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A Fast Thanksgiving Feast

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Yes, it's really possible to pull off a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings in the time it takes a turkey to roast.

Most Thanksgivings, you’ll find me planning weeks in advance: it’s by far my favorite holiday. But last year I was so busy that Thanksgiving became a hurried affair. I had remembered to order a turkey, but the big day crept up so quickly that I had only the day before to shop, and about four hours on Thanksgiving Day to cook. Amazingly, I pulled it off—turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, and vegetables—the works.

Dinner was delicious, and I learned something: A full-fledged Thanksgiving doesn’t require a huge amount of planning and cooking. The time crunch actually turned out to be an enjoyable challenge—a sort of marathon, with a bit of sweat at the brow but a great showing at the finish line. So get ready to impress everyone with a beautiful meal that takes only four hours to make.

Looking for more Thanksgiving time-savers? Visit our Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner for tips, videos, and recipes.

The timetable below will help you strategize, but here are more pointers so your blitz Thanksgiving comes off without a hitch:

Delegate dessert (and more). You can bake the pound cake a few weeks before, or assign the recipe to a friend. For easy appetizers, buy good cheese, olives, and other antipasto items from the grocery store. Hand over tasks like peeling potatoes and arranging hors d’oeuvres to family and friends.

As soon as the turkey is in the oven, start chopping. Measure the ingredients for the rest of the recipes and put them in separate bowls. I set the measured ingredients for each dish on a rimmed baking sheet and stick the recipe on top; when it’s time to get cooking, everything is at hand.

Finally, don’t forget to have fun as you prepare this delicious meal. And let yourself revel in the triumph of having made a fabulous turkey dinner that takes just a bit longer to make than the average Thanksgiving Day football game.

Menu Timeline

2 weeks ahead:

  • Order a turkey (preferably fresh).
  • Make and freeze the cake (or assign the recipe to a guest).

1 or 2 days ahead:

  • Make a grocery list and shop.
  • Set the table.
  • Pull out serving platters and utensils.
  • If the turkey has been frozen, be sure it’s thawed.

4 hours ahead:

  • Pull the turkey out of the refrigerator and heat the oven.
  • Prepare the turkey.
  • If the cake has been frozen, unwrap it and let it thaw at room temperature.

3-1/2 hours ahead:

  • Put the turkey in the oven.
  • Assemble the dressing (but leave out the eggs and liquid for now).
  • Make the cranberry relish.
  • Peel the potatoes.

2 hours ahead:

  • Make the potato puree; keep warm over a warm water bath.
  • Toast the hazelnuts and quarter the Brussels sprouts.

1 hour ahead:

  • Finish assembling the dressing and put it in to bake.
  • Arrange the appetizers.

45 to 30 minutes before serving:

  • Pull the turkey out of the oven and tent it with foil to keep it warm.
  • Make the gravy; keep warm.
  • Cook the Brussels sprouts; keep warm.
  • Put out appetizers as guests arrive.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce

  • 8 large Yukon Gold potatoes (3-1/2 to 4 lb. total)
  • 1 large and 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 lb. Brussels sprouts
  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 3 large ribs celery
  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • 2 small navel oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 bunch fresh sage
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1 small knob fresh ginger

Meat, Eggs & Dairy

  • 1 turkey (about 14 lb.), preferably fresh
  • 8 oz. sliced bacon
  • 7 large eggs
  • 1-1/4 lb. unsalted butter
  • 1 pint whole milk
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (enough for 1/2 cup grated)
  • 1 qt. vanilla ice cream (optional)

Other Groceries

  • 2 qt. low-salt chicken broth (or use homemade)
  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 1 loaf (15 to 16 oz.) rustic-style white bread
  • 15-oz. can unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 cup shelled raw hazelnuts
  • Assorted cheeses, olives or marinated artichokes for appetizers.

Pantry Staples

  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbs. confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 whole nutmeg
  • table salt
  • kosher salt
  • black peppercorns

The Menu


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