Our easy Thanksgiving menu for four is a base menu with alternative options to grow your menu for 5 people or even 6. We have outlined vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free options too, so everyone can enjoy this meal!
Plus, welcome cocktails, appetizers, and wine pairings. Our Thanksgiving countdown is a step-by-step planning guide to ensure a relaxing and enjoyable holiday for everyone.
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🦃 Thanksgiving Menu
The best Thanksgiving menus combine traditional items, regional specialties, and new modern takes on the classics.
No one menu is perfect for everyone so we have listed out alternatives so you can expand and custom a menu that is perfect for your small gathering. But without having to go through a round-up list of 50+ items.
Here is a guide to our diet abbreviations:
- GF/ GFO- Gluten Free/ Gluten-Free Option
- DF/ DFO- Dairy- Free or Dairy- Free Option
- V- Vegetarian
Suggested Basic Thanksgiving Menu
- Herb Roasted Turkey Breast (GF, DF)
- Cornbread Stuffing (GF, V)
- Small Batch Mashed Potatoes (GF, V, DFO) with Turkey Gravy (GF, DF)
- Modern Green Bean Casserole (GF, V)
- Roasted Cranberries (GF, DF,V)
- Maple Creme Brulee (GF, V)
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Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
A roasted turkey breast is much easier to manage than a whole turkey. This turkey recipe is made with a double bone-in turkey breast.
The average bone in full turkey breast is 6 to 7 pounds. When estimating the size needed, assume 1 pound per person for a bone-in turkey and ½ pound for boneless. Plus, additional if you like leftovers.
A bone-in turkey will have more flavor and richer pan drippings. As someone who prefers dark meat, I say get a bone-in breast!
Pro Tip: Brine your turkey overnight to keep the breast moist. Especially important if you live in a drier climate.
Time Saver: Prep the herb butter a few days in advance, store it in a sealed container in the fridge.
A Southern classic, cornbread stuffing has gained in popularity. Often made with sausage or chorizo, this recipe is vegetarian although feel free to add meat to it. Personally, I like thick-cut bacon over sausage.
Pro Tip: Not a fan of leftover dressing or stuffing? No worries. Make into cornbread fritters by scooping, smashing, and pan frying.
Time Saver: Making the cornbread several days in advance. Cube and dry in a paper bag with the top loosely folded over. You can also saute the veggies up to 3 days in advance. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Small Batch Mashed Potatoes
I am all about mashed potatoes. Plan on ⅓ to ½ pound of potatoes per person. It may seem like a lot, but potatoes cook down small.
Don't go by potato counts, as potatoes vary greatly in size. A kitchen scale comes in handy here.
We recommend Yukon Gold potatoes for Thanksgiving mashed potatoes.
Pro Tip: Start with cold salted water. And don't rush the potatoes to the mashing phase. Letting the water drain ensures a light and fluffy mash.
Time Saver: Mashed potatoes can be made ahead and reheated in the oven on low.
Our turkey gravy is made without the roux. One because it is less stressful, but mainly because there are fewer lumps and we are not as dependent on pan drippings.
Turkey gravy can be made with or with pan drippings. And you never know how much you are going to get from pan drippings, especially when making a breast and not a whole turkey.
Pro Tip: A splash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar brightens up any gravy.
Time Saver: A fat operator comes in really handy for separating the pan drippings.
Modern Green Bean Casserole
This "casserole" is really a deconstructed version of the classic Thanksgiving side dish using fresh green beans. Made without cream of mushroom soup, instead, we substituted a creamy parmesan (actually pecorino) sauce.
I have to say, it is out of this world. You can use store-bought or homemade french fried onions.
Pro Tip: Add a drizzle of truffle oil, if you are feeling fancy.
Time Saver: Make the cream sauce and the fried onions up to 2 days in advance. Or buy the fried onions if you like a classic casserole.
No weird jello, food color, or more sugar than cranberries. These roasted cranberries are tart, delicious, and the most popular Thanksgiving recipe we have ever published.
You can turn this recipe into a cranberry sauce by adding water and giving the cranberries a quick pulse with the immersion blender.
You won't go back to cranberry salad. We promise.
Pro Tip: Don't skip the bourbon. It really adds a unique flavor to this dish.
Time Saver: Make this recipe up to 3 days in advance and reheat in the oven on low.
Maple Creme Brulee
Thanksgiving dessert is polarizing. People love or hate pumpkin pie. Take a break from the pie argument and serve something different. A simple maple creme brulee with salted pecans is the perfect solution.
You can serve in individual ramekins or make one and serve in a small casserole dish.
Pro Tip: You can add additional flavors like bourbon or even pumpkin pie spice.
Time Saver: The sure-fire way to ruin creme brulee is getting water from the water bath into the creme brulee when getting from the oven. Place paper towels under the ramekins. It will prevent them from moving around and sloshing the water.
Optional Menu Items
Everyone has a different plan for how much work they want to put into a Thanksgiving gathering. Not to mention available time. We put together a few ways to expand and customize our menu so you can create your own perfect Thanksgiving menu for 4 (or 6!),
Every Thanksgiving table needs bread or rolls. Use store-bought or make homemade Crescent Rolls (GF, DFO, V).
I know sweet potatoes are a Thanksgiving classic, but I find sweet potato casserole too sweet as a side dish, I prefer it for dessert. Consider adding our Sweet Potato Crunch (GF, DF, V) or make your favorite Classic Pumpkin Pie (V).
🍸Appetizers and Cocktails
It can be exhausting keeping everyone entertained while finishing up dinner. I like to have a nibble or two available to keep everyone out of my hair and relaxed while we put the finishing touches on dinner.
When we have small gatherings, everyone ends up in the kitchen so I like to have just one or two items I can set out and don't take up much space.
For Fall I like an Apple Whiskey Smash. Not only can it be made in a big pitcher, but the sparkling cider is a great thing to have on hand for a non-alcoholic drink.
🍷 Wine Pairings
The wine available in your neck of the woods might vary greatly from mine. I always recommend going to a locally-owned shop and sourcing wine that both matches the menu and you personally like.
My personal picks for Thanksgiving are a pinot noir and a dry prosecco. But there are so many more options!
White Wines for Thanksgiving
If you like sweeter wine, try a dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
For a more traditional pairing, try a Chardonnay or white Burgundy wine.
One note about Chardonnays, there is an American trend towards making them overly oaky (i.e., buttery). Ask for something that is alight to medium oak to ensure it balances well with your turkey dinner.
The surprise pick here would be a Spanish Alberino which is more acidic.
Red Wines for Thanksgiving
The typical pairing for turkey is a classic pinot noir. And I love this pick. But Beaujolais Nouveau is another top favorite for classic Thanksgiving wines.
For surprise red picks, try a Spanish Rioja or Grenache. Or a Côtes du Rhône red blend. Similar in characteristics to the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape but significantly less expensive.
Rose and Sparkling Wines for Thanksgiving
I love dry prosecco; it has finer bubbles than Champagne or a crisp rose made from pinot noir as alternative picks.
⏲️ Thanksgiving Countdown
This is not a Thanksgiving planner or worksheet that has things like "order rentals" or make a "Thanksgiving wreath". A small group Thanksgiving menu should be more manageable.
Let's break down the important high-level tasks to keep you on track and relaxed.
Four Weeks Before
- Finalize guest list and confirm dietary restrictions
- Decide on menu, make sure you get ahead of any dietary restrictions
- If ordering a fresh turkey, place your order otherwise you can wait.
- If you are feeling fancy, order a centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table.
Pro Tip: There is never room on our table once the food is ready so I skip the centerpiece and just a have few votives on a table runner.
Three Weeks Before
- Make sure you have the proper tools and serving ware (i.e., properly sized roasting pan)
- Make your shopping lists. Divide between week 2 items and week of items, non perishable vs. fresh.
Two Weeks Before
- Make room in the freezer for the turkey.
- Shop for non perishables like spices, pantry items, paper goods, wine, and beer. Also get your turkey if doing frozen.
- Cook anything that will freeze like homemade stocks, pie crusts, or dinner rolls.
One Week Before
- Make a cooking schedule. What pieces and parts can be made before Thanksgiving?
- What order do items go in the oven on Thanksgiving day?
- Do any major cleaning that needs done in order for you to feel relaxed the week of Thanksgiving.
The Week of Thanksgiving
- Buy your perishables and fresh foods
- Clean and chop all the vegetables
- Thaw out your turkey at least 48 hours in advance.
Thanksgiving Week Cooking Schedule
Monday and/or Tuesday
- Make cornbread for stuffing.
- Saute veggies for stuffing.
- Make cranberry sauce.
- Make parmesan cream sauce for green beans.
- Make garlic butter for turkey.
- Spot clean as needed.
- Make creme brulee dessert and chill.
- Make mashed potatoes.
- Thaw out dinner rolls.
- Brine turkey.
- First thing! Remove turkey from the brine and set out at room temperature before preparing.
- Assemble appetizers.
- Assemble stuffing.
- Make pitcher of drinks.
👪 What Can I Bring?
When hosting any gathering you should expect this question. And our lovely etiquette experts will tell you to say, "Just bring yourself". But some people generally want to contribute, so let them!
And frankly, hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work. I could use a hand.
I break the request down into types 4 people.
The Best Intentions- They want to help, but there is a low chance of follow-through. These people get the "just bring yourself" but "if you have time to grab a bottle of wine that would be great". And then I don't count it!
The Shopper- They want to help but they don't do homemade. I ask them to bring something easily purchased but I am specific. "I was going to pick up a pumpkin pie (or dinner rolls) from the bakery, if you could handle that I would be so appreciative."
Wine or beer is also a good choice here. Or ask if you can borrow any serving dishes if you are short.
The Sous Chef- Truly wants to help and will show up with whatever you ask. But you have to be specific. There are two tactics here. The first is asking them to bring a dish you know they make well (great for family favorite side dishes).
Or try the "I was planning to make XYZ recipe. Would you want to bring that? I can send it to you.". And send them the recipe link.
The Chef- REALLY wants to help, but don't stifle their creativity. This is my little sister in a nutshell. "Would you want to tackle dessert? ". Then get out of the way and enjoy their amazing creation.
Roasted turkey, stuffing (also called dressing), mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, and pumpkin pie.
The most popular way to use up leftover turkey is pot pies, sandwiches, tetrazzini, enchiladas, and noodle soups.
Check out our Thanksgiving Dinner Menu web story!