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enjoy Thanksgiving recipes with family

Thanksgiving Day Feast “From Scratch” vs. “Cheat”

Since we’re gearing up for our annual family Thanksgiving dinner, I thought it would be fun to give our readers some options for Thanksgiving Day recipes. Made from scratch is always delicious, but sometimes you just don’t have the time to put into a huge fully homemade Thanksgiving meal. I love a good fast cheat option for those times when you need to whip something up with little fuss. So today, I have all the traditional Thanksgiving recipes in a “from scratch” AND a “cheat” version.

Happy cooking everyone!

So What’s on the Menu for Thanksgiving?


No cheats here. A turkey is a turkey, and it has to be cooked!

We usually make 2 turkeys on Thanksgiving – one fried and one traditional. Katie’s husband, Matt, and my husband, Rob, have mastered the fried turkey. I have been making my mom’s traditional turkey for years, and it’s so simple and so delicious.

Everyone always thinks making a whole turkey is difficult, but really it’s not. The hardest part is carving it, and thankfully, my hubby has mastered that skill!

The Steps

  1. Mix 1-to-2 cups of canola oil with paprika, salt, pepper, onion powder, and poultry seasoning.
  2. Cover the outside of the turkey with the seasoned oil.
  3. Chop up onions, carrots, and celery.
  4. Salt the cavity, and fill with vegetables.
  5. Cover the cavity with bread, and tuck the wings.
  6. Place more chopped vegetables on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add chicken broth to bottom of pan.
  8. Place in 350-degree (Fahrenheit) oven, uncovered.
  9. Baste every 30-to-45 minutes (my favorite part!).
  10. If the turkey is getting too dark, place foil on top.

Top Tips for Cooking Turkey

  1. Generally, when shopping for the perfect turkey, think 1 pound per person.
  2. The rule of thumb for cooking a turkey is 13 minutes per pound at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Factors like brining the bird, cooking with an empty (un-stuffed) cavity, and leaving the legs un-trussed will change cooking times, so keep that in mind.
  3. Make sure to check the temperature of the turkey throughout the cooking process. And always check the temperature in three places: the breast, outer thigh, and inner thigh. In every case, the meat should be at least 165°F when the turkey has finished cooking. If you’ve cooked the turkey for 13 minutes per pound and the temperature is below 165°F, put the turkey back in the oven for another 20 minutes.
  4. After the turkey is fully cooked, let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before carving.

The Battle is On – “From Scratch” vs. “Cheat” Thanksgiving Recipes

Most people would say that Thanksgiving recipes made from scratch taste better than anything made using shortcuts. But some of these “cheat” recipes will help save you time – time you can spend with your family! And these recipes actually taste amazing, as well!

“From Scratch” Mashed Potatoes

My mashed potatoes have become famous in our family. They are always the perfect texture and flavor.  I have gone to the ends of the earth and back to make sure this recipe is perfect.

Here are a few extra tips to ensure success:

  • Use Yukon gold mashed potatoes ALWAYS.
  • Use a potato ricer to mix the potatoes.
  • Stir with warm milk.

“Cheat” Mashed Potatoes

I am not going to lie, this year I will be sticking to the “from scratch” ones! However, my mom is the queen of “cheat” mashed potatoes, and they are really yummy.

This recipe is GREAT, and you can add any extra ingredients you love to it.

“From Scratch” Stuffing

This recipe is the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, so you can’t go wrong. If your guests are vegetarians, you can swap out the sausage for tofu.

I have made this stuffing, and it is amazing, but I actually like the “cheat” stuffing better! Shhhhhhh, don’t tell!

“Cheat” Stuffing

Behold my mom’s FAMOUS stuffing! And, YES, she uses the pre-made Pepperidge Farm Traditional Herbed CUBED Stuffing as the base. She has been making this Thanksgiving recipe since we were kids, and I have NEVER tasted a better stuffing recipe.

I always thought we were cheating by not using homemade bread, but recently I watched a Barefoot Contessa Thanksgiving episode where she advised using store bought stuffing, and I feel so much better about myself!

“From Scratch” Green Bean Casserole

First off, this recipe has bacon in it.


Secondly, it’s a bit a bit of an over-the-top kind of recipe. But if you are going to cook from scratch, you should make it a wowzer, right?

Thirdly, it’s the Pioneer Woman! I don’t think I need to say much more.

“Cheat” Green Bean Casserole

I usually make this recipe for Thanksgiving, and it’s really good. You can make it the night before and then pop it in the oven Thanksgiving Day. I love anything you can prep ahead of time!

It is so easy – just your traditional green bean “can’t go wrong” casserole. I also love how the recipe calls to boil the green beans in chicken broth. I think it adds an extra layer of flavor to help this cheat hold its own again a scratch recipe!

“From Scratch” Gravy Recipe

One year, we (my mom) screwed up the gravy, so I made a traditional homemade one using this recipe.

It was awesome, and I was the big Thanksgiving Day Hero. Or maybe the Barefoot Contessa was the hero!

“Cheat” Gravy

We use a shortcut for this one, as well. At our local butcher where we get our turkeys, they make homemade gravy. We buy their gravy then heat it up and add spices (onion powder, poultry seasoning, pepper, and salt, if needed) and turkey juices…YUM!!!!

Other Thanksgiving Recipes for the Big Day

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemony Herb Breadcrumbs

Brussels sprouts get a bad name. If you’re not a fan, let me tell you, the right recipe will change your mind! I make Brussels sprouts all the time, but this recipe takes it up a few notches for Thanksgiving.

Carrot Ginger Soup

This recipe is one of my favorites. Make it the night or 2 before, and simply heat it up on Thanksgiving Day. I like to serve this soup in a slow cooker with small coffee mugs. So warm and comforting and just downright yummy!!

Dinner Rolls

Yes, we use Pillsbury traditional crescent dinner rolls – a little shortcut, but come on, you just can’t beat that amazing flaky soft roll!!! Serve with honey, butter, or flavored butters.

Cranberry Sauce

For our family Thanksgiving dinner, Katie’s mother-in-law, Patti, always brings her traditional recipe. But this recipe is also amazing!


So Katie’s husband, Matt, and I always do the bulk of the cooking, but we ask everyone else to bring dessert to Thanksgiving dinner. Some people home bake their desserts and others buy store bought.  The desserts are always delicious, and let’s be honest, by the time we are done with a day of drinking, appetizers, and then dinner, desserts are just the icing on the cake!

My aunt Joy told me she turns dessert into a competition. All desserts are judged on different things (taste, presentation, originality, etc.). I thought that idea sounded like such a fun family tradition!

When it’s a competition, everyone brings their best and wants to impress!

Final Thoughts on Traditional vs. Cheat Thanksgiving Recipes

I hope everyone has an amazing fun holiday with family and friends, and I hope these recipes inspire some awesome cooking. Although the food, hosting, and parties are a huge part of the holidays, Thanksgiving is truly about spending quality time with your family and making the moments unforgettable.

Whether you decide to “cheat,” make “from scratch,” cater, or even go out for dinner, I hope it’s an amazing time with your family and friends. I am grateful every day for my family and friends. Hug your loved ones, and remember how lucky you are to have them.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Have an amazing holiday!

thanksgiving table decor

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