Firmly pressed linens. Sparkling crystal glasses. Giant helpings of casserole, stuffing and pie. And, of course, a golden turkey at the heart of it all. There’s just no beating a classic Thanksgiving dinner.
At my house, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner brings together family from all corners of the country. And you better believe we break out the same traditions year after year: Dad will carve the turkey, Mom will make her special cranberry sauce (mmm…to hear those fresh cranberries popping on the stovetop!) and no matter the age, us “kids” will snack away on French’s crispy fried onions before they make it to their place on the green bean dish. Though we go through the same motions each year, these traditions never feel tired.
Whether you’ve been hosting Thanksgiving for decades or are just starting this year, we’ve wrangled up the best ideas for your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Traditional Thanksgiving Menu Ideas
For a truly traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu, you’ve got to have the classics:
- Mashed potatoes
- Green bean casserole
- Sweet potato casserole (a marshmallow topping is negotiable)
- Cranberry sauce
- Bread rolls
- Lots and lots of pie
Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
Let’s face it, no matter how good Aunt Lydia’s cornbread is, the star of the show will always be the turkey. Every cook has their favorite way to prepare it: deep-fried, on the grill, or in the oven. However, for our traditional Thanksgiving feast, we found a turkey recipe is an absolute classic. Kim Forni shared her family’s best turkey recipe that roasts up crispy and golden on the outside and juicy on the inside. The secret? Brine the turkey in maple and sage the night before and cook the bird in a bag. Yes, a bag. (Follow our Test Kitchen’s guide to roasting turkey in an oven bag.)
From our family to yours, we’ve compiled some of our most treasured traditional Thanksgiving menu items that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Get all of our best traditional Thanksgiving menu recipes right here.
Traditional Thanksgiving Decoration Ideas
Such a special occasion deserves special decor. And yes, you can be traditional without being stuffy. First, find a tablecloth you love, then work your color scheme from there. For our traditional Thanksgiving table, we went with a deep plum cloth. Though it’s probably not the color Grandma would have chosen, we feel plum is an underused seasonal color that deserves its place in the spotlight. Dark and bold colors like this can really make white plates and all those rich, golden dishes (like our favorite corn pudding casserole) shine. Get the look with all of our favorite table settings.
To fill in the table, go ahead and use the holiday as an excuse to break out that crystal stemware that’s been sitting in the cabinet. Or wipe the dust off a family heirloom to serve as the centerpiece. To get our look, add in a few glass and metallic items. (We chose pewter napkin rings and repurposed these beautiful Crate & Barrel glasses as candle holders) Then, balance out these hard textures with softer items like flower bunches and tall taper candles.
Psst! Don’t risk getting wax on the table. Add a soft glow to the Thanksgiving table with these flickering flameless candles.
Get the LookThe most memorable Thanksgiving gatherings always have a well-set table. In addition to cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu, you should consider the plates, serving utensils and glasses, as well as serving platters, gravy boats, napkins and more as part of the experience. For some help designing a timeless look, use our Thanksgiving table decor ideas here!
Chic Wine GlassesRaise a toast to good company and good food with this set of wine glasses ($68 for six). These unique, handblown glasses have a goblet-like shape and short, decorative stems. No matter what you're all sipping on (we recommend this delicious hot spiced cranberry drink), your guests will feel elegant with these glasses in hand. Buy here.
Dinner PlatesIf you're in the market for a new set of classic plates, you'll surely love these antique white dinner plates ($100 for 16-piece set), which are made from porcelain and feature a subtle embellishment along the rim. They'll look stunning piled high with all your favorite Thanksgiving foods. Buy here.
Elegant Gravy BoatWhat's Thanksgiving without gravy? Serve an amazing Thanksgiving gravy in this lovely antique white gravy boat ($60), which will perfectly complement the dinner plates we're recommending. The boat comes with a matching platter to catch any runaway drips. Buy here.
Linen TableclothNot only do tablecloths brighten up your table, but they also make cleanup significantly easier. So adorn your table with a traditional pick like this linen tablecloth ($70-$90 depending on size). It comes in a variety of seasonal hues, though we're partial to the wine color for this table setting. Buy here.
Linen NapkinsSwap out paper napkins for these beautiful linen napkins ($8). The deep, rich color will make your table settings pop, and the linen fabric is pre-washed so it's incredibly soft to the touch. Plus, the napkins will match your tablecloth. Buy here.
Simple Baking DishYou're going to need a high-quality baking dish for traditional Thanksgiving sides, like our yummy corn pudding. This casserole dish ($67) is a deep 13x9 that looks simply gorgeous. Just bring the dish from oven to table when it's time to serve. Buy here.
Classic Carving UtensilsCarving a turkey is no easy feat (learn how to do it the right way!), which is why you need high-quality cutting utensils at your Thanksgiving feast. This beautiful carving set ($319) includes a pewter carving fork and knife, and the utensils will become a cherished family heirloom. Buy here.
Pewter Napkin RingsNo good at folding napkins? Make your job easier with a set of sleek napkin rings—pull the linens through, place them on the table and you're done. You can even have these beautiful napkin rings ($50) customized with a monogram. Buy here.
Heirloom Shot GlassesTo hold flickering tea lights for the table, think outside the box and use a sophisticated shot glass ($3). Each glass has a beautiful diamond pattern that's inspired by cut crystal. Buy here.
Pewter TrayThis beautiful pewter tray ($244) is a splurge, but the platter is perfect for displaying your Thanksgiving centerpiece. Plus, its handcrafted pewter finish perfectly complements the napkin rings. Buy here.
Pewter SilverwareIf you have a haphazard array of mismatched tableware, it might be time to upgrade to a more uniform set. This vintage-inspired flatware ($50) comes in a traditional pewter finish to match other items on the table, and these simple utensils work well as everyday dinnerware, too. Buy here.
How to Give Thanks: Gratitude Garland
With all the meal prep, decorating and family running around the house, it’s easy to forget what the holiday is all about. Try this feel-good Thanksgiving activity at your table this year to reflect on the things that you and your family are grateful for:
- Before friends and family arrive, string a length of twine or ribbon in an obvious spot, such as on a mantel or at the top of a doorway.
- Set out paper leaves, permanent markers, and clothespins.
- Throughout the day, invite each person to write down what they’re thankful for on a leaf and string it to the twine
Want More Ideas? Find Your Thanksgiving Style.
Transform your table this holiday by planning your Thanksgiving feast around one of our fun (and delicious!) themes. Take our quiz to find the perfect menu, stunning tablescape decorations and more—all based off of your personality.