The Definitive Genius Recipes Thanksgiving Menu

The cranberry sauce and mash and pie I make every year—and the never-not-juicy turkey with more than 800 rave reviews.

November  6, 2019

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

"We're going to need a genius turkey," my bosses Amanda & Merrill told me in 2011. We were planning recipes for the Food52 Holiday iPad app, just a few months after my Genius Recipes column had flapped out of the nest. What did I know about genius turkey?

So I set out on Google, fumbling around for any recipe with a compelling technique. Pretty soon I landed on an L.A. Times story by then–Food Editor Russ Parsons about the Judy Bird—and then another, and another. He had written about the same astonishingly simple Judy Rodgers–inspired pre-salting (aka dry-brining) technique in the newspaper five years in a row, adding only small tweaks and updates.

It's as if Parsons had seen the future and thought, "Oh, I'll show you a genius turkey." (More than 800 happy Food52 commenters, often tasting their first juicy, well-seasoned turkey, agree.)

We're going to need a genius turkey.
food52 co-founders amanda & merrill

With each passing year, I've tackled another Thanksgiving side dish or two, the cranberry sauce and green beans, the more elusive mashed potato (both for the Genius Recipes archives, and my family's own menu), and my collection is complete! Below is my personal ideal of a Genius Thanksgiving dinner as it has evolved over the years, though of course you can feel free to shop around to design your own.

But if you're just looking for a sure thing, this menu—like its anchor, the trusty Judy Bird—is likely to become a yearly tradition, and will never let you down.


Two thoughtful yet entirely last-minute-friendly hors d'oeuvres.

1. Renee Erickson's Sautéed Dates

Though these sautéed dates are a sound match for a bubbly drink (and Erickson serves them next to a pile of ricotta), they steal the show just as they are, slicked with olive oil and showered with flaky sea salt. If you want to make a whole show of these dates, my favorite riff is how my friend Nozlee Samadzadeh served them at a dinner. Nozlee pitted the dates before sautéing them, then spilled them and their oil over a pool of Greek yogurt that had been thinned with more olive oil. It was a thing of beauty, cool yogurt against warm dates and everywhere good oil and salt, that we were able to sweep up all together with slices of baguette. Dressed up or dressed down, these dates are the fastest way to keep hungry hands away from the resting turkey and hot biscuits.

2. Jacques Pépin's Fromage Fort

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving with a fancy dinner party, a casual family gathering, or a boisterous Friendsgiving potluck, this almost-too-simple recipe will stave off the whoops, the turkey's still not done mood swings. Put cheese—mix and match your favorites, or just pull leftover nubs from the cheese drawer—in a food processor with wine, a garlic clove, and black pepper; blend.

a soup & a salad

A couple of palate waker-uppers to bring life (and vegetables) to the party.

3. Samin Nosrat's Spinach & Cilantro Soup With Tahini & Lemon

If you're going to tack a soup onto the must-make Thanksgiving roster, it should not eat like a meal. It should be light and comforting, with a weightless creaminess that doesn't come from cream or butter or crème fraîche. (It comes from tahini and...spinach.) Extra points for being a good "Can you believe it??" conversation starter and something that includes the vegan and gluten-free and paleo eaters with minimal adjustments.

4. Small Oven's Green Salad With Preserved Lemon & Candied Ginger

A winning formula for a salad that will energize—and not bore—you will be a boon year-round. But during your Thanksgiving feasts, it’s an especially welcome invigorator—perhaps most of all because it won’t taste like any green salad anyone’s had before. The salty, funky punch of preserved lemon is a match well-suited for candied ginger’s fiery, spicy-sweet chew, and will have everyone lunging for seconds.

the turkey

5. Russ Parsons' Dry-Brined Turkey (aka The Judy Bird)

This is the juicy, perfectly-seasoned, crispy-skinned, Thanksgiving-saving roast turkey that made the L.A. Times Food Section stop in its tracks and say "Oh, let's just keep doing this." (Same.) And all because you salted the turkey 3 days ahead (even when it was defrosting—you can do that!) Side note: Dry-brined turkeys cook extra fast, so check it early and (yay!) make room for all those pies.

the sides

Everything else I want on my table, save the important omission of gravy—but you don't need a recipe for gravy.

6. Diane Morgan's Classic Mashed Potatoes

These mashed potatoes are utterly simple and the ingredient list is probably no different than what you would have put on your grocery list from memory. But thanks to a bit of clever food scientist intel from Shirley Corriher, Diane Morgan developed a more buttery-tasting mashed potato without any extra butter.

7. Nik Sharma's Baked Sweet Potatoes With Maple Crème Fraîche

To those attached to sweet potato casserole, you might love these sweet potatoes even more (I do). This surprisingly simple one-pan technique for first steaming then roasting makes sweet potatoes the best version of themselves. Nik finishes his with what looks like an elaborate parade of toppings—sweet-tart maple crème fraîche, crunchy peanuts, scallions, fragrant lime zest, prickling chile flakes—that takes all of 5 minutes to assemble.

8. Thomas Keller's Leek Bread Pudding

Technically this was never featured in the Genius Recipes column, in case you eagle eyes were counting, but after my colleague Kenzi Wilbur shared the recipe she makes every Thanksgiving, I had to have it. There will never be dry or bland stuffing when Thomas Keller, 2 cups of leeks, and a not-insignificant amount of cream are in the house.

9. Maricel Presilla's Habichuelas Guisadas al Estilo de la Costa

Unlike their more casserole-y cousins, these bright, make-ahead-friendly green beans from Maricel Presilla will take 5 minutes in one skillet on the stovetop on Thanksgiving Day (no oven hogging!). Despite their speed, they develop loads of flavor fast, thanks to a quick three-allium sofrito and a surprisingly simple splash of milk to hug the beans at the end. (Bonus: Nondairy milks are very welcome, too.)

10. Canal House's Cranberry-Port Gelée

In my family, it isn't Thanksgiving unless there's a good jiggly cranberry sauce that can hold the shape of a can. But I hadn't realized until discovering this recipe how easy it is to make such a jiggler yourself (just simmer and squish, really)—plus you can then spike the sauce with other grown-up flavors like port and juniper berries.

11. Carla Hall's Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

These are fluffy, flaky biscuits anyone can make—because Carla Hall is an endlessly gifted and patient teacher, with the most surprising and memorable tricks to welcome first-timers. And to the baking enthusiasts who whip up dinner rolls every Thanksgiving, these biscuits may be a welcome, crisp-edged change. (Best leftover turkey sandwiches ever?) No need for baker's intuition or fancy equipment—Carla will cheer you on to biscuits that are tall, proud, and effortlessly perfect.

For dessert

A century-old classic pumpkin pie, a cake seen in Little Women, and a swift and modern whipped cream to swirl with bites of both. What a shindig!

12. Meta Given's Pumpkin Pie

The easiest way to make your pumpkin pie taste richer and more deeply of pumpkin is to caramelize the pumpkin—which sounds fancy, but all you're really doing is emptying your can of pumpkin purée into a saucepan and steaming off some of the excess water, while scraping the bottom here and there. (It's so wet that it magically deglazes itself for awhile before it starts to really stick.) Plus, swapping cream in for the typical milk and baking in a cold, unbaked pie shell means that you can blast your pie at higher heat and cook it in half the time.

13. Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake From Dorie Greenspan

Pie tends to get top billing at Thanksgiving, but cake deserves our attention, too—especially this one that's almost entirely apples. They're cobbled together with gently boozed-up custard, which is a welcome addition to any dessert spread. It's an understated cake but—thanks to the many textures and tangs of different apple varieties—holds our interest, without a crumble, nuts, or even cinnamon. It's a boon of simplicity amid the more complicated Thanksgiving desserts out there.

14. Yogurt Whipped Cream

Adding yogurt to your whipped cream won't just make you a fancy person, but also a person whose whipped cream holds up better when whipped ahead—and tastes tart, clean, and smooth against all the sweet things on the table.

the day-after piles

Your next-day secret weapons: tamed alliums (bacony quick-poached garlic cloves in the salad, softened scallions in the fritters).

15. The Silver Palate's Turkey Hash Salad

There will be turkey. So much turkey. To bring some pep to your next several dinners, add lots of greens, vinaigrette, bacon, and (twist!) bacon-poached garlic cloves.

16. Bert Greene's Potato Scallion Cakes (Fritterra)

I don't want to tell you how long it took for me to find a Genius Recipe for leftover mashed potatoes that explicitly accepted the mashed potatoes just as they are, with whatever buttermilk or herbs or caramelized onions you might have snuck in there. (Potato doughnuts don't always want those!) And, in finding this gem, I also discovered the joy of treating scallions not just as a garnish or even as an onion but as a legitimate green vegetable. Here they're blanched and chopped before filing in with your whatever-potatoes to brighten your breakfast the morning after the feast.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This article first ran in 2016, then in 2019 to add a new Judy Bird photo and video (little did we know Jacques Pépin would stop by to carve it for us!). And now we've added a few newer Genius favorites that make our definitive menu feel even more complete.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • noons
  • dillonai
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    Eric Kim
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    Brette Warshaw
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


noons November 13, 2019
would you adapt the dry brine recipe if using a Kosher (pre-salted) turkey?
dillonai November 6, 2019
This looks great. Could you give a reasonable timeline for the preparation of the various courses (over 1-3days) to reduce the stress on TG Day itself. Thanks!
Kristen M. November 10, 2019
I would definitely make the soup and cranberry sauce a few days ahead, as well as dry-brine the turkey and make the pie dough. Lots of other prep could be done a day or two ahead and stored in the fridge or at room temp, depending on the ingredient, like washing, drying, and chopping the kale (I like to store my ready-to-go salad greens in the salad spinner if there's room, otherwise in a clean, damp towel in a Tupperware or zippered bag) and prepping the other vegetables, cubing and staling the bread, etc. For any other details, I'd recommend consulting the recipe pages or the Food52 Hotline. Hope this helps!
Eric K. November 6, 2019
The Cranberry-Port Gelée sounds divine. Think I'll try that this year.
Brette W. December 21, 2016
I can't believe it's been 5 years. You're a champ.
Pisanella November 9, 2016

OMG, I am still laughing my head off at this! They sound painful!
Jovan November 2, 2016
For one second I read "Jessica Fechtor" as "Jessica Fletcher", and momentarily reveled in the idea of a Murder, She Wrote-themed cooking series. Equally, if not more exciting: five-fold challah. Yum!
AntoniaJames November 2, 2016
Those Fritterra squarely fall into the "unsung hero" category of recipes on this site. We aren't big mashed potatoes eaters, so I make them on the weekends (doubling and freezing 1/2, of course), just for this recipe! I have some in the fridge, in fact, awaiting transformation tomorrow evening. ;o)
Brenda S. November 9, 2016
I'm with you - I'd choose a crispy-skinned baked potato over mashed anytime (mashed potatoes are a vehicle for gravy LOL), but curious - is the texture affected by freezing the mashed potatoes? I don't imagine it matters for the Fritterra, but would be a great time saver for the other in my house who wants mashed all the time.