The One Dish: Thanksgiving 2020 and How to Deal

The holidays will be different this year. We asked some of our favorite food people and entertainers about what they’re doing for Thanksgiving. We wanted to know about the one special dish that, no matter where and how they’re celebrating, would make them feel right at home. 
By Food & Wine Editors
November 10, 2020
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It's been a year like no other. Frankly, it’s been a lonely one. Many friendships and working relationships have been sustained over zoom calls. Family members avoid hugging each other, if they visit at all. It’s also been a year of reckoning. The widespread protests against police murder of Black Americans and the national conversation around the unjust systems that built this country were long overdue. The restaurant industry has been collapsing. It was a tense election year. So much has happened, and yet, at the same time, we’ve been sitting at home, not doing much at all. Things have been heady and historic and also depressing and boring.   

With the pandemic still in full force, and the kind of joyful, large-scale holiday gatherings that mark the end of the year off-limits or highly discouraged, we’re looking at a Thanksgiving that will be very different, too. How will people celebrate? Will people prepare smaller Thanksgiving meals for smaller gatherings? Will they travel? Given COVID-related stresses and the fear of getting family members sick, will some people just barely do anything at all? Thanksgiving 2020 is uncertain, like so many things over the past eight months.

One idea that kept coming up at Food & Wine was how we have one Thanksgiving dish that can ground us. If everything else this Thanksgiving is different, and we aren’t seeing the loved ones we would usually celebrate with, what’s the one dish people could cook that would make the holiday seem normal? What could we eat or drink at Thanksgiving that would remind us of less unsettled times? Thanksgiving dishes can be more about tradition and comfort than anything else. Of course they should taste good (and we’ll help you with that, too), but for this series, we wanted to explore the power a single dish has to bring joy or solace or warmth—some sort of good feeling—during a holiday season that, for many, will be lacking in those sentiments.

We reached out to some of our friends in the food world and entertainment industry to see if they had a dish they wanted to share. The answers ranged from cornbread stuffing to sweet potato pie to green bean casserole. And like we suspected, the stories behind the dishes were rich with family histories and happy memories. We have recipes for some of them, too, in addition to our regularly scheduled Thanksgiving programming. Hopefully these dishes will bring you some cheer and reflection, or at least a little distraction, as we head into this strange year’s holiday season.

The Sweet Potato Pie So Good You Hide It Under the Bed

Credit: Illustration by Eric Jeon / Photo by Nik Sharma

I didn't grow up here, so Thanksgiving… It's something new for me. It's more of an adopted holiday, and so for me, it's more about being grateful just for everything that I've been given in life and worked for. That pretty much is what Thanksgiving means to me. The Thanksgiving traditions that I now work with or rather bring to my table are the ones based on the things that I've experienced with my family, with my husband's family, they're from the South, they're from Virginia, and so that stuff, and then also with stuff that I've done with my friends. Read More.

Sweet potatoes are on a monthly rotation in my household; even my dog, Snoopy, loved them. The different components of the pie can be prepared on different days. Here’s a suggested order of steps you might find useful, especially if you make this for Thanksgiving. Day 1: Roast sweet potatoes, reduce the beer, and prepare the pie crust, but don’t blind bake (partially bake). Day 2: Blind bake the pie crust, prepare the sweet potato custard, and bake the pie. Of course, you can also do this all in one day.

Get the Recipe: Sweet Potato Honey Beer Pie

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Melissa Gray / Prop Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Jasmine Guillory Wishes She Could Bake More Pies

Credit: Illustration by Yeji Kim

My mom and I slowly took over Thanksgiving. Maybe 20 or so years ago, we started having it at my parents' house instead of at my grandmother's house, where we always had Christmas. My mom and I cook together a lot, so when we were making Thanksgiving dinner, it was always us together. Cornbread dressing was the thing that my grandmother would bring and it was my favorite. Even in the times when I wanted to see what other kinds of dressings there are, I would sometimes make a second one, but it would never occur to me to not have the cornbread dressing on the table. Read More.

Ina Garten Has the Perfect Dish for Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

Credit: Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Ina Garten's new comfort food cookbook could not have come at a better time. Released in early October, Modern Comfort Food is deeply soothing ode to approachable, delicious, and nearly foolproof dishes that comfort us on dreary days. One recipe in the book is a beautiful chicken pot pie soup. The day after Thanksgiving, my family usually makes a big stew with leftover turkey meat and any vegetables we have on hand, so it occurred to me that a pot pie twist could take that tradition to the next level. Read More.

This creamy, soul-warming soup from the legendary Ina Garten’s cookbook, Modern Comfort Food, captures everything there is to love about chicken pot pie. Plenty of aromatic vegetables, a rich, silky broth spiked with tarragon and cream sherry, and plenty of tender chicken (or leftover Thanksgiving turkey) deliver pure comfort in every spoonful. The flaky, buttery puff pastry croutons (made from store-bought dough!) are an irresistible finishing touch.

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Melissa Gray / Prop Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Cornbread Dressing Will Make Thanksgiving 2020 Feel Normal

Credit: Illustration by Yeji Kim / Photo by Aaron Hutcherson

I, along with many others around the country, have been robbed of cherished time to spend with distant relatives. Instead, I’m having text conversations with friends to figure out a plan for my first time spending the actual day without family. While part of me looks forward to finally being able to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner (my family's gatherings are typically dry affairs), I'm saddened by the idea of not getting to spend it with my 4-year-old niece or 92-year-old grandmother. Read More.

While many seem to enjoy a yeast bread-based "stuffing" alongside their turkeys each November, my family always has cornbread "dressing" to eat with our bird. Each family and every individual cook has their own way that they like to prepare dressing, often following intuition rather than an exact recipe. But after years of my childhood spent helping my mother prepare it before venturing out on my own, this is the version that I'm happy to share with you.

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Melissa Gray / Prop Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Rodney Scott’s Smoked BBQ Turkey Is the Only Turkey We Want

Pitmaster Rodney Scott is famous for his whole-hog barbecue—a masterpiece of pork smoked over oak coals for hours, mopped with a slightly sweet and spicy vinegar sauce, and chopped into a glorious heap of juicy meat and crispy cracklings, all doused with a little more sauce. Scott also applies this signature technique to his Thanksgiving turkey to make a bird that gives his pig a run for its money. Get the Recipe.

Never Be Ashamed of Your Family's Casserole

Credit: Illustration by Eric Jeon

I've never thought of my husband as giving much of a crap about what people think of him, but I could tell he was nervous about bringing his mom's squash casserole to Thanksgiving. It broke my heart. We'd been together for 10 years by then, and early on, I'd drafted him over to my holiday encampment of friends with whom I'd been celebrating since the late '90s. Even after our primary host passed away at the age of 77 in 2008, our crew maintained that dinner as a sacred thing, replicating her dishes as best we could and establishing our own traditions. There was always room for newcomers; that was the point. Read More.

A few years back when my husband called his 90-something-year-old mother to get the recipe for this holiday favorite, she laughed and said no one ever had bothered to write it down. “You just make it!” she told him, but did eventually walk him through the method. The exact makeup of this Eastern Carolina dish varies from family to family, but in the Wagner kitchen, gooey cheese and a crisp potato chip topping is key, and if you’re worried that you’re cooking down the vegetables too much—you’re not. Gloriously caramelized mush is the goal and when done just right, this casserole can be filed under “looks like hell, tastes like heaven.”

Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Melissa Gray / Prop Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Rainbow Rowell Wants to See Your Thanksgiving Plate

Credit: Illustration by Emma Darvick

I love to see people's Thanksgiving and Christmas plates. A few years ago on Twitter, people were sharing their Thanksgiving dinners, and I said, "A thing I'm looking forward to today is just seeing your plates." People started tagging me, then the next year, I didn't even have to say anything, they're like, "Oh, I can't wait to show you my plate!" I feel like it's been a thing for three years now. I get hundreds of responses and I genuinely enjoy every one. I'm not pretending. I'm not just being polite. I really love to see people's plates because you learn so much about people's families and where they live. If you grew up with just your own family traditions and recipes, you kind of think that's what everybody is eating. Read More.

Jordan Firstman Shares His Thanksgiving Trauma

Credit: Illustration by Emma Darvick and Yeji Kim / Photo by Grant Spanier

My mom had moved to Idaho to marry this person that she decided she had to marry, and I cooked this huge, huge feast. Like really went all-out. It was a very good 12-course thing. We were eating, and her husband is not very talkative so he just kind of sat and ate, and it was fine. So I'm a huge leftover queen. I absolutely need my turkey sandwich the next day. I have the rolls, the onion, the cold turkey, the mayo. I do it, I really do it. We woke up the next morning, and my mom's husband had eaten every single leftover overnight. It was like Thanksgiving never happened. Read More.

Make a Huge Batch of Ambrosia for Post-Thanksgiving Snacking

Credit: Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong / Photo by Cedric Angeles

I like to serve the ambrosia in individual cocktail cups with the cookies on the side and a dusting of cinnamon. Everyone thinks the dessert is super complicated but it’s one of the easiest things to make. You could get everything you need from a gas station, honestly. It’s the best thing when you need to make a bomb-ass dessert really quick. Ambrosia is one of my favorite parts about Thanksgiving. Read More.

Brian Koppelman Doesn't Want Your Fancy Cranberry Sauce

Credit: Illustration by Emma Darvick

This year, this uncertainty around Thanksgiving is unsettling. I think it's likely that we'll all get COVID tested and get together. My extended family all lives right near each other. My sisters live on the same piece of property right next to each other, as if it's one piece of property. My dad lives right there too. They're all in the same pod and bubble, and my family has been very good about trying our very best to stay safe. I think it's likely we'll all get together for Thanksgiving, and I certainly hope that's possible. Read More.

Lena Sareini's Grandpa Gets His Own Personal Pumpkin Pie

Credit: Illustration by Eric Jeon / Photo by Catherine Sareini

I know it sounds cliche, but there can be no Thanksgiving dinner with my family without my pumpkin pie. My Grandpa Donald demands it each year. When I was in culinary school, I learned how to make pumpkin pie from scratch, so I decided to make one for my family for Thanksgiving. Read More.

Brownies Are My Little Bit of Home

Credit: Illustration by Yeji Kim / Photo by Mindy Tucker

I come from a big dessert family, so even if there are only seven or eight people at Thanksgiving dinner we usually have several pies plus a batch of brownies. I've come to appreciate a homemade fruit pie, but as a kid I would always split a slice with my uncle. He (allergic to wheat) would eat the apples, and I'd eat the crust. I've always loved brownies, though, which have been present at all family gatherings as far back as I can remember. Read More.

Thanksgiving at Our House Is All About Drinking Classic Manhattans

Credit: Illustration by Julia Bohan-Upadhyay / Photo by Aubrie Pick

We love a good drink in my family—cocktail hour is a very popular hour in our household. We love beer, we love a good martini. So when it comes to Thanksgiving, our tradition isn’t pie or stuffing, it’s a proper, classic Manhattan. Basically, Thanksgiving kicks off Manhattan-drinking season for me. I only really drink Manhattans only during this time of year. They do not appeal to me any other time of the year. Maybe because it’s super hot here all year round? Quite often it is in the 80s on Thanksgiving, but Manhattans let you pretend it feels cold. Read More.