A Thanksgiving Guide
I may have overthought this
A note to my readers - by popular request (30 people on Twitter) I have put together a Thanksgiving “printable” for our premium subscribers. It’s a file designed to be printed at home as your guide to the Thanksgiving meal. It includes my favorite Thanksgiving tips, tricks, and recipes. It also includes important insights like:
“Yams, sweet potatoes, or other orange tubers - If someone insists on bringing something, let them bring this. You don’t have time for tiny marshmallows on a dish that no one cares about.”
If you’re not a premium subscriber, sign up!
The printable starts with a welcome letter and then an explanation OF MY GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF THE THANKSGIVING MEAL. I am an insane person.
As such, I wanted to give you all a preview of them in this space.
Everyone is highly opinionated on the correct way to “do Thanksgiving” and I am no exception. Maybe I’m wrong, yell at me about it in the comments.
Also, if you’re already a premium subscriber and would like to give someone the amazing gift of a premium Thanksgiving printable with important advice like why to make a pecan pie and buy a Costco pumpkin pie, and my weekly columns (!), give the gift of RealBestLife →
So, without further ado, here’s the welcome letter and guiding principles, sign up for premium for the full printable!
Welcome to my Thanksgiving Guide "printable"!
This is my favorite meal of the year, and I think about it, a lot.
Every part of it brings up some foundational memory of eating with my Grammy or standing over the stove with my Dad, whisking furiously while he sifted flour into the gravy. Also, most of the recipes included are wholesale stolen from my Mother so they’re better than what I make.
Everyone has strong opinions about Thanksgiving fare. Like pineapple on pizza or if beets are just dirt nuggets masquerading as food, there is no one in the middle on the crucial underpinnings of this meal.
The opinions herein are my own. They are not necessarily all the correct ones, but if you follow this guide, you will come up with an offering you can be proud to serve and start making your own tweaks. I would love nothing more than if this was a packet of papers you pull out once a year, scribbled with your notes, and splashed with secret-hidden-my-inlaws-are-here mimosas and gravy of years past. I have a special collection of recipes like this of my own, and I'll do my best to anthologize them here.
What is a printable, you ask? It's basically a file designed to be printed as your secret weapon at Thanksgiving. I mean, it seems like a ridiculous offering on its face, "Here's a .pdf for you to print at home or the office store. You're welcome." But, when I'm really in the weeds cooking, the last thing I want is to be spilling stuff on my laptop or tablet. In a hilarious twist of irony, I have found that my phone doesn't unlock to my face when I'm stressed out, and what's more stressful than when people are due at your house for a huge meal in a few hours?
Scrolling while you have butter-coated fingers, the smoke alarm is going off, and your mother-in-law is asking about your plans for more/any children is about the time you need a sheaf of physical paper to get through tasks and move on. Also, you get this "printable," as a bonus to your premium subscription to my Substack. Considering that cookbooks range from $25 to $35, you get this AND my premium columns. It basically pays for itself.
Thank you for being here and for your support!
Thanksgiving meal principles
1) Thanksgiving is a meal where you have to get the fundamentals right before you worry about anything else.
No one walks away from Thanksgiving and says: "The gravy was terrible, but those YAMS and that CRANBERRY SAUCE really saved the day." No. Gravy is the glue that holds everything else together. You have to get the main things right before playing with superfluous dishes.
Thanksgiving is a hierarchical meal, and here's what matters: gravy (it touches everything), stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole - and everything else in a cascading descent toward irrelevance.
2) Turkey sucks.
Turkey is not actually good. Having turkey is more for the psychological aspect of the meal than for actual eating. However, it smells delicious when it's cooking *AND* is necessary for a stunning gravy. Some dark meat on your plate as a nod to the fact this is a turkey-centric meal is fine, but turkey is mostly a vehicle for gravy and leftovers. If you can convince your family to get a prime rib instead, do that.
I do, and I am not even joking about this, make a "stunt turkey" several weeks in advance just for the drippings to ensure I have enough gravy. If you can do a stunt turkey before and then prime rib day-of, that's the dream scenario.
3) It's all about the sides and gravy.
Again, turkey mostly just sucks. But if you make some fantastic sides, and a great gravy - especially if you curate a dessert situation correctly - you're golden.
4) If something is as good store-bought as made-from-scratch, buy that - you have enough stuff to do.
If there is a thing that you can buy that is as good as a thing you can spend hours making, do that. There is plenty of work to do and you can't do everything. Rational cost/benefit analysis is the key to a successful Thanksgiving game. This rule exists primarily for Costco pumpkin pies and mashed potatoes.
One of my dear friends gave me her best jewelry secret (that's you, Laurie). She said it's easy to get away with some great CZ pieces because she had enough real diamonds that people didn't know which was which. The same principle is true at Thanksgiving - if you mix some good store-bought food into an offering with great homemade anchor dishes, no one will know the difference.
5) Spend the most money on the highest-impact ingredients, but save where people won't notice.
Thanksgiving is expensive. If you're watching your budget, there are some ingredients worth springing the extra cash on (butter), and others where you can save. I spend more money to get nicer ingredients where it will have the most results in terms of flavor.
Overall, Thanksgiving is basically a balancing act of optimizing time, money, and flavor. You got this.
So, become a premium subscriber or gift a subscription for the full printable. It includes recipes for my stuffing with a weird secret ingredient (it’s scotch) and THE recipe for Kentucky Pecan Pie. It also includes a shopping list, sample schedule, tips for a turkey that sucks marginally less, and permission to just buy the pre-mashed potatoes.