How to Cook the Most Awesomely #Basic Thanksgiving Spread Using Less Than 15 Ingredients

11/20/2015 at 11:12 AM ET

Basic Thanksgiving Recipes
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We live in an era where we are all in constant fear of being perceived as “basic.”

Pumpkin spice latte? No, thanks, I much prefer this artisan coffee blend ground in individual batches with a mortar and pestle by endangered African lions (in a fair-trade working environment, of course). 

Lies! You love pumpkin spice lattes, just like you love saying “adorbs” and posting inspirational quotes falsely attributed to Marilyn Monroe on Instagram.

Where we’re going with this is…’tis the season to embrace being basic, because Thanksgiving is the most basic holiday of the year (unless you consider National Vodka Day a holiday).

RELATED: The Absolute Best Thanksgiving Side Dishes

The problem is, people have been overcomplicating it for decades. The turkey! The gravy! The sides! Stress stress stress!

Well, chill. You know what you need to make a great turkey? A turkey. Mashed potatoes? Potatoes (and lots of butter and milk). Gravy? THREE INGREDIENTS. You got this.


Below, we give you all of the general guidelines and ingredients for each of the most important Thanksgiving food groups, and exactly how to cook them to perfection. The measurements here will serve about 10-12 people, so adjust them as necessary. (Note: We did not include dessert. If you are cooking the whole meal, make your weird cousin Darren bring the pie).

RELATED: Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and More Chefs Answer All Your Thanksgiving Cooking Questions

Basic Thanksgiving Recipes

Basic Turkey
This is arguably the most difficult element to pull off for an inexperienced cook. The most important thing? Season it well, and don’t overcook it. If you have a juicy bird that’s salty enough, everyone will think you’re a genius. Ideally, you should salt it at least a day before — this will penetrate into the turkey and help keep it moist. 

What you need:
1 (12-15 lb.) fresh or thawed frozen turkey (about 1 lb. per person), neck and giblets removed
1 stick butter, softened (optional but why would you not?)
Citrus and herbs (optional)

How to do it:
Season your turkey all over (including in the cavity) with salt and black pepper. Put it in the fridge, uncovered, for at least one day. Rub the skin with butter and stuff the cavity with halved citrus and sprigs fresh herbs, if you feel like it (lemon, orange, rosemary, parsley, and thyme would all be fun). Put your turkey on a rack in a roasting pan (you can use one of those disposable foil ones) and toss it in the oven at 375°F. It should cook for about 15 minutes per pound. To make sure, though, you need a meat thermometer — it should read at least 165°F in the thigh.

That’s it. Let it rest for at least 3 glasses of champagne (about 30 minutes) before you carve it up.

RELATED: The 10 Most Outrageous Turkey Questions the Butterball Hotline Has Ever Been Asked

Basic Thanksgiving Recipes

Basic Mashed Potatoes
If we agree that the turkey is the star of the show, then the mashed potatoes are the most important supporting character. They are the Kelly Rowland to the turkey’s Beyoncé. Please do not take their role for granted — they must be smooth, creamy, salty perfection.

What you need:
5 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped (about half a pound per person is the rule)
2 cups whole milk (or cream if you’re wild)
1 stick butter

How to do it: 
In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold (WELL SALTED!) water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium. While they’re cooking, heat the butter and cream together in a different saucepan until butter is melted. When the taters are done — they should be very easily pierced with a fork — drain them, return them to a pot and mash them. With anger. Like they just made fun of you for still being obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy. Then, slowly pour in the milk and butter mixture and stir (again, with feeling). Taste and season with salt and pepper until they are perfect.

Basic Thanksgiving Recipes

Basic Gravy
The gravy is the Thanksgiving meal unifier. It may not be a shining star on its own, but it transforms everything it goes on into a shining star. If the turkey is Beyoncé and the mashed potatoes are Kelly, it is the Bootylicious-era matching bedazzled jeans of this Thanksgiving dinner.

What you need:
½ stick butter
4 tbsp. flour
4 cups chicken broth

How to do it:
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and and add flour. Whisk together and let cook for a couple minutes until they look and smell a bit toasty. Whisk in the broth slowly and bring it to a boil until thickened and remove from heat. That’s gravy. For extra flavor, stir in the juices from your turkey after it roasts. Maybe a splash of soy sauce, too.

RELATED: 21 Genius Hacks to Make Your Thanksgiving Even Better

Basic Thanksgiving Recipes

Basic Stuffing
Please do not try to put your stuffing inside the bird. It should be cooked separately (in which case it’s technically called dressing, but whatevs). There are many reasons for this, the most important being that crispy edges are crucial, y’all. We are out of Destiny’s Child analogies, but stuffing is important.

What you need:
½ stick butter
1 onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
¼ cup chopped herbs (any combination of parsley, sage, rosemary, and/or thyme)
About 1 lb. good quality white bread loaf, cut into cubes
2 eggs
2 cups chicken broth

How to do it:
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the veggies and herbs until softened a bit. Add in the bread cubes, season with salt and cook until they’re slightly toasted. Remove from heat and let cool. Whisk together the eggs and broth in a bowl. Toss everything together in a baking dish and bake at 350°F until it’s all crispy and stuff, about 40 minutes.

Basic Thanksgiving Recipes

Basic Cranberry Sauce
An afterthought for some, but a staple for many. Honestly, you could get super basic here and just buy a few of those cans and call it a day. People love that stuff. But, if you want to get fancy, it’s basically just as easy.

What you need:
1 bag frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange (optional)

How to do it:
Toss the ingredients into a saucepan with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook until the cranberries start to burst — like 10 minutes.

And there you have it. Let’s just recap here…if you add it all up, this is an entire delicious Thanksgiving meal in under 15 ingredients.

Basic? Absolutely. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

RELATED: 13 Terribly-Terrific Thanksgiving Pinterest Fails We Are Eternally Grateful For

Shay Spence, @chezspence 

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Showing 9 comments

Anonymous on

Looks great!
Basic isn’t such a bad thing after all!

Guest on

Hehehe, Forget the Thanksgiving feast I want that African coffee paw-ground by mortar and pestle by endangered African lions. Lol.

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