The Night Before Thanksgiving

Some unofficial traditions

Rather than offer a What’s-For-Dinner this week, we’re rounding up our night-before-Thanksgiving traditions and non-traditions, and sharing them with you. This post also gives us the opportunity to introduce you to our new staffer, Mike Diago, whose work you should check out here and here. We could not be happier that he’s joined our team. We know you’ll love him, too.

My family doesn’t do a traditional Thanksgiving meal. In fact, we choose a different theme each year: 2018 was all appetizers and sides. 2019 was surf-and-turf with butter-soaked lobster tails and grilled ribeyes. 2020 was Chinese hot pot and whole Dungeness crabs, and 2021 will be a full taquiza spread — homemade tortillas, carne asada, achiote shrimp, botanas, and probably too many salsas. Although we opt for non-traditional themed meals on Turkey Day, I do still crave those traditional flavors around this time so the day before, I’m usually eating a quick version of a Thanksgiving dinner in the form of a sandwich. 

I specifically need the combination of tart cranberry, roasted turkey, and an herby dressing to make me feel like I’ve gotten my Thanksgiving moment. My mother makes an excellent cornbread dressing, and my best friend’s mom makes sausage stuffing that’s full of sage and other fresh herbs that I’m obsessed with. I like to combine those two recipes just to make this sandwich. It starts with toasted ciabatta, slathered in a sweet-and-tart cranberry mayonnaise. One side of the bread gets topped with roasted turkey and slices of brie, then a quick trip under the broiler to get it melty, followed by the cornbread dressing piled high on top. Last but not least, a little gravy on the side for dipping. — Holly Haines

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was always at my mother's parents' house: We didn't think about anything; the night before was "normal." And still, I tend to ignore it. I know what I'm cooking tonight: A kind of squash casserole — I roasted a giant squash and then dismembered it last night: my new thing (which I'll write about at some point) — of squash "meat," pasta, parmesan (for some reason we have too much) and breadcrumbs. Seems quite "American," no? But also somehow authentic.

But that's not the day before Thanksgiving, that's today! I am not thinking much further ahead. My guess is either takeout (we might be with Emma and her friends) or we just go out somewhere. I can safely say There Is No Tradition. I kind of wish there were. The day AFTER, some friends in New Haven always order pizza from the three or four best New Haven apizza joints and compare. That's kind of a trip. — Mark Bittman

Every Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, I’d go home to Fair Haven, New Jersey, and my mother would make sausage and bowties, which is basically this: Put a pot of water on (salt the water once it’s boiling) and cook bowties until they’re al dente. Meanwhile, browned chopped sausage, casing removed, then drain. Add minced garlic and chopped onion. Once they’re translucent, pour in about a half cup of white wine and simmer. Add your (8 oz. canned) chopped tomatoes, mostly drained, and a teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Simmer for another ten minutes. Add a pint of heavy cream (or less) at the end, then pour over bowties. Serve with parmesan.

It was nothing elaborate, but I loved it and so did my college roommate, who has added it to her family’s repertoire. (It’s a great dish for a night when you know you’ll be drinking more than usual!) — Melissa McCart

 I don’t have much of a night-before-thanksgiving tradition, per se. Through my 20s, all of my friends would convene at our old watering hole in Albany, order wings and pitchers of beer, and re-embody less mature personalities. In recent years I’ve been hanging back at my mom’s condo with the ladies: at least one of my sisters, my grandmother, mom, and wife. My mom thinks I’m too fancy in the kitchen—even if I just put a little paprika on my fried eggs she’ll say, “Everything you make is so gourmet,”—so, I confine my cooking to the big day. The night before it’s all about raiding the pantry for the big jug of Carlo Rossi that she keeps in there. That usually leads to some foolish dancing. My six-year-old boy got in on the action last year for the first time (the dancing, not the wine, of course). When we get hungry we snack on the other pantry items that she stocks for us — Goldfish, Triscuits, and Andes Chocolates — or we order a mushroom pizza from Paesan’s in Schenectady. — Mike Diago

Funny ‘cuz I actually went to sleep thinking that I should pack a movable feast for my cousin and me on Wednesday. She wants to figure out a way to capture some of our grandmother’s Italian-New Orleans recipes — she was in the kitchen with her way more than I was — and I’m headed up to record her cooking for the extra help, fun, and posterity. (Our grandmother passed away over 30 years ago!) We’re going to turn it into a sleep-over since you know we’ll be crimping pie crusts into the night.

Here’s the menu: a giant Corn Pancake from Bittman Bread (honest, I make the skillet pancakes from the book all the time though this is also an undeniably handy product placement); a can of PNW smoked oysters, a jar of pickled asparagus, and a bottle of rose. Maybe some satsumas. Definitely a lemon and a fresh bottle of Tabasco (that would be so MaMa). My cousin will ideally contribute a bowl of these amazing anchovy-stuffed green olives she gets from Spain. So my short answer for T-giving Eve is “piquant.” — Kerri Conan

I never really went nuts with all my high school friends the night before Thanksgiving, as is standard; usually, I just hung out with family and went to bed early, soothed by the comforts of home. I love watching my sister, Emma, prep her amazing appetizer spread. When we do Thanksgiving at my mom's, Em is always in charge of the snacks, and they're never half-assed — she does smoked trout dip, this apricot/pesto/prosciutto thing, an excellent array of cheeses because she knows her shit. I'm going to miss her this year — we both just moved and she's hosting and I'm too overwhelmed to go very far (shout out to one of my closest friends, Lynn, for taking us in! I can't wait). I guess, without sounding sappy, comfort is my night before Thanksgiving tradition. BUT lemme share with you the best cranberry relish — I put it on everything on my plate and can't go a Thanksgiving without it. (Full disclosure: It's a 'family' recipe but may be from the back of a bag.) — Kate Bittman

Cranberry Relish


  • 4 cups fresh cranberries (about 1 pound), picked over and rinsed, or frozen cranberries
    1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 orange


Zest the orange, then remove the pith (including the white parts between segments) and roughly chop or supreme the flesh. Combine the sugar, cranberries, orange pieces, and zest in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Let sit for about 30 minutes before serving.