I’m Celebrating My First Thanksgiving. Here’s What I’m Cooking.

I turned to my colleagues at America’s Test Kitchen for the ideal two-person Thanksgiving spread.

Published Nov. 22, 2021.

When I moved to Boston from Sydney, Australia, I didn’t realize just how lucky I was to work at America’s Test Kitchen until the holiday months rolled around. Cast out to sea in an ocean of Thanksgiving recipes and surrounded by the pressure to Martha Stewart my way through a whole roast turkey, I found solace in the lighthouse beacons that were my colleagues: a network of professional test cooks and experienced recipe developers.

How to Thanksgiving 2021

Our Thanksgiving Guide is packed with test kitchen–approved recipes, tips, and tricks so that your meal is delicious and your day is stress-free.  
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As an Aussie who is about to set her very first Thanksgiving table for a household of two, I couldn’t bear the thought of dedicating the time and oven space to a protein I knew I would grow to resent after 10-too-many turkey sandwiches. So, naturally, I asked a few of my new colleagues for their recommendations for a smaller, less traditional Turkey Day celebration. Here’s what they said.

Bryan Roof, Executive Food Editor of Cook’s Country

Bryan Roof, Executive Food Editor of Cooks Country
Bryan Roof, Executive Food Editor of Cook's Country

Traditions are what you make them. But oddly enough, nearly everyone seems to have adopted the same traditions surrounding Thanksgiving, at least as far as the menu is concerned. My Thanksgiving tradition has always been to break tradition. I’m shameless about serving an unorthodox meal every year, not only because it’s more fun and keeps me engaged but also because I just like it a lot more than the standard Thanksgiving fare. 

So, when it comes to recipe recommendations for a Thanksgiving newbie, I want to keep it fun and unique. Is this menu “traditional”? No, it is not. Is it delicious? Hell yes it is. Will it become your new Thanksgiving tradition? It just might.

Lan Lam, Senior Editor of Cook’s Illustrated

Lan Lam, Senior Editor of Cook’s Illustrated
Lan Lam, Senior Editor of Cook’s Illustrated

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, it’s a great idea to keep it small. This keeps the work—from menu planning to shopping to cooking—manageable. Here are a few dishes that I love for Thanksgiving that are especially appropriate for small dinner parties.

  • Porchetta-Style Turkey BreastTurchetta is a showstopper of an entrée that takes a bit of work on the front end, but it can be prepared a few days in advance. When the big day arrives, just pop it in the oven and be prepared for your friends and family to be amazed. Even better, the leftovers make amazing sandwiches!
  • Fluffy Dinner Rolls: These airy rolls are a joy to eat, and they’re made using a cool technique called tangzhong that helps slow the staling process, so they’re great as leftovers as well.
  • Skillet-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Maple Syrup and Smoked AlmondsMy favorite vegetables for Thanksgiving are brussels sprouts, and this skillet-roasting technique is fantastic. The sprouts are rich, well browned, and so tasty! Of the different flavor combos, this one’s my favorite.
  • Lemon PossetThere’s something so coolly elegant about serving little cups of this tart, lemony dessert. I’d top them with sugared cranberries for a festive touch!

Samantha Block, Digital Test Cook

Samantha Block, Digital Test Cook
Samantha Block, Digital Test Cook

For me, there’s no Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. It’s the spoonful of creamy, buttery goodness that complements every single component on the plate. But making mashed potatoes can often be both time- and gadget-consuming. 

You don’t want to feel stressed on your first-ever Thanksgiving, so I highly recommend our recipe for (three-ingredient!) Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes. This “boil-free” potato method jump-starts the potatoes in the microwave and finishes them in the oven. Once the potatoes are cooked, it’s just a quick trip to the stand mixer (or even a hand mixer) to mash away with butter and cream. My favorite part is that they can be made up to two days ahead! If you’re only serving two, you can easily cut the recipe in half—perfect for the night of, plus a little extra for the most essential part of any Thanksgiving: leftovers.

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