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Common Thanksgiving Challenges and the Recipes That Help Solve Them

Perennial Thanksgiving conundrums, handled.
By Published Nov. 7, 2019
Camila Chaparro

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and over the years, I’ve done it a lot of different ways. I’ve enjoyed intimate gatherings of two and hosted boisterous gangs numbering well into the 20s. I’ve celebrated with friends, family, and strangers, as both a host and a guest. I’ve traveled and stayed put, held Thanksgiving dinners abroad, and welcomed international visitors to our table and traditions here in the US. I’ve found essential equipment, had a handful of near-misses (and actual misses, like that time I dropped the turkey on the kitchen floor), and created a list of must-have dishes. 

But even now, when Halloween has come and gone and my mind starts drifting towards turkey, those familiar Thanksgiving anxieties crop up again. Fortunately, surrounded by ATK’s treasure trove of kitchen wisdom, tested techniques, and foolproof recipes, and with some thoughtful planning and organizing ahead of time, it’s easy to put Turkey Day stress to rest. Here are some perennial Thanksgiving conundrums and the recipes that solve them.

Looking for even more recipe options? Check out our Thanksgiving guide for all of the recipes, tips, and equipment you need to pull off a successful holiday meal.


1. You're Tired of the Same Old Thanksgiving Dishes

A lot of people look forward to the same dish your mom and her mom made, so some favorites you might want to keep around. But as a host (and cook) I’m always looking for inspiration. Here are some suggestions for new twists and fresh flavors.

2. You Tend to Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

You're not alone! There's a pressure surrounding the Thanksgiving meal that leaves even the most experienced home cooks chasing unrealistic expectations. (Thanks a lot, Norman Rockwell.) You can pull off an amazing meal without all the stress by focusing on recipes you've made before (bonus points if they have make-ahead components), keeping some sides super simple (but not boring), and using shortcuts when they won't compromise the dish. Here are some ideas.

3. Your Guests Have a Variety of Dietary Restrictions, Allergies, and Food Preferences

As a host, having food that your guests can eat and enjoy is rule #1. But it can feel a bit like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle to plan a menu that works for everyone. Fortunately, Thanksgiving is really all about the sides (am I right?), which if thoughtfully planned, can easily combine to make a meal for every guest, regardless of their diet.

4. You Always Need More Oven Space Than You Have

Two words: Make. Ahead. If juggling limited oven space and varying temperatures is boggling your mind, start your Thanksgiving prep early. Pie dough (and even entire pies), breads, and stock for gravy can be made a few weeks early and frozen. Many other dishes can be made earlier in the week and reheated. And don’t forget to put your stovetop, slow cooker, grill, and microwave to work!

5. You Want to Bring a Dish That Doesn't Have to Be Reheated When You Get There

Are you attending Thanksgiving at someone else’s home this year? Don’t be “that guy” who arrives to a crowded Thanksgiving dinner with a dish that needs to be reheated in the (already-packed) oven or has to be chilled in the (bursting-at-the-seams) fridge. These dishes will guarantee you’ll get invited back next year.

6. You Want to Make That Perfect Dessert But Don't Have the Necessary Equipment

As someone who has overcome her fear of pie making and now loves to make pie, I strongly encourage you to invest in a few good pie-making tools and give this Thanksgiving favorite a shot. (Picking up a copy of our first-ever pie-focused cookbook, The Perfect Pie, is a great place to start.) But there are plenty of lovely fall desserts that don’t require a pie plate, rolling pin, or food processor.

7. You Always Find Yourself in a Leftovers Rut

The holiday is over, your guests have gone home, your stomach is still full—and so is your fridge. While many folks are more than happy with turkey sandwiches on repeat, here are a few ideas to spice up your post-Thanksgiving meals.

What challenges do you encounter when planning for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments. And for more recipes that solve common Thanksgiving challenges, check out these recipe collections: