Prepare for a Perfect Thanksgiving: Recipes and Hosting Tips for 2023

November 9, 2023

Prepare for a Perfect Thanksgiving: Recipes and Hosting Tips for 2023

As the leaves change color and the air turns crisp, it’s time to begin preparing for Thanksgiving. Whether you’re a seasoned host or planning your first-ever grateful gathering, we’ve got your comprehensive guide to making your celebration memorable. In this blog, we’ll explore mouthwatering Thanksgiving recipes and share essential hosting tips to ensure you and your guests enjoy a stress-free and joyous holiday. Let’s dive in.

Thanksgiving Recipes:

thanksgiving table setting with sides

Classic Roast Turkey:

The classic roast turkey deserves special attention as the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving feast. This recipe teaches you the art of brining, seasoning, and roasting to perfection.


1 whole turkey (12-15 pounds)
4-6 cups of water for brining
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 onion, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
4-6 cloves of garlic, smashed
Fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, and sage)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
Salt and black pepper, to taste


Brining (24-48 hours before roasting): In a large pot, combine water, kosher salt, and granulated sugar. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Rinse the turkey inside and out, removing the giblets and neck. Submerge the turkey in the brine, adding more water if necessary to completely cover the turkey. Cover the pot and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

Preparing the Turkey: Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Preheat your oven to 325°F (165°C). Place the turkey in a roasting pan.

Seasoning: Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper. Stuff the turkey with a quartered onion, lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs, which adds flavor and aroma to the bird. Gently loosen the skin of the turkey and rub softened butter under the skin and all over the exterior. This step will result in crispy, golden skin, and a moist interior. Season the exterior of the turkey generously with salt and pepper.

Roasting: Cover the turkey loosely with aluminum foil and place it in the preheated oven. Roast the turkey, allowing about 15 minutes of cooking time per pound. For a 12- to 15-pound turkey, this will be approximately 3.5 to 4.5 hours. After the first hour, baste the turkey every 30 minutes with the pan drippings to add flavor and keep the turkey moist. About 30 minutes before the turkey is done cooking, remove the foil to allow the skin to brown and become crisp. Use a meat thermometer to check the turkey’s temperature. The turkey is considered done when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F (74°C) and the juices run clear. If needed, continue roasting and checking the temperature every 10-15 minutes.

Resting and Carving: Once the optimal temperature is reached and the turkey is done cooking, remove the turkey from the oven and cover it with foil. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute into a moist and flavorful turkey. Carve the turkey and serve it with your favorite Thanksgiving sides and gravies.

Savory Stuffing and Dressing

thanksgiving table setting

Stuffing or dressing? However you prefer it, we’ll guide you through traditional and unique stuffing recipes and provide tips on cooking it inside or separately from the turkey.

Traditional Herb and Sausage Stuffing


1 loaf of day-old bread (white or sourdough), cut into cubes
1 pound of ground pork sausage
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 to 3 cups chicken or turkey broth
Salt and pepper to taste


Leave the bread cubes out to dry overnight or bake them in the oven at 250°F (120°C) for about 30 minutes until they are dry, but not browned. In a large skillet, cook the ground sausage over medium-high heat until it’s browned and crumbly. Remove the sausage and set it aside. In the same skillet, melt the butter. Add diced onions, celery, carrots, and minced garlic. Sauté until the vegetables are tender. Stir in dried sage, thyme, and rosemary. Cook for an additional 2 minutes to release the flavors. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dried bread cubes, cooked sausage, and sautéed vegetable and herb mixture in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add chicken or turkey broth until the stuffing reaches your desired moisture level. Be careful not to make it too wet; you can always add more broth later if needed. Season the stuffing mixture with salt and pepper to taste. You can choose to stuff the turkey with this mixture or bake it separately in a buttered casserole dish. If baking separately, transfer the stuffing mixture to a buttered casserole dish, cover with foil, and bake at 350°F (175°C) for about 30-40 minutes. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes for a crispy top.

Unique Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing


1 cup wild rice
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste


In a saucepan, combine wild rice and either chicken or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes or until rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onions, celery, and minced garlic. Sauté until vegetables are tender. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked wild rice, sautéed vegetables, dried cranberries, chopped pecans, dried thyme, and ground nutmeg. Mix well. Season the stuffing mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole dish and bake at 350°F (175°C) for about 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through and slightly crispy on top.

These stuffing recipes, one traditional and one unique, will add a delicious twist to your Thanksgiving meal. Whether you cook them inside the turkey or separately, they’ll be a delightful addition to your holiday feast.

Gravy and Sauces:

family at thanksgiving table setting

No Thanksgiving is complete without delicious gravy and sauces. Learn how to make homemade gravy and explore cranberry sauce variations.

Homemade Gravy Recipe


1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups turkey or chicken broth
Pan drippings from the roasted turkey (about 1 cup)
Salt and black pepper to taste


After roasting your turkey, transfer it to a serving platter to rest. Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat. Deglaze the pan by adding a bit of broth and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour the pan drippings into a separate container and set aside. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once it’s fully melted, add the all-purpose flour. Whisk constantly to cook the roux until it turns a light, golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly pour in the turkey or chicken broth while whisking continuously to avoid lumps. Gradually whisk in the reserved pan drippings, incorporating them into the gravy mixture. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer while continuing to whisk. Allow it to simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until the gravy thickens to your desired consistency. Season the gravy with salt and black pepper to taste. Adjust the seasoning as needed. If you prefer a smoother gravy, you can strain it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps or bits. Pour the homemade gravy into a gravy boat or serving dish and serve alongside your roasted turkey and other Thanksgiving dishes.

Cranberry Sauce Recipe


12 ounces (about 3 cups) fresh cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
Zest of 1 orange (optional)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)


Rinse the fresh cranberries thoroughly and remove any stems or blemished berries. In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries, granulated sugar, water, orange zest (if using), and a cinnamon stick (if desired). Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens. Stir occasionally. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the cranberry sauce cool to room temperature. Discard the cinnamon stick (if used). Once cooled, transfer the cranberry sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. It will continue to thicken as it cools. Serve the cranberry sauce as a delightful side dish alongside your Thanksgiving turkey and other holiday dishes.

These homemade gravy and cranberry sauce recipes will add a burst of flavor and freshness to your Thanksgiving meal.

Delicious Desserts:

Save room for dessert! Dive into pumpkin pie recipes, apple and pecan pie options, and creative dessert twists like pumpkin cheesecake or pecan bars. Your sweet tooth won’t be disappointed.

Hosting Tips:

serving the thanksgiving turkey

Planning Ahead:

To ensure a smooth Thanksgiving celebration, begin your preparations early by crafting a detailed Thanksgiving timeline. This timeline will help you manage tasks efficiently, from defrosting the turkey to setting the table, and it will help eliminate last-minute stress. Creating an organized menu and grocery list also ensures you have all the necessary ingredients on hand. This proactive approach saves time and allows you to savor the holiday season with ease, making your Thanksgiving feast a delicious success.

Setting the Thanksgiving Table:

Elevate your Thanksgiving gathering by thoughtfully decorating the table. Consider seasonal centerpieces and candles for a festive atmosphere. Pay attention to the proper placement of utensils and dishes, ensuring an elegant and organized table setting that will impress your guests. These details go a long way in creating a memorable and inviting Thanksgiving experience for all.

Beverage Selection:

Selecting the right beverages can enhance your Thanksgiving meal and the overall dining experience for your guests. Here are some thoughtful choices to consider:

Wine Pairings:

White Wine: A crisp and refreshing white wine, like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, pairs wonderfully with appetizers, salads, and lighter poultry dishes.
Red Wine: For the main course featuring turkey, consider a lighter red wine, such as Pinot Noir or a medium-bodied Merlot. These choices complement the turkey’s flavors without overpowering them.
Rosé: A versatile rosé wine works well with a wide range of Thanksgiving dishes, from turkey to ham, and its crispness can complement both white and dark meat.

Cocktail Pairings:

Cranberry Mule: This festive cocktail combines vodka, ginger beer, and cranberry juice. It’s a zesty and fruity option that goes well with Thanksgiving flavors.
Autumn Old Fashioned: Made with bourbon, maple syrup, and bitters, this cocktail brings warmth and depth to your Thanksgiving table.

Non-Alcoholic Options:

Sparkling Cider: A non-alcoholic sparkling cider or grape juice can be a wonderful alternative to champagne for toasts.
Homemade Mocktails: Create seasonal mocktails, like a virgin apple cider sangria with apple slices, cinnamon sticks, and sparkling water.

Leftover Management

thanksgiving leftovers and pumpkins

The joy of Thanksgiving doesn’t have to end with the meal itself; it can extend into the delightful possibilities of Thanksgiving leftovers. With a bit of creativity and proper handling, you can savor the flavors of the holiday for days to come. Here’s how:

Creative Leftover Recipes:

Turkey Sandwiches: Transform leftover turkey into delicious sandwiches. Layer slices of turkey with cranberry sauce, stuffing, and a touch of mayo or gravy for a flavorful post-Thanksgiving treat.
Turkey Soup: Simmer turkey bones and leftover meat with vegetables, herbs, and broth to create a hearty turkey soup. It’s perfect for warming up on chilly days.
Cranberry Sauce Parfaits: Layer leftover cranberry sauce with yogurt and granola for a quick and nutritious breakfast or dessert.
Sweet Potato Pancakes: Mash leftover sweet potatoes and mix them into pancake batter for a unique twist on breakfast.
Potato Croquettes: Shape leftover mashed potatoes into patties, coat them in breadcrumbs, and pan-fry them for crispy potato croquettes.

Giving Back:

Woman's hand package food in to the box. Helping and charity concept. Oil, canned food, peanut butter, pasta, milk, sugar, rice.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate gratitude and extend a helping hand to those in need, and at River Islands, this spirit of giving is a year-round commitment, thanks to the remarkable “365 Days of Giving” program. Through ongoing contributions to the Second Harvest Food Bank, River Islands plays a part in providing essential support to over 35,000 individuals in San Joaquin County every month. This continuous dedication to making a positive impact serves as an inspiring example of community engagement.

Here Are Ways You Can Join In:

Support 365 Days of Giving: Follow River Islands’ lead by exploring ways to give back throughout the year. Consider making regular donations to your local food bank or charitable organizations. Your contributions can help provide consistent aid to those in need.
Volunteer Your Time: Giving back doesn’t always require financial contributions; your time and effort are valuable, too. Volunteer at local shelters, food distribution centers, or community organizations. By actively participating, you directly impact your community.
Embrace Charitable Giving: Research and support local charities and nonprofits that work tirelessly year-round to address various needs within your community. Your donations can significantly impact their efforts to bring about positive change.

With these Thanksgiving recipes and hosting tips for 2023, you are well-equipped to host an unforgettable Thanksgiving gathering. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a first-time host, the key is to plan ahead, embrace the spirit of giving, and savor every moment with loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!

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