25 Ways to Reinvent Your Thanksgiving
#1: Roast a Turkey of a Different Flavor
Look to Mexico, where turkey has been the big bird for centuries. Continue the theme by using the leftovers for tacos (corn tortillas, shredded meat, lime…) and tortas. We promise you won’t miss your sandwich.
Get the Recipe: Chile-Rubbed Turkey
#2: Serve a House Drink
“The day is hard enough. Shaking cocktails would be suicide! Punch, however, works. In a nod to early New England Thanksgivings, I use two regional pours: rum (big in the Colonial days) and cider. Unlike most punches, this one won’t leave you under the table after two glasses.” —Andrew Knowlton
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#3: Just Make Sure It Can Go Virgin
“Now that I’m a dad, I make a big batch for the adults and then a smaller batch—sans rum—for the kids. Just remember to label the bowls.”—A.K.
#4: Pick Up Your Turkey at an Actual Farm
“I’ll never forget the first time a farmer handed me a turkey—ordered months ahead, for a then-startling price—at his farm in Woodstock, Illinois. Later at the table, it tasted like ‘my’ turkey.”—Julia Kramer
#5: Make. A. Damn. Plan.
Map out a strategy in advance and you’ll be better equipped to handle the inevitable hiccups.
If you’re going with a heritage and/or local turkey, put down this magazine and preorder the bird. Hurry! Your best bet? The farmers’ market.
The Week Before:
Stick a Post-It note on each serving dish and serving piece, indicating what it’ll be used for. Heck, you might as well preset the table, too (note who’s sitting where).
Three Days Before:
Draft a timeline—on paper—for the 24 hours prior to the meal, noting when each dish needs to start cooking (preferably in advance). Tape this schedule to the refrigerator door. Believe in it.
Get up an hour earlier than you think you need to. Follow the schedule. Relax. You’ve got a plan.
For a complete schedule leading up to Thanksgiving Day, click here. Or download our Thanksgiving app, which builds a calendar based on your menu.
#6: Be a Dictator
“When your guests ask what they should bring, tell them. Otherwise, they’ll show up with a superfluous pie or a bottle of wine that doesn’t ‘go’ with your menu. So be specific—and thank them profusely when they follow through.” —Adam Rapoport
Crumble dried chiles into your gratin. Use them to flavor your bird (see No. 1). Spike your brussels sprouts with a fresh Anaheim. It’s not about making food spicy; it’s about cutting through the richness.
#8: Duck Fat
More flavorful than butter (and pretty much interchangeable with it). Brush it on biscuits before baking; use it to baste the turkey and dot mashed potatoes. You can detox in January. (Not only is duck fat a flavoring superhero, it keeps in the fridge for months.)s
#9: Soy Sauce
Use it to baste the bird for a golden finish. Splash it in gravy for an umami boost. And did you know it’s in the green-bean casserole recipe on the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup can? It’s that good.
#10: Double Down on the Meat!
It’s the elephant in the dining room: Most people don’t love turkey—at least not as much as they love, say, a bourbon-glazed ham. But don’t ditch the bird (we’re not anarchists). Instead, add a second centerpiece-worthy roast to your Thanksgiving spread.
See More Options for Meaty Mains: Holiday Roasts
#11: Prep Breakfast for the Day After the Day Of
Making this waffle batter is just one more small task to cross off your to-do list (see No. 5). Imagine how thankful you’ll be when you wake up Friday morning and have breakfast (almost) ready.
Get the Recipe: Yeasted Brown Butter Waffles
#12: Roast Two Birds (Hear Us Out)
“After years of watching my mom give away half of our turkey leftovers to guests, my sister and I selfishly convinced her to make two birds. Now she roasts one whole for the main event, plus she spatchcocks a second, smaller one that we hoard for sandwiches. Win-win.” —Carla Lalli Music
#13: Pour Cider, Not WineTraditions Ciderworks 2012 Amity Rose (Corvallis, Oregon)
Virtue Cider Sidra de Nava (Fennville, Michigan)
Farnum Hill Extra Dry Cider (Lebanon, New Hampshire)
“Two hundred and fifty years ago, cider apples were to Americans what grapes are to the French. So serving some of the new all-American craft ciders at Thanksgiving is practically a patriotic duty. Plus, cider is an amazing pairing with all those iconic dishes and is low in alcohol—about one-half compared to Thanksgiving-friendly wines.” —David Flaherty, beer and spirits director, Hearth Restaurant and Terroir Wine Bars, New York
#14: Downsize with a Scalable Bird
Turkey is a one-size-fits-most fowl, but for more intimate Thanksgiving dinners, these poultry picks won’t leave you with weeks of leftovers. From left to right:
For Two: Duck
Hearty enough to please red meat–lovers, still holiday-appropriate. Check out our favorite duck recipes here.
For Four: Goose
Festive and unexpected. This bird makes even the smallest gathering feel special.
For Six: Capon
Silky and rich. Think of it as the best chicken you’ll ever taste.
#15: Rent Plates and Glasses
Indulgent? Maybe—though not as expensive as you might imagine. Just think how great it will feel to not have to wash and put away all those dishes. You can even rent tablecloths and silverware. Hallelujah!
#16: Cook Your Turkey in Parts
A whole turkey makes fora great presentation, but it takes a lot of brining, basting, etc., to ensure the breast doesn’t dry out before the legs are done. There is another way—two ways, in fact: Cook the legs and the breast separately, using a different method for each. It’s possibly the greatest holiday-food “Aha!” moment ever.
The easiest way to find these turkey parts? Have your butcher break down a whole bird for you.
Not using a whole bird? Bone-in turkey breasts are available at some supermarkets near the holidays. Call to make sure yours carries them.
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#17: Some Traditions Should Be Kept
Losing the mashed potatoes would just be insane, but even classics can be tweaked. The tang of sour cream gives the illusion that this recipe is not as rich as the cream, butter, and milk would imply.
The next day? Form leftover potatoes into cakes and fry them up—in butter, of course.
Get the Recipe:
Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes
#18: Still, There’s Room for Creativity
- Aleppo pepper
- White miso and softened butter
- Prepared horseradish
- Grated aged Gouda
#19: Take a Year Off
Traditions are meant to be broken…occasionally. So go out to an “ethnic” restaurant. Revel in the bliss of a “Friendsgiving.” Fly to a (foreign!) city. Your traditional holiday will be right there waiting for you next year. Oh, and your parents will forgive you. Eventually.
#20: Meet the Dry Brine
No patience for a traditional brine? The dry brine is applied directly to the turkey’s skin for a few hours, delivering big flavor (thank the salt!) and less hassle. Trythe chile-maple version at left, or this garlic and herbtake.
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#21: Offer Digestifs for Post-Meal Recovery
Citrusy and accommodating.
Resolutely bitter and herbal.
Notes of wood fire and coffee. Fernet fans, take note.
Tea and coffee say, “Thanks for coming. Now go home.” Pouring a round of herbaceous, stomach-settling amarisays, “Let’s keep this thing going into the next football game.” Choose your bitter level above, and cin cin!”
#22: Add an Alterna-Relish
We love cranberry sauce. (We do!) But we also love an herby salsa verde; a marmalade that’s as good on toast the next day as it is on turkey; and a super-fresh pomegranate relish that gives your meal the lift you never knew it needed.
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#23: Always Change the Venue for Dessert
“After the meal, we gather around the low-slung coffee table in my living room and sit on pillows or the sofa to eat yet more food. I create a dessert buffet with sweet wines for all to help themselves.” —Anna Last, executive creative director, Williams-Sonoma
#24: Serve One Side at Room Temp
We bet you’ll find a use for that freed-up oven space. As for that side, how about the Wild Rice and Tangerine Salad from Blackberry Farm?
Get the Recipe:
Wild Rice, Farro, and Tangerine Salad
#25: Pack Up a Take-Home Gift
Kick off the holiday sweet(s) season by sending guests home with this crunchy, easy-to-make-ahead brittle.
Get the Recipe: Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Credits: Web feature by Erik S. Peterson; Recipe photographs by Marcus Nilsson; dried chile and soy sauce product images by Tom Schierlitz; #3 thumbnail image by Flickr user Andrechinn; #4 image by Corbis; #5 thumbnail by Flickr user stargardener; #6 image by Getty; #12 thumbnail by Flickr userLodewijkB; #15 thumbnail by Flickr user AmovyTao; #19 image by Corbis; #23 image by Corbis; #24 thumbnail and recipe photograph by Gentl & Hyers
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