A guide to classic Thanksgiving: Everything you need to know

Roast turkey, green bean gratin, plus three stellar pies and more — all the classic Thanksgiving recipes you'll ever need.

(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Each year, I spend months as part of my job trying to develop new home cooking ideas to inspire our readers for Thanksgiving. It’s a tricky prospect: coming up with new flavor combinations and techniques to wow you and make it onto your holiday table.

But it’s still a worthwhile endeavor if it means just one person decides to make a new idea part of their holiday table, possibly even setting aside a cherished family recipe for one of ours. Despite all the new twists and flavor combinations I toil to come up with each year, I inevitably hear notes from readers and friends along the lines of, “That’s a great idea, but do you have just a simple recipe for [insert your favorite classic Thanksgiving dish]?” Hmm.

You are reading: A guide to classic Thanksgiving: Everything you need to know

So this year, in an effort to get ahead of those well-meaning comments, I’m giving readers exactly what they want: the classic recipes you expect for Thanksgiving. There are no “modern reinventions” or “new spins,” just timeless recipes, updated appropriately. The techniques are straightforward, the ingredient lists kept as short as possible, and the recipes developed with one goal in mind: easy and delicious results year after year.

Each recipe is accompanied by a video where I walk you through each step so you know exactly what to do. I offer ingredient substitutions galore, and ways to jazz up the recipes to suit your — or your family’s — particular tastes. Because everyone just wants what their family or Grandma made, these recipes are designed to use as is or to adapt them if you choose.

If you’re usually intimidated by turkey, you won’t be this year. My recipe is foolproof and guaranteed to give you moist turkey without basting. And I’ll give you the easiest, simplest gravy to make ahead, or right before serving. Instead of one stuffing, you get two: My classic sourdough stuffing — designed to be vegan/vegetarian — is all about onions, celery and herbs; and my cornbread dressing gets all its flavor from pork sausage and chile flakes. Both recipes are easily adaptable to suit any flavor profile that inspires you.

For the rest of the sides, there’s my cheesy green bean gratin, a casserole with the same vibe as the original but with much better flavor. I sweeten my version of sweet potato casserole with apples, honey and orange juice and top it with a simple homemade meringue (although marshmallows have a home atop the dish if that’s your inclination). And mashed potatoes don’t get any easier: I boil some old-fashioned russets, then mash them with plenty of buttermilk and butter to keep them light yet indulgent, ready to play with any other flavors on the plate.

If you’re the type to make your own yeast rolls, my super soft, buttery rolls will be your new go-to. They’re basted in butter, topped with flaky sea salt and so soft you’ll never buy frozen rolls again. My homemade cranberry sauce keeps things blessedly simple too. Just a 10-minute bubbling with some sugar, cinnamon and juice yields cranberries that are just sweet enough and perfumed with a hint of spice. Want to tilt your cranberry sauce in either the sweet or spiced direction? I’ll show you how.

And for dessert, there are no cakes or roulades or cookies. Thanksgiving is for pie, so let’s focus on that. If you like to make pie dough, then I’ll show you my no-fail recipe to achieve the butteriest, crispiest crust (and if you want to buy your crust, I support you 100%!). Then, I have recipes for three classic pies that will become your new standards.

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Pecan pie and pumpkin pie — if you love them, you really love them, and if you don’t, you never will. For the pecan pie lovers, my version cuts down on the sugar and adds browned butter, vanilla bean and a healthy shot of lemon juice, all of which contribute to a pie with the soul of the traditional and a sweetness level tamed to make everyone happy. And for pumpkin pie aficionados, my version is basically what’s on the back of the can (let’s be real, it’s already great) but with lots more spices and an optional boozy whipped cream to dollop on top. If you’re a sweet potato pie person (I am), I’ve got a variation for you.

And finally, my double-crust apple pie, which encases wedges of apples and cinnamon in my tender, flaky crust, before baking into a bubbly, golden-brown masterpiece. It’s easily adaptable to use any apples or spices you prefer. I share tips on crimping and getting that professional look on the outside so your pie looks just like a bakery’s.

My hope is that you’ll use these recipes as a starting point. Adapt them to suit your tastes. They are developed to be changed and spiked and added to until you — and your family — are happy with them. Though we want new ideas, we also want the comfort of familiarity. I want these recipes to be that for your holiday needs, so that this year — or in the years to come — they’ll produce new Thanksgiving memories for you and inspire the next generation of family cooks.

Perfect Thanksgiving Roast Turkey | Easy Thanksgiving Gravy | Sourdough and Herb Stuffing | Spiced Cornbread and Sausage Dressing | Green Bean Gratin | Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole| Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes | Citrus Cranberry Sauce | Soft and Buttery Dinner Rolls | Double-Crust Apple Pie | “Not Too Sweet” Pecan Pie | Classic Pumpkin Pie | Questions?

The Recipes

Perfect Thanksgiving Roast Turkey

Full recipe: Perfect Thanksgiving Roast Turkey

Easy Thanksgiving Gravy

Full recipe: Easy Thanksgiving Gravy

Sourdough and Herb Stuffing

Full recipe: Sourdough and Herb Stuffing

Spiced Cornbread and Sausage Dressing

Full recipe: Spiced Cornbread and Sausage Dressing

Green Bean Gratin

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Full recipe: Green Bean Gratin

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

Full recipe: Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Full recipe: Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Citrus Cranberry Sauce

Full recipe: Citrus Cranberry Sauce

Soft and Buttery Dinner Rolls

Full recipe: Soft and Buttery Dinner Rolls

Double-Crust Apple Pie

Full recipe: Double-Crust Apple Pie

“Not Too Sweet” Pecan Pie

Full recipe: “Not Too Sweet” Pecan Pie

Classic Pumpkin Pie

Full recipe: Classic Pumpkin Pie

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