Thanksgiving feasts are all about tradition. We prepare the same recipes year after year. Even though we don’t serve these dishes year-round, you might want to change things up after doing it the same way for decades.
Some of these recipes involve a simple tweak to a familiar dish, while others are completely outrageous. But any of them could make your Thanksgiving dinner into a family story to be told for years to come.
1. Bacon-wrapped turkey
We’ve developed several ways to keep a turkey from drying out as it roasts for several hours: basting, injecting, brining, and rubbing it with butter or lard. Encasing a turkey in bacon strips makes it both self-basting and self-seasoning.
Enriqueta Lemoine gives us the instructions, although you might have to adjust the ingredients for a larger turkey. Weaving the bacon strips is a nice effect, but not altogether necessary.
2. Mac and cheese turkey
How do you make something new that is also a comfort food? You incorporate an everyday childhood favorite into your Thanksgiving main dish!
A new recipe from Reynolds involves coating your turkey with the powder that comes with boxed macaroni and cheese. It’s served on a bed of more mac and cheese. Adults will find it nostalgic, while children will be more inclined to finally try the turkey.
3. Pumpkin spice turkey
Reynolds also offers a more modern recipe to give your turkey a hint of pumpkin spice (with no pumpkin). Pumpkin spice turkey is a traditional roast turkey made with a rub that includes cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and brown sugar.
4. Bourbon turkey
If someone says they’re serving bourbon turkey for Thanksgiving, you should ask if they mean the Bourbon Red turkey breed. If not, you can assume they are cooking the bird with whiskey.
A recipe for bourbon-glazed turkey has the turkey brined with apple cider, brown sugar, salt, and spices, then glazed for baking with brown sugar, butter, and bourbon.
5. Beer turkey
There are several ways to cook a turkey with beer. You can grill it atop a can of beer, which requires particularly good balancing skills or a special device to hold the turkey in place.
You can brine a turkey in beer. You can inject beer into the turkey. Or you can baste the turkey with beer.
A most extreme way to serve a roast turkey is the Cthurkey, created by Rusty Eulberg and Jennifer Robledo a few years ago. The turkey, crab legs, octopus, and bacon are all cooked separately and presented together.
They called it Cthurkey after the H.P. Lovecraft character Cthulu. While it may appear horrifying (and that was the whole idea), seafood lovers pronounced it delicious. Since the pictures were published, other people have made the Cthurkey and added their own twists, such as eyes.
7. White Castle turkey stuffing
Turkey stuffing, or dressing served on the side, is basically bread with flavoring that is used to soak up turkey drippings or gravy. Recipes vary widely, but one that really stretches the idea of tradition is White Castle turkey stuffing.
It’s very simple — you just tear up a dozen White Castle sliders and add some spices and chicken broth. The recipe tells us to remove the pickles, but some slider fans might enjoy the extra tang. Yes, you can substitute other brands of hamburgers. You do you.
8. Salad not salad
While Americans are slowly becoming more concerned with natural foods and nutrition, the Thanksgiving feast is often a throwback to the tradition of both hospitality and comfort food, in that we serve dishes that just plain taste good to us.
The same mid-20th-century mindset that gave us sweet potatoes topped with miniature marshmallows also gave us dinner salads that had nothing to do with fresh vegetables and barely anything to do with fruit. One example is Watergate salad, which was originally called pineapple pistachio delight. The ingredients are pistachio pudding, Cool Whip, pecans, pineapple, and marshmallows.
Another is from the TOPS program called fat lady salad. It relies on Jell-O for any color you wish to display. If you really want to boost the sugar content, pink lady salad has cherry pie filling, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut cream in addition to pineapple and pecans.
9. Sweet potato spoon bread
Once we’ve established that there is room at the Thanksgiving table for dessert sweets eaten during the main meal, it’s a small step to sweet potato spoon bread.
It might not sound all that sweet until you check the ingredients: sugar, brown sugar, and cookies. Cinnamon and ginger also bring out the sweet in the sweet potatoes. The bonus in this recipe is that you can tell yourself you’re eating your vegetables! The example above has walnuts for an additional garnish.
10. Fried mashed potato balls
How do you dress up basic mashed potatoes? Add bacon, cheese, and garlic! The recipe for fried mashed potato balls implies that it’s a way to use leftovers, but this could work well on the feast day, too.
11. Cranberry cupcakes
You might love cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, or you might serve it only because it’s traditional. If you end up throwing out most of it afterward, consider serving cranberries as a dessert.
Cranberry cupcakes can serve as breakfast on Thanksgiving Day (forego the icing and call them muffins), an appetizer for your guests, or dessert after a filling meal. Or even as a way to use leftover cranberries, if you insist on having cranberry sauce at the main dinner. Check out a variety of cranberry cupcake recipes submitted to Slush.
12. Pumpkin icebox cake
Pumpkin icebox cake is a dessert that has all the tastes of the season, yet is sinfully simple. It has fewer ingredients than traditional pumpkin pie, it isn’t baked, and is made and chilled ahead of time.
Preparing it is just a matter of flavoring some whipped cream with pumpkin and spices, then layering the cream with gingersnap cookies. A few hours in the refrigerator gives it the sliceable consistency of a cake.
13. Cinderella pumpkin pie
On the other end of the spectrum, this pumpkin pie is a work of art that requires the skills of a master baker. That would be Christine McConnell, who made her Cinderella pumpkin pie in 2015.