Trust us, if you can make dinner for four, you can master Thanksgiving for 10. Melissa Clark, the cookbook author and New York Times columnist, shows us how.

By Kate Heddings and Melissa Clark
Updated May 24, 2017
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Melissa Clark Thanksgiving Guide
Credit: © John Kernick

When my parents were in charge of Thanksgiving, they treated the holiday like a giant fancy dinner party. They really did it up, making salmon mousse and even homemade pâté to pass around on canapés. (They had learned how to cook from Julia Child, after all.) I’m a lot more practical by nature, and now that my parents have handed down the spatula to me, I’ve simplified Thanksgiving without sacrificing any of its deliciousness. My motto is that holiday meals don’t have to be any more complicated than weeknight ones: You just have to strategize and scale up.

When you’re cooking for four people, for instance, you can play around with new techniques. But when you’ve got to feed a houseful of guests, it’s best to stick to the tried-and-true methods, bumping up the flavors by using seasonings with a lot of personality: spices, herbs, chiles, mustard, pickles, preserved lemon....

For most people, the turkey is the scariest part of Thanksgiving. But think of it as just an overgrown chicken, and it gets a whole lot easier to tackle. And when you roast it in parts, it doesn’t take much longer to cook than a chicken, either. Then, while the turkey occupies one rack, you can maximize your oven space by placing slow-cooking ingredients like winter squash in rimmed sheet pans on the rack below.

One more strategy is essential to accommodate guests who won’t eat meat or carbs or whatever else: Be sure that any side dishes you make with your vegan nephew or gluten-free cousin in mind will also please everyone else at the table. Focus on dishes that are inherently delicious—my brussels sprouts spiced with cumin and coriander, say—and everyone will be happy. Especially you. So skip the fussy canapés (sorry, Mom and Dad) and check out the recipes and tips here for a stress-free holiday.

1. Roast your turkey in pieces.

Mustard-and-Rosemary Roast Turkey
Credit: © John Kernick

Why stress about overcooking the breast? When it's done, remove it from the pan and let the dark meat keep going. A bonus: You won't have to carve--unless you want to get fancy, that is.

2. Choose greens that stay crisp.

Winter Greens Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
Credit: © John Kernick

Some salads wilt before the bowl has made it all the way around the table. Avoid this! Instead, opt for sturdy greens (radicchio, kale, spinach) that stay crunchy when left out.

3. Focus on the make-ahead.

Mashed-Potato Casserole with Sage and Fontina
Credit: © John Kernick

When you're cooking for four, you can do everything at the last minute. But when there are 10 hungry people at the table, make-ahead dishes like casseroles and soups are your best ally.

4. Go for sure things.

Pumpkin Cream Pie in a Chocolate Crust
Pumpkin pie is not just for Thanksgiving. This silky pumpkin custard is baked in a crispy chocolate cookie crust, then topped with a dollop of tangy crème fraîche topping.
| Credit: © John Kernick

Pumpkin pie is not just for Thanksgiving. This silky pumpkin custard is baked in a crispy chocolate cookie crust, then topped with a dollop of tangy crème fraîche topping.

© John Kernick © John Kernick

At Thanksgiving, you can't get wildly experimental with unfamiliar flavors. Instead, you need recipes everyone is going to love. This pumpkin pie? You might want to make two.

Melissa Clark is a Brooklyn native and the author of dozens of cookbooks. Her newest one, Dinner, is due out spring 2017.