Planning an entire Thanksgiving menu and executing it to perfection can be a tall order, but relax! There’s nothing wrong with taking a shortcut here and there. Plenty of kitchen whizzes only look like culinary superheroes, and tons swear by timesavers they’ve learned through years of knocking out Thanksgiving feasts.
Those tricks include putting a fresh spin on canned or boxed ingredients (it’s really possible), choosing recipes that don’t require an oven, and judiciously outsourcing entire dishes. Making these shortcuts work comes down to a little creativity. Case in point: A dollop of homemade whipped cream mixed with caramel sauce truly goes a long way on a store-bought pie.
Read on for some of our favorite shortcuts from real people — not chefs — that will save you from stressing but won’t give your loved ones the impression that you’re cutting corners.
1. Jazz up canned cranberry sauce
If you don’t have time to make the fresh variety, breathe a little life into canned cranberry sauce with orange juice and spices, or fold it into a simple batter to make a tasty cranberry loaf. If all else fails, shape the jiggly stuff into cute forms with cookie cutters. Here’s a video breaking down these tricks.
2. Baked Brie is the easiest appetizer of all time
Pick up a wheel of Brie from the grocery store, top it with almonds and honey, and pop it in the oven for a few minutes. The result? A bubbly, sweet, and savory treat that’s so easy to make, it’s criminal. Here’s a recipe. Or for a slightly fancier version, check out this recipe for baked cheese with fresh figs or pears.
3. A simple dessert for vegan guests
“Canned coconut cream + maple syrup + vanilla bean = vegan vanilla mousse for any diet-restricted guests,” suggests Yahoo Health intern Emily Sundberg, who also blogs at She Loves Everything. “Just whip them up in a blender or counter mixer.”
4. Upgrade a store-bought pie
Easy toppings — like freshly whipped cream or cute pastry cutouts — are a great way to impress guests at dessert time without actually having to bake a pie. Here’s how to make them. And if that’s not your style, “Throw a store-bought pie in the blender with almond milk for a new twist on dessert,” Sundberg says. See how she did it here.
5. All hail store-bought graham cracker crust
“I will go to the grave maintaining that homemade pâte brisée is better than store-bought,” says Yahoo Food reader Alana Horowitz Satlin. “But premade graham cracker crust for pumpkin pie is awesome and tastes the same as making your own.”
6. Don’t knock canned crescent rolls
You can do so many things with them! For instance, personal chicken pot pies, an ooey-gooey Hershey’s Kiss roll, or any of these delicious things. Of course, even on their own, baked crescent rolls are a crowd pleaser.
7. Skip the drippings when making gravy
“What’s more stressful than cooking the turkey itself is actually the gravy,” says Yahoo Food assistant editor Donna Yen. “You wait for hours for that bird to roast, and then when it’s go time, you have to struggle with hot turkey drippings and fuss with flour. All the while, hungry guests are watching your every move.” Instead, Yen suggests making your gravy before the bird even hits the oven. Here’s a drippings-free gravy recipe.
8. Doctor boxed stuffing with fresh ingredients
“Add sautéed mushrooms and sautéed crumbled sweet Italian turkey sausage to Stove Top Stuffing,” suggests reader Judy Fox Tepper (who happens to be this editor’s mother!). “Stuff it in the bird so it soaks up its juices. Delicious and easy!”
9. The Crock-Pot is your friend
“My brother makes the mashed potatoes a day ahead. Then, a few hours before Thanksgiving dinner, he dumps them into a Crock-Pot with two sticks of butter to reheat,” says Yahoo reader Carol Blymire. “The are amazing potatoes!” Of course, you can always make the mashed taters in the Crock-Pot from start to finish, or explore other slow-cooker Thanksgiving options.
10. Go the no-bake route
Oven space is precious on Thanksgiving Day, so choosing dishes that don’t require cooking will keep you sane and help get dinner on the table in a timely fashion. Looking for recipes? Try no-bake pumpkin cheesecake bars, a no-bake layered chocolate cake, no-bake Oreo tart, or no-bake pumpkin chiffon pie. Find more no-bake dessert ideas.
11. Give yourself a head start
A little planning goes a long way. Ina Garten has tons of advice on the subject, from make-ahead gratins to pie crusts whipped up way in advance. Yahoo Food reader Rani Schloss also has a suggestion: “Roast a whole mess of root vegetables up to a week in advance, but not quite until they’re done. Then just stick ’em in the oven for about 20 minutes before they’re ready to serve. They’ll be perfect!”
12. On the subject of planning, set the Thanksgiving table the night before
Don’t save this task for the last minute. Setting the table the day before not only gives you more time to perfect your Thanksgiving feast — it also means you won’t be scrambling to arrange place settings last-minute before guests arrive.