A few years ago, I had one of the biggest cooking snafus I’ve ever had. And it was on Thanksgiving Day. I don’t like mashed potatoes (blasphemous, I know) and I don’t eat turkey, so stuffing is the highlight of the holiday meal for me. That year, I decided to go all out.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I baked bread. I let it stale for a few days and made homemade stock. I chopped leeks and sprang for the expensive mushrooms.
It turns out no-knead bread is not a good stuffing base—too dense. Digging into the stodgy, gluey mass my stuffing turned into at the dinner table was truly galling. All those gorgeous ingredients, wasted!
Reeling from this failure, I vowed to never make homemade stuffing again. And I’ve stuck to that. Now, I always buy the boxed stuff.
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And guess what? That’s ok! We put such pressure on special meals that they can become less enjoyable. “Mood over food” is my mantra these days. (But I still want everything to be delicious.)
Now, I’m not saying the entire meal should be from a box, but I do think a well-deployed shortcut can help you focus on the foods you really want to make from scratch. You’re already cooking so many dishes. Why not give yourself a little break?
Here are a few shortcuts that have won our taste tests over the years.
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The Best Boxed Stuffing
Someday I will muster up the courage to try homemade stuffing again, but until that day, I’m happy with our winning boxed stuffing—StoveTop Stuffing Mix. It won our tasting by a landslide for its deliciously savory flavor. It can be jazzed up with fresh garlic, onions, herbs, mushrooms, sausage—whatever you’d like!
Packaged Stuffing (Stovetop Stuffing Mixes)In just 10 minutes, you can have a side dish for a holiday roast or weeknight dinner. But will it be any good?
The Best Cranberry Sauce
Homemade cranberry sauce is delicious, but that ruby red cylinder that wiggles and jiggles its way out of the can and onto the plate will always hold a place in my heart and on my Thanksgiving table. The winner of our cranberry sauce taste test was Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce for being tangy and tart, the perfect foil for rich holiday food.
The Best Cranberry SauceThis traditional Thanksgiving condiment is often an afterthought. What factors can turn it into a Turkey Day star?
The Best Premade Pie Dough
Pie dough is notoriously tricky, though we do have some wonderful recipes (like our Foolproof All-Butter Pie Dough) that yield fabulous results, even for newbies. That said, premade pie dough can take some of the stress out of your holiday planning. A good version unrolls and shapes effortlessly. Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts won our pie dough tasting for doing just that and for a crispy, layered crust.
Real talk: What you lose out on here is flavor. There’s no butter in the Pillsbury crusts, so while they taste pleasant and don’t have any off-flavors (unlike other brands), they also don’t have the rich, buttery flavor of homemade pie dough.
The Best Ready-Made Pie CrustsWe have high standards for pastry pie crust. Is there a supermarket option that lives up to them?
The Best Ready-Made Graham Cracker Pie Crust
I love a graham cracker crust. And while they’re not particularly hard to make, they do require lugging out a food processor. If you want to streamline, pick up our winner (Keebler Ready Crust Graham Pie Crust) from the store. This crispy, tender crust won our tasting for being lightly sweet and wheaty with a compelling touch of saltiness.
The Best Ready-Made Graham Cracker CrustsWhen a homemade crumb crust isn’t an option, is a store-bought crust an acceptable stand-in?
The Best Frozen Dinner Rolls
If you want to make your own dinner rolls, be my guest. But if rolls aren’t the star of the show on your dinner table anyway, save yourself the trouble and buy our winning frozen dinner rolls (Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked Artisan French Dinner Rolls). These rolls surprised tasters in our review. They were crispy on the outside, tender and fluffy inside, a respectable stand-in for fresh bread. Add some salted butter and you’re good to go.
Frozen Dinner RollsWhen there isn't time to make fresh dinner rolls, the frozen variety can be a tempting alternative.
The Best Ready-to-Bake Biscuits
The Immaculate Baking Organic Flaky Biscuits (from a can!) beat the competition in our review of ready-to-bake biscuits, earning the coveted “highly recommended” status—impressive for a convenience product. They were deliciously buttery and had distinct layers we could pull apart one by one, just like a homemade laminated biscuit (without the work!).