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Everything I'm Making for Thanksgiving This Year (and the Only Turkey Recipe You Need)

Plus a tip for enjoying a smaller Thanksgiving than usual.
An image from Jonah and my Thanksgiving brainstorm over brunch last week

An image from Jonah and my Thanksgiving brainstorm over brunch last week

As recently as last week, I was still planning on welcoming my parents to Portland for Thanksgiving. It would be my first time hosting them and the prospect of spending the long weekend in the company of board games and distanced hikes was one I eagerly looked forward to—but Jonah and I ultimately decided to fly solo!

Thankfully, we're old pros at Thanksgiving-For-Two. For reasons far more benign than a global pandemic (hassle, cost) we've opted to spend the majority of our Thanksgivings just us two. With the exception of one year in the past six, Jonah and I have flown solo for the holiday—I even wrote a defense of doing so here! The trick, in my opinion, is to stick to as many traditions as possible: We go for a long walk in the morning, then use entire day to cook a full feast. Since many of you are going to be spending the holidays without family this year, I wanted to be your personal cheerleader and share a few of the dishes I'm making—in the hopes it lifts your spirits and inspires you to dig in! Here's what Jonah and I are making for Thanksgiving this year (get ready for some delicious leftovers):

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I discovered Negronis, the century-old bittersweet Italian aperitif, the fall of Jonah and my first solo Thanksgiving together. As 23-year-olds, it was the most sophisticated cocktail I knew how to make (...still is), so it felt only appropriate to serve it with an epic cheese plate. The tradition grew roots and we still start every Thanksgiving with Negronis and cheese (the cheese is key—these are strong!) as we cook. To make it, simply stir equal parts sweet red vermouth, gin, and Campari with ice, then serve over ice with an orange rind. 

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Why not lead this list with the showstopper? While the "Judy Bird" has been my mainstay for years, I shook things up last year and will never look back. After getting exactly zero photos of the perfectly juicy, crispy-skinned, flavor-packed bird, I at least had the foresight to share the recipe in this list, so I could refer back to it this year: 

1. Dry Brine: Mix 4 tablespoons of brown sugar with 1 cup of Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Salt, a salt and herb mix I'm obsessed with (wrote about it here!) that's available in most grocery stores. After setting aside the giblets and neck (for gravy), rinsing the turkey, and patting it dry with a clean dish towel, press the brine all over the turkey and let it sit overnight, uncovered, on a rack in the fridge, placed over a baking dish to let any juices drain out.

2. Prep for Roasting: Add a pack-worth each of chopped rosemary and chopped sage to two sticks of butter, then use an immersion blender to blend it all together into a compound butter. When you're ready to bake the turkey (we used an 11-pound bird) rinse the salt mixture off of the turkey and use a clean dish towel to pat it completely dry, then use your hands to absolutely cover it in the butter mixture and stick it every place possible. Use your fingers and a paring knife to ease it under the breast skin (which makes the skin crispier on both turkey and roast chicken!), and use up all the butter mixture. Next, slice about five lemons in half and squeezed the juices into and on top of the turkey before putting the lemons into its, erm, cavity.

3. Roast: Place the bird on a roasting pan set into a baking dish (it doesn't have to be fancy—I used something like this in an aluminum disposable baking dish I bought at the grocery store). Pour a cup of water into the baking dish so that the juices running off the turkey don't burn, then place it into an oven set at 425° F. From there, check it every 20 to 30 minutes, pulling the rack out to baste the turkey each time (you want to baste the top, but also put the baster under the skin and into crevices to make sure everything stays juicy). As soon as the skin looks crispy and golden, lower the temperature to 350° and place a meat thermometer into the breast (you can also place it into the thigh, but I wanted to make sure the breast meat wasn't overcooked). Continue to check on it every 30 minutes and tent the wingtips with aluminum foil when they look like they're on the edge of burning. As soon as the meat thermometer hits 155° F, removed the bird and place it on the stove, tenting it completely with aluminum foil for an hour, until it reaches 160° F. Note on the temperature: Most recipes will tell you to take the bird out at 160° F, which is the safe temperature for eating meat, but I have a theory that that's only because they don't want to be responsible if you eat undercooked meat. I suggest removing it at 155° F so it doesn't go too far above 160° F (I consider 165° F to be overcooked). But also, I am not a food safety expert. This is just what works for me—use your eyes too, and don't eat anything that looks undercooked!

4. Eat: Best turkey of your life, or your money back!

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Unpopular opinion: I think mashed potatoes are a distraction from an extra serving of stuffing, which is a far superior Thanksgiving starch, and a true champion at absorbing gravy and turkey juices. I like to keep my stuffing classic (recipe titles like "Stuffing with a Twist!" have no place on my list)—because, as this title puts it, "If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It." To me, the sign of a great stuffing is lots of butter (channel Julia Child!), fennel, herbs, and sausage. 

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Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to do a deep dive into fall vegetables—I'll be serving Gjelina's Brussels sprouts with bacon (double this recipe, so you can snack on it as you cook the rest), beets sliced thin and roasted with salt and olive oil, and mushrooms sautéed with the greens from your beets! No recipe for the mushrooms—just slice and sauté in ample butter, then toss in the greens until wilted and salt to taste. I plan on serving vegetables in a large Year and Day platter I have, and bringing it to the table so I can easily refill my plate. 

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I've never made rolls on Thanksgiving—and then I saw Adrianna Adarme post these. Needless to say, I'll be making rolls this year...

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Cranberry sauce is so easy to make—if you've done it, you know! As deliciously sweet as the canned version is, homemade is, like most things, better. Instead of a straight sugar bomb, homemade cranberry sauce is also a little bit sour, and has more texture. 

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Honestly, if you make the turkey above, you can just pour the jus from the pan directly onto your plate—but if you're a traditionalist (depends on how hungry I am the day-of), you can whip up some gravy with this recipe, which also makes use of the giblets!

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This "Junipear" pie takes a lot of prep time—which is fine, since Jonah usually does it (heh). And, as someone who literally does not contribute at all, I can tell you it's worth every second of slicing pears; perfect for fall, with some vanilla or brown butter ice cream of course. 

Thanksgiving doesn't look how we thought it would—this entire year doesn't look how we thought it would—so I just wanted to remind you to carve out some time over the weekend to do something for yourself, to lift your mood. For me, that's getting a small Christmas tree. I haven't had a tree since high school (we usually visit family who live abroad, which of course isn't an option this year), but since we'll likely be in Portland for that holiday as well, my mom sent me some ornaments in the mail so I could spend the weekend trimming and decorating my own tree. Just one more thing to feel festive, when this year can feel anything but. Have a happy Thanksgiving! 

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