If you’ve never been in charge of Thanksgiving, imagine this: Take the most epic dinner party you’ve ever hosted and multiply the dishes, wine glasses, and chaos several fold. This is what it’s like. And hosts who take on this holiday, deserve not only our admiration, they deserve ace guests — the kind who help wash the dishes and would never show up with a bottle of wine leftover from their last house party, or worse: completely empty handed.
Thanksgiving is a time to pull out all the stops as a guest, but that doesn’t have to mean shelling out a fortune or spending a day in the kitchen. Thanksgiving guest strategy can break down into two categories, says Eater Young Gun Annie Kamin (’19), the chief of staff at Dandelion Chocolate, all dependent on whether you know the host well or not. If you don’t “you want to bring something that contributes to the meal, that isn’t trying to be the shining star,” Kamin says. A cheese plate works well as a supporting actor, she suggests, and if you’re feeling flush, buy a new cheese board and make it part of the gift.
However, when a friend or relative asks you to contribute to the meal, “Ask what would be most helpful,” Kamin says. “Be mindful of not taking over their kitchen or their oven space… [it’s] a pretty hot commodity.” And, when all else fails, a nice loaf of bread, fancy butter, and sea salt shouldn’t set you back more than $20 and is always a welcome contribution.
We asked a cadre of industry folks for more ways to easily impress the Thanksgiving host,. No matter what you bring, remember to pack your own serving utensils. “[It] can make you stand out as having your shit together,” says Young Gun Libby Willis (’19), chef and owner of Brooklyn diner MeMe’s. The following suggestions should have the same effect.
It’s Okay to Bring Wine
While that bottle of sad Merlot that’s been lurking in your pantry isn’t a strong move on Thanksgiving, wine is always a welcome gift. Bring one bottle per person you’re showing up with and make it the same bottle, so everyone at a large table can have a glass, says Kaitlyn Caruke (’18), a Philadelphia-based sommelier. A tried-and-true bet is to head to a wine store you trust for a bottle from Chinon, a region of the Loire Valley. “You can really get your bang for your buck with the Loire Valley,” Caruke explains. The region’s reds have a green pepper note, good structure and acidity, and are food-friendly.
Or Opt for a Post-Meal Digestif or a Pre-Dinner Cocktail
After a big meal, “you need just a small amount more of liquid that’s doing something good for your insides,” Caruke adds. In place of wine, pick up a digestif like Braulio, or Kamin’s choice, Fernet. Kamin also recommends Nonino, Montenegro, or Averna. “If you want to go crazy, you could buy all three and do a nice little a tasting,” Kamin adds.
If you think your host would prefer a cocktail, serve it at the start of the meal, and bring it batched, as Shannon Mustipher, the author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails advises. Mustipher recommends a riff on a Negroni: Add 250 ml rum or rye whisky, 125 ml Cynar 70, 175 ml Campari, and 175 ml Red Vermouth to a bottle, roll (don’t shake) it to combine, and chill in the refrigerator. An hour and a half before the meal, place the bottle in the freezer. Serve the cocktail on the rocks with an orange twist.
A Sweet Finish — With a Caffeine Buzz
“I always try to bring dessert,” explains Sumi Ali (’18), the co-owner of Yes Plz, a coffee roaster and magazine. “It’s usually the thing that gets the least amount of attention…If you bring dessert, you end up as the star of the evening.” Infusing coffee into a sweet offers a reprieve from cloying desserts, like pecan and pumpkin pies. Opt for Ali’s mocha pots de creme, which can be made in advance. Served in small ramekins, the put-together and personalized presentation hides how little kitchen time this recipe requires. The night before you make the custard, let the heavy cream meld with half a cup of coarse coffee grounds overnight in the fridge. Strain the mixture before following the rest of the recipe.
If You Must Cook, Make Soup
Borrowing from her dad’s tradition of serving grilled red pepper soup, Zoë Kanan (’19), pastry chef of Simon & the Whale and Studio and 2019 Eater Young Gun, makes the case for bringing a vegetarian soup to the holiday table. Because it’s prepped completely in advance, “you’re not imposing on whatever’s really happening in the kitchen,” she says, and it adds ceremony to the meal. A roasted red pepper soup “has fall flavors and colors, but is still an unexpected flavor” she adds. Or, opt for a ribollita with greens. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, bake some crackers to go with it.
Remember: Gifts Don’t Have to Show Up on the Thanksgiving Table
A present for your host to enjoy the next day will always make you a welcome guest. If you buy flowers, choose ones that will last, so your host can enjoy them over the long weekend. Or, bring breakfast for the host to enjoy on Friday morning. Try a batch of homemade granola or a quick bread like pumpkin loaf with salted maple butter, which will hold up in a suitcase if you’re traveling for the holiday.