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How to Make Thanksgiving Dinner for a Very Small Crowd |

How to Make Thanksgiving Dinner for a Very Small Crowd


Of course Small Thanksgiving involves tiny pies. Photo by Rebecca Siegel.

Holiday travel is a logistical nightmare for people who live far from family. I know the struggle. Until this summer, I’d lived clear across the country from my hometown for a decade.

Like most long-distance transplants, I’ve attended my fair share of huge Friendsgivings, but last year was my first-ever “just us” Thanksgiving. It had been a travel-heavy fall, so my partner and I decided to stay put and keep things low-key. It was an absolutely fantastic decision; we didn’t have to fit twelve people in our house or stay sober enough to drive around town visiting other gatherings. Best of all, we made only what we wanted to eat—including three whole pies, which we invited friends over to help us finish on Black Friday. It was such a success that we’re doing it again this year. If you’re also far away from family, or just not up for a big to-do, here’s how to do Small Thanksgiving right.


Plan The Menu


Photo by foam.

Planning a menu for and with lots of people can be a memorable, rewarding experience—I think fondly of a truly collaborative, 10-12 person Friendsgiving during my junior year of college to this day—but the beauty of Small Thanksgiving is making only what you want. If you don’t like a traditional dish, be it turkey, green bean casserole, candied yams, whatever, just don’t make it; you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. My one menu-planning “tip,” then, is to be massively selfish.

Select Appropriately-Sized Vessels


Does anyone’s grandma not have one of these? Photo by Gerrilynn Nunley.

Once you know what dishes you’re making, you should figure out how you want to get them to the table. Thanksgiving dinner is all about variety, but if you use standard 9”x13” pans and full-sized pie plates for all your casseroles and pies, you’ll be completely overwhelmed with leftovers—and not in a good way.

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Sure, you can buy disposable tins at the grocery store, but there are much cuter options. For casseroles, plan on using cast-iron skillets (9-inch or 12-inch are good sizes) and small Corningware-style dishes; if you don’t have any of the latter, Amazon’s got you covered, but you can find super-cute ones at thrift and vintage stores. For little pies, you have three options: free-form galettes, muffin tins, or brutally cute mini pie plates. I’m extra as hell, so obviously I bought four six-inch glass pie plates on Amazon—which now cost three dollars more than the did on Monday the 6th. These Calphalon tins are cute as heck and much more affordable, but I avoid nonstick cookware if I can—especially if it’s for a dish that needs to be sliced.

Scale Your Recipes


Photo by Ken Teegardin.

Leftovers are the only good thing about Black Friday (or as I like to call it, Stuffing Day), but if you make a full-scale spread for two, you’re gonna have a bad time. Most Thanksgiving recipes are written for at least eight people—and improper recipe scaling can lead to disaster. Here’s how to not screw it up.

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For sides and desserts, read the entire recipe, tallying the ingredient amounts as you go. Divide your rough tally by the stated yield (i.e., “serves eight”). Does the serving size per person make sense, more or less? If so, you can halve or quarter the recipe as written. But if your stuffing recipe yields one quart and claims to feed eight people, you might want to make some adjustments—nobody on earth would be happy with a measly half-cup portion of stuffing. You know yourself and your guests’ preferences best, so listen to your intuition.

When it comes time to actually scale the recipe, weight measures—preferably grams—are easiest to work with. If you’re using a cups-and-spoons recipe, though, don’t despair. Recipe conversion apps are both useful and abundant; Apple and Android users alike have several highly-rated free options to choose from. If you’re using obscure ingredients or just feeling very DIY, you can even make your own: just weigh out samples of any ingredients you can’t add to taste and record your findings. Once you know how much a loaf of bread or a quart of stock weighs, scaling is easy. You can also safely scale volume measurements provided it’s a forgiving recipe—I wouldn’t recommend halving, say, a cups-and-spoons recipe for yeasted rolls, but a casserole will probably turn out fine.

Thanksgiving mains are only hard to scale down if you insist on serving turkey, because a whole one is way too much food for two to four people. If you’re dedicated to the ritual bird, you’ve still got options: call your store or meat counter and reserve the smallest bird they have, or better yet, see if they’ll sell you individual turkey breasts and/or legs. Whole, pre-smoked turkeys are great for small Thanksgivings because they’re cured and smoked, so leftovers—which you will have, in abundant quantities—keep in the fridge for a long time.

If you’re down to buck tradition, Small Thanksgiving practically begs for an alternative main. I can personally and strongly recommend using a boneless pork shoulder roast for a modified bo ssäm; just tie it up into a nice cylinder before you put it in the fridge to rest. You might also consider a spendy dish—like rack of lamb or beef Wellington—that would break the bank on a larger scale. Roast some Cornish game hens or cut up and fry a whole chicken; make some slow-cooker pulled pork, a big tray of mac and cheese, or three different kinds of mashed potatoes. Small Thanksgiving is all about you, and the only rules are those you make.

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