a base, while northern preparations are more likely to use bread. Some recipes include sausage, which can add a lot of flavor.
- Macaroni and cheese: Macaroni and cheese is a favorite for adults and kids alike. If you have room in your oven, you may want to opt for a baked macaroni and cheese recipe with a delicious crusty top. You can elevate this dish by skipping cheese powders or sauces and melting real cheese, like vintage Canadian cheddar, grated off the block.
- Green bean casserole: Green beans can take several forms at Thanksgiving, with green bean casserole being one of the most popular options. This traditional side combines green beans, cream of mushroom soup, seasonings and French fried onions to create a rich, creamy side with a crunchy top.
- Sweet potato soufflé: Sweet potato soufflé, also known as sweet potato casserole, is sweet enough to be a dessert, but it’s typically one of the side dishes. This dish mainly consists of mashed yams topped with either marshmallows or brown sugar and pecans.
- Carrots: Alongside yams, carrots can provide another splash of bright orange color and an excellent source of beta carotene on your table, making them an ideal Thanksgiving food. You can glaze your carrots with maple syrup or brown sugar to highlight their sweet side, or roast them and season with salt and pepper for a more savory taste.
- Corn: Corn is another vegetable that is likely to find a place on many Thanksgiving tables. This side dish can be as simple as buttered corn kernels, or you can make creamed corn, corn casserole or cornbread pudding. You may want to try dried sweet corn this year — a Pennsylvania Dutch Thanksgiving classic with a rich flavor.
- Cranberry sauce: Homemade cranberry sauce is quite simple to make, and you may enjoy it more than the canned variety that fills grocery store shelves each November. In addition to the tart cranberries, adding other intense flavors like orange and cinnamon make this side a tangy burst of flavor and color alongside milder foods.
- Rolls: Finally, Thanksgiving dinner usually calls for some bread. You might want to serve Parker House-style rolls or crescent rolls, for example. You can make homemade rolls, but most home cooks take the more convenient route of visiting their local bakery or buying frozen or refrigerated options to pop into the oven.
If you want to swap out some of these predictable sides for something different, try one of these dishes:
- Roasted winter, acorn and butternut squashes
- Low-carb cauliflower stuffing
- Balsamic-glazed Brussels sprouts
- Harvest salad with apples, dried cranberries and candied walnuts
- Pumpkin risotto
Don’t forget the drinks as you figure out your Thanksgiving menu. There’s no need to overcomplicate matters here. Choose a few drinks you think your guests will enjoy. Our food pairing guide can help you select the right beer and wine for your meal, depending on what you’re serving. Make sure you include some non-alcoholic drinks, as well. Here are a few drink ideas that are ideal for Thanksgiving dinner.
- Spiced apple cider: Hot, aromatic and sweet, spiced apple cider is a delicious holiday drink. Heat apple cider on the stove or in a slow cooker, add your favorite holiday spices and keep the cider on low while you put the rest of the meal together. If you live in a warm climate, you can also enjoy chilled apple cider.
- Champagne: If you’re not sure which type of wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, the Spruce Eats recommends a sparkling wine or Champagne. That’s because these drinks tend to deliver enough acidity, while giving your meal a festive flair.
- Cranberry fizz: You can also add a nonalcoholic sparkling drink to your menu. Choose store-bought soft drinks, or make a cranberry fizz drink from ginger ale, cranberry juice, orange juice, ruby red grapefruit juice and sugar.
- Apple-and-gin cocktail: If you want to serve a cocktail before or after dinner, consider trying one that prominently features fall flavors. For example, you could whip up an apple-and-gin cocktail that includes apple cider, cinnamon, honey and more.
- Seasonal beer: Whether it’s for the meal or during the football game, you’ll want to have some beer in the fridge, as well. Of course, you can stick to mainstays you enjoy, but you could prefer seasonal offerings, such as an Oktoberfest or pumpkin beer.
- Coffee: Everyone knows Thanksgiving dinner can leave people feeling sleepy, so you might want to brew some coffee at the end of your meal. Even if you’d prefer to go caffeine-free, decaf coffee can be the perfect pairing with dessert, since it will help balance out the sweetness of Thanksgiving pies.
Pies mainly rule the day when it comes to Thanksgiving desserts, but they’re not the only option for ending your meal on a sweet note. Keep in mind that dessert is part of the meal you can outsource if you want, either by buying some pies from your favorite bakery or by letting some of your guests bring a dessert to share. Whether you make them yourself or not, consider the following dessert ideas that are sure to please your guests.
- Pecan pie: Pecan pie is a quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. The gooey base of this pie filling is mainly sugar, butter and corn syrup, so it’s an indulgent dessert to be sure. Some bakers add chocolate to make this pie even more decadent.
- Pumpkin pie: Pumpkin pie has long been a Thanksgiving favorite. It even gets a mention in the 1844 Thanksgiving poem “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Pumpkin pie is delicious topped with whipped cream. If you want to enjoy the same flavors in a different format, try making pumpkin pie parfaits.
- Shoofly pie: Shoofly pie is a signature dessert from Lancaster County that can add some variety to your Thanksgiving desserts this year. This pie is rich with molasses flavors and has a sticky filling inside a golden crust, topped with crispy crumbs. You can lighten it up with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
- Pumpkin roll: Pumpkin roll is a type of Swiss roll, meaning it’s cylindrical and each slice looks like a spiral. You bake a thin sheet of spiced pumpkin cake, cover it in cream cheese frosting or buttercream frosting and roll it up before allowing the cake roll to chill.
- Cheesecake: Cheesecake is another dessert you may want to consider for your Thanksgiving spread. There are plenty of seasonal varieties to try, such as caramel apple cheesecake or marbled pumpkin cheesecake with a brownie crust.
- Baked apples: For a rustic Thanksgiving dessert that’s a bit less sweet, try baked apples. Hollow out apples and fill them with ingredients of your choice, like brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and dried fruit. Then, let them bake in the oven and serve with vanilla ice cream. This dessert will smell as delicious as it tastes.
Enhance Your Thanksgiving Dinner With Lancaster County Delicacies From S. Clyde Weaver
As you shop for ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner, consider the delicious smoked meats, aged cheeses, desserts, coffee and more from the S. Clyde Weaver online store. Thanksgiving should be a special meal that brings your family and friends together, so why not make the most of this occasion with Pennsylvania Dutch delicacies that will impress and delight your guests? Let S. Clyde Weaver give you something extra special to be thankful for this holiday.