The Thanksgiving Menu for the Modern Person (Whole Turkey Not Required)

November  5, 2015

Think about it: Some people have eaten the exact same meal on November 26th for decades.

Don't let this happen to you.

Traditions can be sleepy (nice, fine)—if you hold on tight. But let them inspire you, allow yourself to riff, and they can rev you up and introduce you and your family to new favorite dishes or ingredients—or even new traditions

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So this Thanksgiving, trade cranberry sauce for pickled beets and a whole turkey for just the breast (it won't be dry—promise!). If Auntie Sue protests the lack of gravy or little Jimmy is missing his mashed taters, too bad there's always next year.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic turkey: Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (a.k.a. The Judy Bird) | The updated: Torrisi's Turkey

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Top Comment:
“If your turkey is dry or your gravy isn't rich, glossy, and succulent, you're doing it wrong. That's where Food52 should come in - with help to make it perfect, not different. ”
— anniette

Torrisi's Turkey recipe gives a turkey breast a spa treatment (the official cooking term), which is a genius way of outsmarting dry turkey and bypassing the whole bird. (P.S. If you want to skip the turkey altogether, we support you! This is your chance to go rogue.)

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic potatoes: Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions | The updated: Autumn Root Vegetable Gratin with Herbs and Cheese

This gratin is a new classic: Merrill landed on it after switching up the roots, cheese, and flavors of a classic potato gratin recipe she'd been making for 15 years. The colors of the butternut squash and potato rival the best mashed potato swoops and swirls.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic stuffing: What We Call Stuffing: Challah, Mushroom, and Celery | The updated: Farro Risotto with Caramelized Apples and Fennel

In this risotto, you get the fall flavors you seek from a stuffing by way of caramelized apples, fennel, apple cider, and orange zest, but in a saucier form that begs to have turkey dragged through. You won't even have to make gravy!

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic green side: "Pot-Stuck" Brussels Sprouts | The updated: Swiss Chard Agrodolce

This year, trade in brussels sprouts in favor of another cruciferous vegetable: Swiss chard. It'll be worth it when you realize that their stalks can be tender, their leaves can be sweet—and honey and vinegar make magic together.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic red condiment: Canal House's Cranberry-Port Gelée | The updated: Gingered Beet Pickles

We already have mellow sauce covered with the multi-tasking risotto, so let's welcome crunch to the Thanksgiving table. These pickles would be mighty good in November 27th's turkey sandwiches, too.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic salad: Northern Spy's Kale Salad | The updated: Autumn Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

Go ahead, put fruit—and roasted vegetables, and beans—in your salad. Thanksgiving is the celebration of the harvest, after all.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic allium: Tuscan Onion Confit | The updated: Molly Stevens' Sweet Braised Whole Scallions

In this Genius recipe, scallions graduate from garnish to side—ready to be nestled on rolls or mixed into a bite of salad, turkey, chard, or risotto.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by Bobbi Lin

The classic bread rolls: Heavenly Oatmeal-Molasses Rolls | The updated: Late-Harvest Carrot Rolls

When have you had roasted vegetables in your dinner rolls? Yeah, we hadn't either until we tried this recipe from Bien Cuit. Don't think the roasted veg is the only trick, though: Carrot juice goes in the dough, making the rolls amber-hued and vegetal-sweet. (Note: Give this recipe a go only if you're ready for a baking project. But we promise it's worth it.)

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by Nikole Herriott

The classic pumpkin pie: Meta Given's Pumpkin Pie | The updated: Chai Masala Pumpkin Pie

When you take all the spices you'd put in chai and stick them in your pumpkin pie, the ratio of sweet pumpkin to spice gets a little more balanced. It's not enough of a departure to make Grandma mad, but it might have you rethinking your go-to recipe

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

The classic drink: wine | The updated: Winter Spritz

We're not suggesting you ditch the wine from your Thanksgiving buffet, but rather that you add a low-alcohol spritz of Campari, cider, and blood orange juice to the mix. Or drink a couple while you're cooking dinner. Or both. Whatever you choose, this spritz will add some life to the otherwise small repertoire of Thanksgiving drinks.

You're breaking all the rules (and Thanksgiving will be better that way):

Get the recipes from The New Classic Thanksgiving Menu:

Your Everything Guide to Thanksgiving
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Your Everything Guide to Thanksgiving

Top-notch recipes, expert tips, and more—it's all right this way.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Barbara
  • dc cook
    dc cook
  • JustKatB
  • NotTooSweet
  • Joy
Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Barbara November 17, 2015
My very favorite holiday! Love the traditional family all around atmosphere and all the traditional foods. KISS!!!
dc C. November 16, 2015
These sound great, but Thanksgiving doesn't fall on November 26th every year ;)
JustKatB November 16, 2015
I'm sorry but I'm with the other (so far) commenters - there is something to be said for tradition on the holidays. My step-father used to scream for Cajun Christmas so one year I didn't make any traditional dishes and only served Cajun fare. Everyone was disappointed. The food was delicious but it didn't feel special. My step-dad agreed.
frog November 16, 2015
To me (and My Mother is Cajun, from Crowley), a Cajun Thanksgiving would be Roasted Turkey with Oyster Dressing, Cornbread Dressing, Stuffed Mirliton, Seafood Eggplant Casserole, Smothered Green Beans, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Giblet Gravy
JustKatB November 17, 2015
Mirliton and seafood eggplant casserole would not be a "tradtional" part of our dinner but the rest of what you've mentioned pretty much would be (grew up in Beaumont, TX which is only an hour away from LA; heavy Cajun presence there). I didn't serve turkey, dressing, potatoes or green beans at that meal. I know we had jambalaya and crawfish bisque but I can't remember now what else I did serve that day, just that most of the goodies we normally eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas were not served (except jambalaya - I make that on holidays fairly regularly).
NotTooSweet November 15, 2015
I appreciated this article and many of the recipes looked delicious. This Thanksgiving I'll be making the same traditional items that my family expects, however, next year family won't be at my house so I now plan to host a gathering of some of my more adventurous foodie friends and this menu will be a great jumping off point. Thanks Ali for the push to think outside the box. I'll let have to let you know next Thanksgiving how our modern menu fared!
Joy November 15, 2015
annette voiced everything I was thinking while reading through this article. There is something to be said for tradition. After all, like annette said, it is only once a year.
anniette November 14, 2015
One year we skipped turkey and went all adventurous with our cookng. It was a big mistake. A real Thanksgiving Dinner once a year is a glorious tradition. Another year, decades later, I was a lone patient left on the women's cancer floor of a great hospital, unable to eat, and feeling very sorry for myself (I'd sent my family home so the children could have Thanksgiving). Only years later did it occur to me that the nurse caring for miserable me was missing her Thanksgiving, too. Thanksgiving is a fabulous national holiday built around a great dinner. If your turkey is dry or your gravy isn't rich, glossy, and succulent, you're doing it wrong. That's where Food52 should come in - with help to make it perfect, not different.
frog November 14, 2015
Wow, not a single item (save the turkey) on this menu reflects a New Orleans (or South Louisiana) Thanksgiving. I would have a house of baffled friends and family if I served this menu.
Judith K. November 14, 2015
You can take these "new" recipes and stuff them, so to speak. Once a year, it's wonderful to have the same old, same old, that we love and will always love, and, by the way, they are all delicious. Stop pushing it with constant change. Most of us love tradition, especially when the food is the BEST.