17 Last-Minute Thanksgiving Recipes for When Life Gets in the Way

Or, you know, this entire year.

November  9, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

I am the queen of procrastinating. Some call it a bad habit; I call it efficient. This has applied to many corners of my life throughout the years, from writing term papers to filing my taxes, but none so much as in the kitchen.

Both work and life are hectic enough as it is to give any meal of the day much forethought (cut to me eating shells and cheddar from a box). Throw in all the curveballs of 2020 and, yep, I'm leaving just about everything down to the last minute. And seeing as I'll likely be spending this Thanksgiving solo, I'm pretty sure I'll let any Turkey Day preparations—the planning, the shopping, the cooking—come down to the wire.

So here are 17 Thanksgiving recipes—from the creamiest, most garlicky mashed potatoes ever to chewy-soft pumpkin cookies that'll make you forget about pie—you can throw together at the eleventh hour. Trust me, no one at your dinner table will ever be the wiser; you might even fool yourself.

1. Extra-Cheesy Spinach-Artichoke Dip

There's nothing not to love about this super-creamy, bubbly-golden take on classic spinach and artichoke dip. All you have to do is remember to thaw the frozen spinach—and if you forget, well, that's what microwaves are for.

2. Ina Garten’s Parmesan-Roasted Broccoli

Of course Ina Garten would dream up the best broccoli you'll ever try in your life. And, of course, it would be the simplest-ever recipe—just roast the veg with a bit of garlic and olive oil, then toss with a zippy lemon and basil dressing (and don't forget the Parm, obviously).

3. Instant Pot Buttermilk & Leek Mashed Potatoes

A mere 2-hour (or less) window between starting and serving Thanksgiving dinner is no problem for the Instant Pot. In fact, these buttermilk- and allium-infused mashed potatoes are ready to douse with your favorite gravy (or if you're me, a thick slice of butter) in 20 minutes flat.

4. Tots & Cheese

If you want to get your potato fix without scrubbing or peeling any tubers, go the frozen tater tot route. Get 'em nice and toasty in the oven before drizzling with a lush cheddar sauce.

5. Crisp & Tender Roasted Root Vegetables

Some form of roasted root vegetables are a must for most Thanksgiving menus. Luckily, you can still get them on the table without much preparation or effort, thanks to this no-frills (yet very flavorful) method.

6. Brown Butter Stuffing

I don't know about you, but it's not Thanksgiving to me without the stuffing. If you forgot to let that loaf get stale on the counter a day or two beforehand, pop your bread cubes in the oven before making this recipe—it's all easy, breezy, brown butter goodness from there.

7. Kale & Anchovy Salad

Amid all the carbs and starches, a little green is always welcome. I love this kale salad for its simplicity and umami-packed anchovy dressing (if you're not a fan of these tiny tinned fishies, try this recipe instead).

8. Pork Tenderloin With Kimchi & Apples

I was blown away by the tender juiciness of this pork tenderloin, given that it calls for just five ingredients and roasts in about 15. Yes, you'll need to be brine it, but you can still achieve maximum flavor on the lower end of the time frame (about 2 hours).

9.Sheet-Pan Mac & Cheese With Pumpkin & Brown Butter

For those who wish every bite of mac and cheese was crispy-edged, this sheet-pan version is for you. The addition of pumpkin purée, brown butter, and pepita seeds makes it feel warm and welcome on any Thanksgiving spread.

10. Barbara Kafka's Simplest Roast Chicken

So, you forgot to order your turkey ahead of time and now your grocery store is cleared out. Don't fret! This glistening roast chicken's a more than worthy stand-in for the traditional bird, and is a whole lot less fussy, too.

11. Cabbage Bake

Who says a Thanksgiving main has to be meaty? This warmly spiced cabbage bake that comes together in just one bowl and a single baking dish is totally centerpiece-worthy.

12. Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Homemade pumpkin pie is a whole lot of effort, from making the crust from scratch to whipping up a silky filling. These chewy-tender chocolate chip cookies made with canned pumpkin are just as satisfying, and far easier to pull together in a hurry.

13. Sheet-Pan Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

A fantastically squidgy stir-and-dump sheet-pan cake with major sticky toffee pudding vibes. All the usual suspects are here—brown sugar, butter, flour, eggs, and milk—plus chopped dates, which give this dessert its signature texture.

14. Miso Caramel

It doesn't get easier than whipping up a quick batch of silky-smooth caramel and drizzling it over store-bought ice cream (spring for the good stuff). A one-ingredient twist—white miso—gives this staple a little bit of earthy funk that's just right for the crisp weather.

15. Fudgy Bourbon Balls

You had me at fudge and bourbon. (I'm happy to take them separately, but they're just so much better together.)

16. Lindsey Shere's Baked Caramel Pears

"With five ingredients and about 20 minutes, you'll have a pure, joyful dessert," writes Kristen Miglore of this Genius (it really is) dessert. More of an apple fan? Try these ones—they're baked in cider with brown sugar and cinnamon.

17. Last-Minute Fall Hand Pies

If your idea of last-minute is making dough from scratch and then throwing together a filling, this recipe is for you just as it is. If you're like me, and it isn't, then go for the store-bought dough. (I would never judge you.)

What last-minute Thanksgiving recipes do you keep in your back pocket? Tell us in the comments below!
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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.