Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas: Side Dishes Made Easy

It’s been almost a decade since I’ve had to plan a Thanksgiving dinner but this year I’m on the hook. After spending a few hours on recipe creation and planning, I remember why it’s such a huge pain. Putting together a big collection of recipes that all work together not only from a flavor-perspective but from a sheer doability perspective is a challenge. And of course, that pesky turkey is taking up the oven for most of the day, which adds a whole new layer of fun to the complexity.

As I started thinking about tactics for making the day more manageable, I found myself focusing on the sides. Short of choosing a different cooking vessel for your turkey (grill, smoker, fryer, etc), side dishes offer the most opportunity to mix up your preparation techniques to make the day more manageable. Along the way, I came up with five tactics to find side dishes that won’t be competing with the turkey for oven space during day. As I was thinking of sharing my tactics here, I realized examples would be useful, so I hunted down a collection of recipes that represent these tactics, which you can of course use as is, or use as a guide for your own menu planning. Of course, if you have two ovens, you have a little more leeway, but even so, unless every dish cooks at the same temperature, I think you’ll find that these tactics will be helpful even if you have the luxury of extra oven space.

Do you have a favorite tactic or recipe to make Thanksgiving menu planning and cooking easier? Please share in the comments.

Remember the Turkey Has to Rest for 30 Minutes

When I was putting my Turkey Buying 101 post together, the expert I interviewed stressed several times that letting a turkey rest for at least 30 minutes after cooking and before eating is critical to serving a tasty turkey. While it does mean your whole kitchen has to smell like turkey for an extra 30 minutes before you can east, it also means that you have 30 minutes of oven time to use to finish, reheat, or even wholesale cook a side. While many vegetables and stuffing recipes call for up to 60 minutes of oven time, if you look for recipes that cook in 30 minutes or so or that are of the make-ahead and re-heat variety, you can make the most of this precious time.

Make the Most of Your Stovetop

Your stovetop has several burners, use them! You can do a lot more on the top of the stove than mash potatoes or steam vegetables so look for recipes that spend all or most of their cooking time on the stove top to take advantage of every heat source you have to work with in your kitchen.

Use Your Slow Cooker

Many favorite Thanksgiving sides are long cooking, making them perfect candidates for your slow cooker. The recipes I’ve found are really templates for your own versions of them, so start with these as a base and customize them to fit your personal taste. To find other slow cooker versions of your favorite sides, simply Google “slow cooker side” and you’ll find more options than you can shake a stick at.

Consider a Salad

While a plain tossed salad doesn’t seem appropriate for a Thanksgiving table, an interesting and next-level salad absolutely does. Many salads can be made ahead or require no cooking at all, and they can bring a lighter option to what is a traditionally heavy meal. Look for salads that feature fall ingredients and more substantial dressings.

Find More Sides

Finally, as you are recipe hunting for sides that fit these tactics, you’ll find these sites most helpful.

1 Comment

  1. Great list of ideas for side dishes. Thanks for the ideas. I was getting a tired of the same things over and over. Time to spice it up.


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