Cooking

From Scratch? Scratch That.

Use store-bought packaged foods in your Thanksgiving spread, just like chefs do
Store-Bought Thanksgiving
Illustration: Kim Graziano/Tasting Table

Pop quiz: Does making an entire Thanksgiving spread from start to finish make you want to curl up in a ball on the floor? If your answer is yes, then congratulations! You're a normal person and we have a suggestion for you: Don't make your whole meal from scratch this year.

Over the years, brands have developed some packaged foods that can actually make your fourth Thursday in November a little easier. But don't just take our word for it—listen to the professionals. We asked six of our favorite chefs to share their supermarket favorites for the big day. Their admissions may surprise (and inspire) you.

Stove Top Stuffing
Matt McClure, James Beard–nominated chef of The Hive in Bentonville, Arkansas, makes a mean homemade stuffing that takes "two to three days to perfect." But when he's in a time crunch or at his in-laws' house, he ends up eating Stove Top stuffing. It took McClure a while to warm up to this icon of boxed Thanksgiving, but what impresses him is its taste-to-time ratio: "Considering how minimal the labor is (just a few minutes), the fact that it tastes as good as it does blows my mind," he says, calling the product "a modern marvel."

Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
To simplify his starch game, Jamie Bissonnette, co-chef of Coppa in Boston and Toro in Boston and New York, will be buying Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. "Admit it: Everyone loves them," Bissonnette says, likening his childhood reaction to the signature pop when the package bursts open to that of a cat swiveling its head to the sound of a food tin being peeled back. Memories aside, the rolls are just plain old efficient: "In minutes, you can have a side dish or a vehicle for pre-dinner pâté or jamón," he says.

French's French Fried Onions
On the toppings front, we can report that Kurt Guzowski of Chicago's Tête will be purchasing a pop-top canister of French's French Fried Onions. For Guzowski, it's a good substitute for the fried shallots he makes at work: "That crunch can add a lot to a dish," he says. Flavor-wise, they're a step up from basic breadcrumbs, with a "crisp, sweet taste that isn't overpowering." Sprinkle them on green bean casserole and fresh salads.

Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix
Speaking of onions, Josh Habiger of Nashville's Pinewood Social will be buying a few packets of Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix. Apart from its supreme versatility ("You can use it in just about anything, including stuffing, potatoes and dips"), Habiger likes the sweet nostalgia that this dehydrated onion soup conjures: "French onion soup was my idea of fancy food growing up, and I've always liked the taste of it," he says. It's a great alternative to making your own vegetable stock, but it is salty, so adjust your seasoning accordingly.

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Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce
Good news: You can buy a can of cranberry sauce without shame. Why? Because chef Christopher Lee of The Forge in Miami says it's okay. He does it every year, partly for its "cool Jell-O-like texture," and partly because it allows him to spend more time "whipping potatoes, making gravy and perfecting my stuffing recipes." In other words, leaning on a handful of premade ingredients is allowed if it gives you more time to perfect your marquee recipes instead.

Nilla Wafers
Thomas Chen, head chef/owner of Tuome in New York will be buying several boxes of Nilla Wafers this year. But he'll be serving them with fresh ingredients: "Instead of pie for dessert, I typically make something a bit lighter: layers of in-season fruits like persimmons and mandarin orange segments, condensed milk, yogurt and crushed Nilla Wafers for a fruit parfait," he says. Chen finds that Nilla Wafers are a good substitute for homemade cookies: "I'd rather spend more time with my family than in the kitchen on Thanksgiving."

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