Meal Plan

A Last-Minute, All-Star Thanksgiving Menu You Can Actually Pull Off

Starring a turkey that requires no brining or basting.

November 22, 2023
Photo by James Ransom

Have you planned your Thanksgiving menu yet?

There's no judgment on my part. My lineup currently consists of: macaroni and cheese; eggplant with bulgur and chermoula (please don't ask); kale and caramelized onion stuffing; caramelized onion and potato gratin (I will be part onion by the end of this meal); sweet potato pie; pumpkin pie; and pumpkin pie crumble.

Sound like an unbalanced meal to you? To me, too. (And I haven't even thought about oven temperatures or cook times yet. Eeks!)

If you haven't finished planning your menu, or you still haven't decided what to bring to your family or friend's Thanksgiving, it's OK—we have many last-minute-ish options to help you flesh out your menu from start to finish.

The Bird: Bacon Bird with Turkey Neck Gravy

The beauty of this choice? It doesn’t require days-long brining! Or any basting, either: The strips of bacon, which mummify the whole turkey, do that part for you. You will need to remember to defrost your turkey. (But if you forget, all hope's not lost.)

Plus, the drippings and the turkey neck get turned into gravy, which means you don't need to scramble for a separate recipe.

The Veg Option Hero: Heidi Swanson's Mostly Olive Salad, With Some Farro

Turkey's in the oven, so you need something you can make on the stove. This farro—hearty enough to fill up your poultry-abstaining guests, salty and refreshing enough to merit a scoop on every guest's plate—takes only 15 minutes on the stovetop.

The olive-allium-jalapeño mixture can be prepped in advance, refrigerated, then tossed with the warm farro when you're ready to serve. But the whole dish tastes just as good, if not better, at room temperature, so you can get it out of the way early.

The Greens: Northern Spy's Kale Salad & Fried Oniony, Garlicky Green Beans

Victory, thy name is a totally make-ahead-able, good-as-it-sits salad. Roast the squash, toast the almonds (or other nuts), and mix together the salad the night before (or early on Thanksgiving day). And if you don't have time or oven space for the squash to cook, use slices of apple or persimmon instead.

Here's an under-20-minute side that's reminiscent of green bean casserole, but without the baking (or the fried onion topping). Start the green beans in a pan on the stove, then add some onions, stir, stir, stir, then throw in garlic, lemon juice, and soy sauce. Shower with cilantro and add a splash of cream at the end if you'd like an even closer cousin of the traditional casserole.

The Starches: Pre-Seasoned Mashed Potatoes, Plus Easy Sweet Potatoes and Stuffing

"Pre-seasoning" your mash—that is, adding a bundle of herbs along with garlic and peppercorns to the salty water the potato chunks are cooked in—means less guesswork later. This recipe recommends passing the potatoes through a food mill, but if you don't have one, we have some ideas for other methods that will work (just don't use the food processor).

And since you're already buying bacon for the turkey, you might as well buy an extra package and add it to the sweet potato section of the meal, too. In this recipe—which you can make in the oven as the turkey rests—you'll lay bacon strips across cubed sweet potatoes. As the dish bakes, the bacon crisps and the potatoes roast in its drippings. The bacon's then crumbled up and everything is tossed together with arugula ("salad"!).

You can use that same valuable oven time to make stuffing: This Food52 favorite bakes at 350° F, but you can get away with baking at 400° F, at the same time as the sweet potatoes, as long as you cover the stuffing and check it early. We also recommend mixing the bread cubes, vegetables, melted butter, and vegetable stock ahead of time, so that the challah has plenty of time to absorb the liquid (and so you're doing less last-minute rigamaroling). If you haven't left your bread cubes out overnight, here's how to stale them swiftly.

The Extra Goodie: Cranberry, Tangerine, & Crystallized Ginger Relish

Blitz everything—cranberries, a tangerine, some sugar, crystallized ginger, and orange marmalade—in a food processor. You're done. (And this keeps for a week!)

The Sweets: Easy Chocolate Cake & No-Peel Apple Crisp

This cake for the ages is light and not terribly sweet, which makes it a welcome respite after a big meal. And you just might have everything you need to bake it without a grocery store run. If you'd like, amp up the chocolate flavor by swapping in coffee for the water or adding more cocoa.

And, conveniently, this no-peel apple crisp from Alice Medrich bakes at the same temperature, which means you can cook both desserts at once (even while the guests eat dinner, if you're daring!). Alternatively, make both desserts the day before: They're just as good cold. (And vanilla ice cream or lightly-sweetened whipped cream can be applied—liberally—to either, or both.)

The Drink: Pinot Noir

Here's why:

This article was updated November 2023.

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What are your favorite, last-minute Thanksgiving recipes? Tell us in the comments!

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