Even if you’re cooking for a small group, Thanksgiving dinner can be a real production. There’s a turkey to thaw, potatoes to peel, and vodka to drink (you know, so you can catch a buzz before someone starts talking about politics).
Hosts tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to create an enviable, bespoke Thanksgiving spread, but here’s the thing: Thanksgiving is all about comfort food, and sometimes the most comforting food is the easiest to make. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that instant mashed potatoes are as good as homemade mashed potatoes loaded with butter and heavy whipping cream (although, instant mashed potatoes are pretty damned good in a pinch). But sometimes, convenience foods are actually what people crave on holidays. In that spirit, here are some Thanksgiving dinner shortcuts to make dinner a little quicker and easier, while still serving stuff people want to eat.
Make Boxed Stuffing
Okay, so maybe your grandma has this incredible homemade stuffing recipe that’s become a time-honored family tradition and Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without it. But if you find yourself staling bread and chopping 100 ribs of celery to make some laborious Ina Garten stuffing recipe, put down the knife and Instacart a box of Stove Top. It’s savory, rib-sticking, and tastes precisely how stuffing is supposed to taste (assuming you were raised on boxed stuffing like I was). And it takes about seven minutes to make, no joke. We tried a bunch of instant stuffing during a recent taste test, and Stove Top Traditional Sage came out on top.
Make Gravy from a Packet
I see you over there, gingerly whisking flour into butter before the butter has an opportunity to burn and you have to start your roux all over again. Stop it! Gravy that comes in a packet (Knorr Roasted Turkey Gravy, in particular) is delicious and cheap and, again, only takes a few minutes to make. Add pan drippings and some thyme, and I doubt anyone but a trained chef could do better. I will say, if our store-bought gravy taste test was any indication, you should continue to steer clear of gravy that comes in a jar or a can—it’s just not good.
Make That Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole
A few years ago, a friend of mine labored over a green bean casserole recipe that essentially required you to make your own cream of mushroom soup as a binder. Was it delicious? Yes—but it was also too much work for a casserole, especially one most people are used to being basic as hell. Do yourself a favor and just g’head and make the green bean casserole you know and love, i.e. the one you learned how to make from the back of a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. Want to elevate it a smidge? Use fresh rather than frozen green beans, add herbs like rosemary and thyme, and try using a more mushroomy cream of mushroom soup (we recommend Amy’s Mushroom Bisque). Always, always use French’s Crispy Fried Onions.
Serve Canned Cranberry Sauce
There’s compelling anecdotal evidence that people generally prefer canned cranberry sauce to fresh cranberry sauce. According to a marketing exec at Ocean Spray, the company sells approximately 77 million cans of jellied cranberry sauce every year and only 20 million bags of fresh cranberries. People really like canned cranberry sauce and even though serving slices of can-shaped gelatin seems gauche, it’s preferable to slaving over a pot of real cranberries and then realizing no one wanted to eat all of those seeds and skins. (We recommend Stater Bros. Whole Cranberry Sauce, btw.)
Don’t Make Bread
I know everyone got super into making bread during the pandemic, but Thanksgiving isn’t really the time to show off your sourdough acumen. There’s enough going on! Buy frozen garlic bread; bake some crescent rolls that came out of a can; or just get those take-and-bake dinner rolls from the grocery store bakery (they’re good, we promise).