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The Best Thanksgiving Dishes to Make from Scratch (And, the One Dish You Shouldn’t)

Created October 14, 2019
Straight from the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens experts: Here are the five dishes that are really worth making from scratch this Thanksgiving!
Here's the thing about Thanksgiving: the traditional recipes are simple, but the meal itself is complicated. The number of dishes on the menu and the extra people around the table make everything related to the planning, shopping and cooking a challenge. When there’s so much you could do with this meal, what’s really worth doing? Specifically, which dishes benefit the most from scratch cooking? This is the question we, the editors of BettyCrocker.com, took to Meredith Deeds consultant to the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens.

Skip the Pre-Basted Bird!

dry-brined-turkey-breast_hero

Why? A moist, juicy bird is best produced by brining. And the key to brining isn’t technical know-how, it’s planning ahead, so you can pull this off—even if it’s your first time hosting Thanksgiving!

Here’s how:

  • Brining can be done two different ways: by immersing your turkey in a salt-water solution (wet brining) or by rubbing it with a dry mixture of salt and seasonings (dry brining). While both approaches produce great results, we prefer the second method. It results in delectably, crispy skin and logistically makes much more sense than trying to find a container large enough to submerge a turkey in and still fit inside your fridge for 48 hours.
  • Whichever method you choose, the process is the same: the salt in the solution, or rub, breaks down the proteins in the meat and loosens the fibers. This makes the meat juicy and flavorful and safe guards against overcooking.
  • Brining is typically begun 2 to 3 days in advance of roasting. You’ll want to thaw your turkey before brining, so consult our turkey thawing chart to figure out when to start the whole process. Then, get all the details on How to Brine a Turkey.

Oops, just read this. What should I do if there’s no time to brine?

Don’t fret, just rub your bird with salt before putting in the oven. Then monitor closely—or assign a trusted assistant this task, while you’re busy preparing the rest of the meal. The best way to tell the turkey is done is to go by temperature. Be sure to insert into the thickest part of the thigh, avoiding the bone. You’re looking for a temperature of 165F.

Make Your Own Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Garlic

Why? Homemade mashed potatoes are one of life’s simple pleasures. Preparing them yourself means you get to make them the way you want them—whether that means adding in extra garlic, chives or cream cheese.

How to pull it off? While making mashed potatoes isn’t hard, keeping them warm can be, which is why they’re often made right before the meal—when you’re also trying to get butter on the table and fill everyone’s water glass. So here are a couple of ways to make preparing homemade mashed potatoes easier.

  • Make our Homemade Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes recipe the day before, so you can store it in the fridge and bake if off at the last minute.
  • Use your favorite countertop appliance to make Ultimate Slow-Cooker Potatoes or just use it to keep your potatoes warm.
  • Finally, you can make your favorite recipe, when it’s convenient and store potatoes in a microwave-safe dish. Then, zap them before eating and transfer to a serving dish.
  • Want a couple of pointers to help you make your mashers perfect? Check out our article about How to Make Mashed Potatoes.     

I don’t have time to peel 3 lbs of potatoes—help!

If, for whatever reason, homemade isn’t in the cards, Betty Crocker™ mashed potatoes can come to the rescue. If you want to give them an easy upgrade, you can add a couple of ounces of softened cream cheese and a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives for a homemade touch—explore recipes that start with Betty’s mashed potatoes below.

Don’t Fear Homemade Gravy

Why? You’ve already got everything you need to make it homemade and all the flavor you worked so hard to infuse into your turkey is too good to get tossed out. Making gravy from scratch allows you to control the flavor and salt level and tailor both to your tastes. Besides, nothing will set off those mashed potatoes better!

How to pull it off? If you’re anything like us, you’ve had enough bad gravy in your life to think twice about making it from scratch, but the truth is: gravy is simple. So simple, you can make it in the last few minutes before the meal.

  • One of our favorite recipe is made right inside the roasting pan, so you don’t even have to dirty another dish—give Foolproof Turkey Gravy a try!
  • And if you run into any problems day of, all the triage you could ever need awaits in our How to Make Gravy article.

What if I don’t have enough drippings?

You can whip up a luscious gravy in just 15 minutes with our No-Dripping Gravy recipe and a carton of Progressochicken broth. We recommend using the low-sodium version, since you’ll already have some salt in the mix from your turkey drippings.

Sweet Potatoes Taste Better Without All That Syrup

classic candied sweet potatoes

Why? Canned, cut sweet potatoes are almost always swimming in a light syrup. While it’s convenient to have the potatoes prepped, it’s difficult to control the flavor of the finished dish when you’re starting with a pre-sweetened ingredient. This is why we greatly prefer fresh sweet potatoes, even if peeling and chopping take a bit more effort.

How to pull it off?

  • Use our Classic Candied Sweet Potatoes recipe, which calls for boiling potatoes in their skins. After bubbling away for a short time, remove potatoes, allow them to cool and their skins will slip right off.
  • Another way to go about it is to peel and chop your potatoes the day before. Professional chefs call this practice of preparing ingredients ahead, mise en place. This French phrase simply means “everything in its place” and is an efficient way to streamline cooking a recipe, because there’s no need to pause and peel potatoes, chop onions, etc. With potatoes prepped, it’s easy to cook them off right before dinner.
  • Countertop appliances can help too. With our Slow-Cooker Sweet Potato Casserole, you can throw the ingredients in the pot and forget about them until dinner. And potatoes practically fall out of their skins with our Instant Pot Sweet Potato Casserole recipe.

cooking sweet potatoes in an instant pot

Wait, when do I find the time for prep?

One of our favorite shortcuts is buying the peeled and cubed sweet potatoes available in the produce section of large grocery stores. For more tips like this, check out The Sanity-Saving Shortcuts You Need This Thanksgiving.

Don’t Deprive Yourself of Homemade Whipped Cream

homemade whipped cream

Why? We admit it—we love the taste of real cream. And because it only takes 5 minutes to make, we think it’s worth making from scratch every time—your pies will thank you!

How to pull it off? Put your bowl and beaters in the fridge before sitting down to dinner. Then when it’s time for dessert, the cream will thicken up quick. In our opinion, there’s always time for homemade whipped cream. If for whatever reason, you can’t do it yourself, why not call in a helper and teach them this essential life skill?

Don’t Mess with Success …

Green Bean Casserole

Some iconic traditional holiday dishes have always included convenience products and Green Bean Casserole is perhaps the prime example. Serve a non-traditional version and it might receive a chilly reception from people who aren’t interested in anyone experimenting with their favorite Thanksgiving dish.

ham-and-cheese-green-bean-casserole_hero

I Hate Green Bean Casserole But My Family Insists. What do I do?

A homemade cheese sauce (no cream of mushrooms soup here!), fresh green beans and the addition of ham make this twist on the traditional dish totally deluxe, while retaining the creamy, comforting vibes—and of course, the French-fried onions!

Along these lines, there’s one more piece of advice we should mention. It’s something Meredith has learned from her years hosting this holiday and she puts it this way, “Thanksgiving math only includes addition—as in additions to the menu—never subtraction.” So, if you know your family will be disappointed if classic Green Bean Casserole isn’t on the table, hedge your bets and serve the original alongside the Ham and Cheese Green Bean Casserole, so everybody’s happy!

Now that you know where to focus your efforts, get the inside scoop on the dishes that turn out delish no matter if they’re made from scratch or with mostly store-bought ingredients.

Meet Meredith

Meredith Deeds is a professional chef and a consultant for the Betty Crocker Kitchens. She’s an accomplished food writer, the author of seven cookbooks, and has been a working recipe developer and cooking instructor for over 20 years. Meredith has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard award for The Big Book of Appetizers and has also written for various magazines and newspapers such as Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, Better Homes and Gardens, Chile Pepper Magazine, Prevention, Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Dallas Morning News. She is currently a weekly columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and also writes frequently for FoodNetwork.com. She has three grown boys and has enjoyed cooking on a large scale to satisfy three big appetites. Now, with the boys moved out of the house, she enjoys cooking meals for two.



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