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Our classic — and essential — recipes for the best Thanksgiving

Overhead view of a Thanksgiving spread
The simplest, easiest route to a successful Thanksgiving dinner is with our classic recipes that stand the test of time.
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)
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It’s that time of year again: the two weeks before Thanksgiving when everyone is gleefully picking and choosing recipes, buying turkeys and cranberries and getting geared up for the big day. This is my favorite time of year, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There’s something reassuring about knowing exactly what you’ll have for the big meal and how it will taste because most of us look forward to and eat the same celebratory dishes each year. Sure, it’s fun to experiment occasionally — mostly with a dish that the newest member of your family or friend group brings — but by and large, we stick to the classics.

My job as the cooking columnist at the L.A. Times is to always come up with new ideas for the holiday, in hopes of inspiring you to try something different. But after a few years of readers and friends asking for help with the basics, I felt it was time to revisit the essential recipes that make up the holiday. Arming you with these “archetype recipes” gives you a foundation off of which to flourish, adding your own favorite seasonings and spins until your family is happy. Here’s what I’ve got for you:

A beautiful roast turkey that bastes itself while it cooks and is as easy as roasting a chicken is the star of the show. You prep it the day before so all you need to do the morning of the holiday is take it out of the fridge for an hour or so to temper, then pop it in the oven for a couple hours, completely unattended. While the turkey rests, make my simple gravy that cooks up in minutes and can even be made ahead.

For the stuffing heads, I’ve got two versions — one made with sourdough bread and herbs and one made sweet and spicy with cornbread and sausage. The sourdough one is intentionally vegetarian/vegan, but if you want to add bacon or use chicken stock, go ahead. And the cornbread dressing is moist, lightly sweet, savory with sausage and spicy with chile flakes. And because most people will buy the Jiffy mix to make their cornbread, I’ve got the formula already worked out for you to make the exact amount you need for the dressing.

In sides-land, I’ve got two gentle updates on retro classics. My green bean gratin coats fresh blanched green beans and caramelized mushrooms in a parmesan white sauce and bakes it under fried onions and more parmesan until golden and bubbly. And my sweet potato and apple casserole utilizes tart apples and honey to sweeten the orange spuds in purer manner. But don’t worry, there’s still a marshmallow-like blanket of meringue on top that’s simple to prepare (although actual marshmallows are also welcome if you so desire them). Both casseroles are appropriately updated for today but have timeless appeal.

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And to round out the auxiliary players, I’ve got a recipe for dinner rolls that are better than anything you can buy from a store; simple buttermilk mashed potatoes to provide the ideal canvas for everything else on your plate; and a homemade cranberry sauce brightened with a whole orange, for anyone who’d like to move beyond the can.

And for dessert, I’m not messing around with anything but pies. (I mean, isn’t Thanksgiving simply a great excuse to eat multiple types of pie in one sitting?) I’ve got recipes for three iconic pies that everyone will love: a straightforward and silky smooth pumpkin pie; a not-too-sweet pecan pie made with browned butter, vanilla bean and lots of lemon juice; and a double-crust apple pie that emphasizes tons of fresh apples and flaky, buttery crust. Speaking of pie crust, to help alleviate any stress over making it, I’ll show all my tips and tricks to getting the flakiest, butteriest pie dough you’ve ever had. Head on over to our YouTube page to watch me make it and every recipe in the collection, so you’re armed with all the tools you need for success on the big day.

These are my Thanksgiving classics, recipes I encourage you to turn to each year as a launching point for your own ideas. Whether you make something brand new or stick to flavors that are family favorites, these recipes will guide you to the best holiday meal ever. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Perfect Roast Turkey

The perfect Thanksgiving turkey is one that is simple to prepare, prepped the day before you need it, and tastes great with no basting. This method stuffs seasoned butter under the skin so it bastes the turkey meat while it roasts (this also helps get salt into the meat to effectively “brine” it from the inside). At the same time, it crisps up the skin on top beautifully.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 6 hours, largely unattended, plus 1 day.

overhead shot of a roast turkey
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Sourdough and Herb Stuffing

Lots of hardy winter herbs and loads of celery and onions give this sourdough bread stuffing flavor to spare. Any type of lean bread works here: sourdough, country white, sesame, even focaccia. This recipe is intentionally vegetarian, but feel free to use chicken stock in place of the vegetable stock and butter instead of the olive oil.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 2 hours.

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Overhead shot of stuffing
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

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Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

Sweet potato casserole is one of those dishes that you either love or hate, but no matter what camp you fall in, this version offers you a route to suit your tastes. So as to not mistake this classic casserole for a dessert, instead of sugar use apples, honey and orange juice, which also offer a floral tang to offset the natural sweetness of the spuds.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

overhead shot of a pie in a cast iron
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Double-Crust Apple Pie

While many recipes for apple pie call for precooking apples, this is a simple, straightforward approach that eschews that and still delivers great results. A mix of tart and sweet apples combines with sugar, flour and just enough cinnamon to perfume the fruit in a buttery, crispy crust that beautifully contrasts with the fruity filling.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 2 hours 30 minutes, plus cooling.

shot of a slice of pie on a plate with a fork on it
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)
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“Not Too Sweet” Pecan Pie

Browned butter, vanilla bean and a shot of lemon juice — along with less sugar and corn syrup than in a traditional recipe — work to balance the sweetness of traditional pecan pie and make the toasted, crunchy pecans the unequivocal star of the dessert. A sprinkling of flaky sea salt also adds a savory crunch to the top of the pie, so don’t skip it.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 45 minutes, plus cooling.

overhead shot of a piece of pie on a plate with a fork on it
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

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