Written by: Corey Janoff
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many of you are likely starting to prepare your Thanksgiving feast. If you are looking for tips on how to make your meal delicious without breaking the bank, then you have come to the right place! With inflation and the cost of groceries dominating headlines, we want to discuss how we can have an amazing meal for cheap. We will try to keep the total cost under $100 and have enough food to put 10-12 people into a food-coma.
Let’s get this started!
The Main Event
First things firsts let’s talk turkey. Most of you will be having turkey on your table for Thanksgiving because, well, tradition. You can buy Turkey this time of the year for a very reasonable price. Currently, Fred Meyer’s is selling their cheaper turkey’s for $0.99 cents per pound! You can also spend a bit more for a Butterball Turkey for $1.99 a pound. Either way, it is very reasonable if you are price conscious. Let’s assume we spend $25 for our Turkey. A quarter of our budget is gone, but it is the main event here.
Yes, you could purchase a sustainably raised, free-range organic turkey for a lot more, but this Thanksgiving we are more concerned with the bottom line than how the food was raised. And do not tell your mom you will only eat the turkey if it is organic, because she will slap you with a wooden spoon and say, “You will eat what’s for dinner, or you can go to bed hungry!”.
Growing up, the turkey was my least favorite part of the meal. It was always dry and tough to eat. You had to douse it with gravy to make it palatable. Well, times have changed and now I cannot wait for Thanksgiving turkey.
You do not need to waste your money on an injection kit. The key to making a delicious turkey is in the brine, which is a fancy word for a saltwater bath. Soak the turkey in a brine for 24 hours before cooking it and it will turn out super juicy and flavorful. I have made my own brine mix before (very easy), but now I purchase a brine mix from Walmart for $6.98 simply for convenience. Google “turkey brine recipe” to find some recipes and ideas, but as long as you have salt in your spice cabinet, you can make a good brine.
Boil some water and mix in the brining spices so the salt dissolves, add ice to cool it off quickly, or stick it in the fridge/freezer to bring the temperature down. Once cool, pour into a bucket or cooler with the turkey and add some more water until the turkey is completely submerged. Stick in the fridge overnight (or keep outside if it’s cold enough – below 40 degrees).
When it is time to cook the turkey, take it out of the brine and pat it dry. Stuff the cavity with a chopped onion ($0.50), two chopped celery stalks ($0.25), and two chopped carrots ($0.25). You could also quarter a lemon ($0.75) and throw it in. If you have an herb garden and grow some thyme, rosemary, or sage, those can be nice herbs to add in there as well. I’ll also let a stick of butter ($1.50) come to room temperature and rub it under the skin before cooking. Place the turkey in a baking pan and you’re ready to go.
If you have a smoker or wood-pellet grill, cook the turkey on that, as it will be the best turkey you have ever tasted. Smoke it for a few hours and then increase the heat to 300-350 degrees until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees. If all you have is an oven, it will still come out great. I usually cook the turkey at a lower temperature than the packaging suggests (around 300 degrees). Like good barbecue, low-and-slow keeps the meat moist.
When the turkey is done, you can use the onion, celery, and carrots in your stuffing. You do not want to cook the stuffing inside the turkey – it will usually come out too dry. Make the stuffing separately and if you want to for presentation purposes, you can stuff it in the turkey before carving and serving. If you have some time before eating, you can wrap the turkey in foil, then Saran wrap, and stick it in a cooler with some towels for insulation. It will stay hot for hours.
If we are trying to make a budget friendly meal, then potatoes are your friend. You can buy a 10 lb bag of russet potatoes for about $4.99. Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving? Add a couple of sticks of butter ($3.00) and some half and half ($1.50) to make them creamy. Yum.
If you are one of the rare people who doesn’t like traditional mashed potatoes, you could opt for mashed sweet potatoes. Five pounds of sweet potatoes will cost about $7.50. You don’t even need to add butter or cream, as they are naturally softer and sweeter than russet potatoes. Just add some salt and pepper and you’re set.
You could make scalloped potatoes too. We will take three of the ten pounds of potatoes we purchased a few paragraphs ago to make these. Thinly slice the potatoes. Slice up a small onion ($0.50). Layer a greased baking dish with the potato slices, then onion slices, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Then dust some flour over the top and repeat with another layer of potato/onion/butter/flour. When the dish is full, pour a few cups of warm whole milk ($2) over the top and bake in the oven until done.
Ooh, we can’t forget the stuffing. I’m a big fan of the stuffing with sausage. Sauté some onion, celery, and garlic in melted butter ($2.00) and set aside. Then cook a pound of ground sausage ($4.00) in the same pan. Then combine the veggies, sausage, stuffing cubes ($3.00), chicken broth ($2.00), an egg, and some herbs and bake for an hour.
We should probably add some green to our plates so we can say we ate vegetables. I’m not a huge fan of green bean casserole, but I like green beans, so we can have a healthier side with less work by simply making green beans. Let’s purchase three pounds of green beans at $1.99/lb ($6.00), steam them and toss with some butter, minced garlic (or garlic powder), salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese (optional) and we have a tasty side of green beans.
Cranberries. Can’t forget the cranberries. I’ve never made cranberries, but I believe we can just cook two packages of cranberries ($4.00 total) with some water and sugar in a saucepan until they start bursting. Voila.
Dessert & Drinks
You already made the sweet potato casserole and besides, you have made enough dishes for your guests this Thanksgiving. Either pick up a large pumpkin pie at Costco for $6.99 or ask some of your guests to bring some pie and ice cream. Don’t forget the whipped cream! Tell the other non-dessert bringing guests to bring beverages. It’s the least they can do. You can buy a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider ($3.50) for a toast when everyone arrives.
How Did We Do?
Looks like we successfully made a fantastically delicious Thanksgiving feast for you and your guests for $100 right on the nose! Or, you could have everyone pitch in $10 each for groceries and BYOB. See the breakdown in the chart below. Obviously, you could spend more to enhance some of the dishes, but we are ballin’ on a budget this year! Everyone has their own Thanksgiving favorites and traditions, so feel free to add your own tweaks to the above meal plan.
Best of luck with your Thanksgiving meal prep and travel plans!