Make Versus Buy: Your Ultimate Thanksgiving Shortcut Guide
Because we could all use a little extra help this year.
Let’s face it: This year is all about doing the best with what we’re dealt—whether that’s a smaller crew at Thanksgiving or cooking your own for the first time because you usually go to your mom’s. And there’s that big pressure to make absolutely everything from scratch. But you know what? There’s no shame in saving some time and stress with a few shortcuts. Especially this year.
Consider this the ultimate guide to what to make, and what to buy, for 5 classic holiday dishes. Now doesn’t that put the happy in “Happy Thanksgiving?”
I know, I know, sacrilege! But the turkey can be the most fraught of the recipes, because if you have never done one it is daunting, it takes up your oven for a large chunk of the day, and when done badly is both deeply disappointing and wasteful. If you have never cooked a turkey before, I highly recommend seeing if a local restaurant or butcher shop is selling them cooked with reheating instructions. You’ll get a better, more consistent product, not to mention peace of mind. I actually prefer a smoked turkey for this, since they reheat well, tend to be more flavorful and well-seasoned, the smoke is a subtle but welcome flavor with the traditional sides, and I think the leftover sandwiches are better.
Best Thanksgiving turkey to buy: Willie Bird Whole Smoked Turkey
Nitrate-free, available in smaller sizes perfect for this year’s more intimate gatherings and comes with simple reheat instructions.
Buy it: Willie Bird Whole Smoked Turkey ($149.95), Williams-sonoma.com
BUY: Cranberry sauce
This is one that we recommend buying for first timers. While homemade sauce is delicious, fundamentally, it is a condiment, and an easy thing to take off your to-do list. If your family is already all-in on the jiggly sliced canned, then you don’t need this advice at all. If usually cranberry sauce is fresh? Try this simple trick: Buy a can of the whole berry version, and add a little fresh orange zest, a little freshly grated ginger, and a tiny pinch of cinnamon or allspice, and you will have a sauce that feels homemade, without the fuss.
Best Thanksgiving cranberry sauce to buy: O Organics Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
I like this version which has a simple fresh taste that lends itself well to some doctoring, and a nice whole-berry texture.
Buy it: O Organics Whole Berry Cranbery Sauce ($2.89), instacart.com
Okay, if you’ve been working on your bread game during quarantine, then go ahead and show your skills. But if you are not a bread baker, now is not the time to try and learn. And if you are just getting bread to use in stuffing, for sure buying is your best option. If you’re planning to eat cornbread, though, with your meal, you can make that yourself because it’s as simple as can be.
Best Thanksgiving bread to buy: La Brea Breads
Just because you are buying bread doesn’t mean it can’t be artisanal. And if you don’t have a local bakery you want to support, you cannot do better at the grocery store than these loaves from Nancy Silverton’s famous bakery, now available everywhere. I love the Tuscan loaf for stuffing, sliced bread on the table, and next-day sandwiches.
Buy it: La Brea Tuscan Loaf ($4.99), instacart.com
MAKE: Mashed potatoes
Mashed potatoes are one of those things that should just be made homemade if at all possible. There is no better dish than a bowl of fluffy spuds, but there is also no dish that is more particular to a family and their traditions and palates. Skin on or off, velvety smooth or chunky, super buttery or more potato forward, with add-ins like cheese or bacon or chives, or a more purist version. Never made mash before? Start with this fabulous easy recipe and tweak it to your personal taste.
This is one I tend to say BOTH! Buy the crust, make the pie. Pie for dessert is classic, and the hard part is always the pastry. So make it easy on yourself and let someone else do the work for you. Once you have a crust, you can continue with any family recipe that you love and present something fresh and delicious that you can be proud of.
Best Thanksgiving pie crust to buy: Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts
A consistently good product, super reliable and user-friendly, and I prefer the refrigerated to the frozen versions.
Buy it: Pillsbury Pie Crusts ($3.79), instacart.com