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outdoor thanksgiving menu

All Photos: Maura Friedman

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How to throw an outdoor Thanksgiving: The menu

From cheese boards to apple pie, we've got your turkey day menu covered.

Chances are, you start planning your Thankgiving menu long before the big day rolls around. Raise your hand if you even start pulling recipes when it is still technically summer (guilty).



Moving Thanksgiving outside doesn't require too much of a different mindset than any other year. All you need to do is think: Can I cook this in my backyard? Some dishes may need to be started indoors and finished on the grill, while others are an all-outdoors affair. If you've got limited grill space, you can even cook much of what you'll see below entirely inside and just move it outdoors to eat. Just please don't fry your turkey in your living room.
The Menu
Here's what we served at our outdoor Thanksgiving; feel free to mix and match these ideas with your favorite dishes. If you're looking for even more ideas, we've also pulled together a comprehensive list of all of our traditional (and decidedly less so) Thanksgiving dishes in a link at the bottom of the page.

Appetizers
Cheese Board with Local Cheeses, Nuts and Fruit

Turkey
Deep-Fried Turkey

Sides
Bacon Cornbread Dressing
Fire-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
Homemade Green Bean Casserole
Grilled Kabocha Squash Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
Shaved Brussels Caesar Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts
Grilled Sourdough Bread
Pickled Cranberry Relish
Sage Gravy

Dessert
Chocolate Mousse Pie with Toasted Marshmallows
Upside-Down Apple Pecan Pie

Drinks
Homemade Mulled Apple Cider
Lemonade
Beer and Wine
The Schedule
Don't be intimidated by the menu above; tackle your shopping and prep work by staggering it throughout the week. And do enlist friends and family to help out. Much of the fun of Thanksgiving dinner is in the hours and days beforehand. Pull up your favorite playlists, crack open a couple of beers and turn this prep work into a party in itself.

One week to five days ahead
Head to the grocery store to pick up your turkey. Most turkeys these days are sold frozen, and they need plenty of time to thaw safely in your refrigerator. Because we like to brine our turkey before frying it, you'll want it to be thawed and ready to go the day before Thanksgiving.

You can also pick up non-perishables needed for your menu this early if you'd like to cut down on the time spent during last-minute shopping trips. Anything except fresh lettuces, herbs and cheese can be purchased now and will still be in tip-top shape come turkey day.

And hey, go ahead and start your cranberry relish while you're at it. If you want to make homemade stock for your stuffing and gravy, today is a great day for it. Both will keep just fine in the fridge until it's go time.

Two days ahead
If you've got the day off of work, today is the day to get prep work out of the way. Pre-roast squash for your salad, bake cornbread for the dressing, and pickle the cranberries for the relish. Thinly slice the Brussels sprouts and seal them up tight in a zipper lock bag. The chocolate mousse pie can also be made today, as so the pie dough for the apple pie. Simmer the apple cider today as well; feel free to have a couple of taste tests once it is cooked.

Free free to head out to grab any additional items you need from the grocery store today. It'll all keep just fine until Thursday. You can also brave the stores on Wednesday if you'd prefer. (At this point, you will have bought most of what you need, so it won't be too much of a hassle to shop the day before.)

And if you do have to work today, just plan to head to the store and get as much pie dough made as you can while you Netflix and chill. The rest of the day's tasks will be great work to pass off to Aunt Sally.

The day before
Get your turkey in its brine today and keep it stored in an ice-filled cooler. After you've got the turkey situated, finish up any prep that you didn't get to the day before. (Let's be real — we never get it all done on time.) Blanch the green beans for the casserole and simmer up its sauce; you can finish it off in the oven or on the grill tomorrow. Finish up the cranberry relish. Make the salad dressing for both the kabocha squash salad and the Brussels sprouts Caesar. You can also assemble the bacon and cornbread dressing today if you're feeling ambitious. And get your gravy cooked so you'll only need to reheat it tomorrow.
The big day
First things first, get your apple pie assembled. Don't stick it in the oven yet (it's best served quite warm), but it'll keep in the refrigerator for a several hours before baking.

Build a fire in a fire pit (or heat up your oven) to fire-roast your sweet potatoes. Have your family's pyromaniac montior the fire until it has burned down to coals. Wrap the potatoes in foil and stick them in the fire.

Heat up the mulled cider and share it with your earliest guests.

Next, pull the turkey out of the brine, pat it dry, and use it to measure the oil volume you'll need for frying. (Read more here.) Place the turkey on a baking sheet and let it come to room temperature. Put out a call for your boldest family member to supervise the frying process. While the turkey warms up, get your turkey fryer ready to go and begin heating your oil. It'll take some time, so have patience and start early! Once the oil is hot, (carefully) drop the turkey into the fryer and cook it for 3 minutes per pound. 

While this is happening, you'll want to get all of your sides and your apple pie ready to go. Grill the squash and transfer it to a bowl with salad greens. Pop your dressing (still in a cast iron skillet) and green bean casserole on a low flame to warm up. Toss together the Brussels sprouts Caesar and heat up the gravy. Place the apple pie in the oven and let it cook low and slow for over an hour.

Once the turkey has come out of the fryer, let it rest while you finish assembling the sides: Slice up enough bread to serve your family, brush it with a bit of olive oil, and grill it until lightly charred. (If you're in the Atlanta area, we recommend heading to Decatur for Lion Tamer bread. It's the best we've found in the state, and you can even buy it in advance and freeze it for up to a week.) Toss the kabocha squash salad with the dressing. Transfer everything to serving bowls and place on the table.

Finally, carve your turkey, with or without an electric carving knife, and you're ready to eat!


Want some more ideas? Here are some other great Thanksgiving recipes.
Learn how to set up your table and yard for outdoor Thanksgiving success.
Get your drinks table ready for a party and learn how to win at lawn games.


Thank you to The Magnolias and Atlanta Fine Homes | Sotheby’s International Realty for providing the space for our outdoor Thanksgiving. ​​


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Kate Williams is the editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She is also an on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She has been working in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.

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