Friendsgiving is exactly what it sounds like: friends coming together to eat a Thanksgiving meal. The origin of Friendsgiving is unclear, but it’s a term for a fairly newer holiday tradition. While Thanksgiving happens the fourth Thursday of November, Friendsgiving often happens the weekend before, the Wednesday before, or the Friday after. Friends are required, family members are optional. And for some, it’s the opportunity to celebrate the holiday without the mishegas of family.
There are no hard and fast rules about this holiday. The best Friendsgivings are casual and freestyle, and most often they’re a potluck meal. You don’t need to worry about whether every dish perfectly complements the other (gravy is the unifying force). You don’t need to break out the fine China or have elaborate tablescapes. Friendsgiving is about getting friends together, as many as you can fit in your home, to eat a ton of good food. If you’ve never hosted a Friendsgiving and always wanted to try, I’ve included some tips for planning and celebrating one of the best holidays of the year.
Invite and inventory
Friendsgiving at its core is informal and festive. If you’re a planner and can get the word out weeks in advance, awesome! But some of the best Friendsgivings I’ve ever attended were planned and executed within a week’s time. You don’t need a save the date card for this.
First, connect with your crew and figure out who has the most space/wants to host, and combine your resources. Think about how much glassware (mason jars are always a good back-up), plateware, utensils, and chairs (or floor space) you’ll need from the start. Unless you are lucky enough to have ample furniture and space, some friendly table/chair borrowing might be required. Sure, you can problem solve once the guest list is out, but it’s much easier if you have a sense of your hosting capabilities before you send out invites.
Once you figure out what space you’re working with, you can send out the call to Friendsgiving. This is the time to have a game plan for the food. When you invite your friends, you can make it clear what you’d like folks to bring, and how you’ll coordinate the food.
Planning the menu
Traditionally, the host supplies the turkey (and therefore gravy). It’s too hard to lug a cooked big bird in a car or on public transportation to someone else’s house. As with any good potluck, the meal is about sharing everyone’s favorite dishes, and a coming together of your tribe. If you’re hosting, your job is to guide the way to a great meal. You can choose to cook as much or as little of the food as you feel comfortable with.
If you’re going fully potluck, as a host your main responsibility is to coordinate who brings what. You can get nerdy and do a shared Google sheet with the dishes that need to be filled in, or you can simply send out suggestions and keep track of what’s being made. Depending on how many people you invite, it’s great to have doubles of certain sides like stuffing and mashed potatoes. Some people will be passionate about bringing over their family’s special dish. As long as all bases are covered, duplicates are welcome.
Here’s my basic list for divvying up the meal:
• Something potato
• Something stuffing
• Something orange (squash, sweet potato, etc.)
• Something green (green beans, brussels sprouts, etc.)
• Something cranberry
• Something salad
• Something rolls/cornbread/bread
• Something wildcard
3. Beverages: Everyone brings one
4. Desserts: There can never be too many pies
If you need a little more help on the food part of all of this, below are some links to some of my favorite recipes and a few strategies for cooking up the meal.
The Turkey + Gravy
Everything you need to know about making a turkey can be learned in one simple video:
In all seriousness, if you need an easy recipe, try this one. If you’re keeping things kosher, omit the butter and use olive oil instead.
As for gravy, I love to keep it simple by making a classic pan gravy.
If you’ve never cooked a turkey before, rest assured they’re much easier to make than you think. You can get super cheffy and complicated with brines and rubs, but you can also just roast the turkey much like you would a chicken. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Turkeys generally cook better and quicker without stuffing. Instead of using a bread stuffing, I like to fill the cavity with fresh herbs, lemon, garlic, onion, and apple. Make sure to generously season the bird inside and out with salt and pepper.
• To prevent your turkey from getting dry, cook it partially covered, or covered for half of the cooking time.
• A turkey needs to be FULLY defrosted before roasting; a large turkey takes days to fully defrost in the fridge, and even “fresh” turkeys are often partially frozen when you purchase them. Plan accordingly (i.e. don’t wait until the day of to buy a bird). It’s also best to allow the turkey to come up to room temp before putting it in the oven.
• To calculate what size turkey you’ll need: plan for 1 pound per person, or a 1.5 pounds per person if you want leftovers. Keep in mind that the bigger the bird, the more meat-to-bone ratio you’ll have. Also, the truth is that medium-small birds (12-14 lbs) tend to cook more evenly.
• If you’re planning a huge crowd (over 20 guests) and don’t have enough room for two turkeys in your oven, you can also buy one large turkey, and then purchase some additional turkey parts (breasts and/or legs) to roast separately. Or, pick another substantial entree dish to go with turkey. You can also make smaller turkey parts instead of a whole bird for a small group. As much as we think Thanksgiving is all about turkey, I’ll argue that it’s not.
Let’s be real, Thanksgiving is all about the sides. Friendsgiving doesn’t require perfect harmony between every dish on the table, especially if you’re approaching the meal potluck-style, but it’s also a good idea to make sure all bases are covered. Here are some of my favorites in each category:
• Something potato: Mashed potatoes are classic, and they can easily be kept warm or reheated, but it’s also nice to do a dish like Nigella Lawson’s make-ahead mashed potatoes, or Deb Perelman’s outstanding potato kugel (bonus points for a Jew-y side).
• Something stuffing: Stuffing is where you can get really creative, but there’s zero shame in using a premade mix or a simple classic recipe. If you want to experiment try a stuffing made of sourdough, kale and dates by Suzanne Goin, or a Southern-style cornbread dressing (I substitute any pork sausage for chicken or turkey sausage).
• Something orange: If you’re choosing to go vegetarian or dairy at your meal, Dorie Greenspan’s “Stuffed Pumpkin with Everything Good” is easily the best thing I’ve ever served guests during the holidays. Otherwise, classic candied yams is tried and true, or you can take it up a culinary notch with this standout Ottolenghi recipe for sweet potatoes with lemongrass creme fraiche.
• Something green: There are so many options for vegetables, and your friends will feel that much better about shoveling all that other food onto their plates with one of these on the table: addictive roasted broccoli, these miso green beans, old school green bean casserole, sweet green peas with orange and mint, this insanely good brussels sprout gratin, or a pile of sautéed Swiss chard with currants and pine nuts.
• Something cranberry: I’ve met friends who live for canned cranberry sauce, the kind that is vaguely gelatinous. I solemnly believe no Thanksgiving meal is complete without a fresh batch of cranberry sauce. Every bag of fresh or frozen cranberries (and both work equally well) has a solid recipe on the back of it, but if you’re looking for something different you can even try a fresh relish like Tyler Florence’s recipe; I love to make a version of this with some fresh ginger added in it, too.
• Something salad: I love a good vegan or kale Caesar at my Thanksgiving table, like this one by Gena Hamshaw from Food52. Whenever I make one, it’s always the first thing to go (seriously).
• Something wildcard: Living in a land full of immigrants, you can find an ethnic spin on almost every classic Thanksgiving recipe. Friendsgiving is the perfect place to try out new and unusual dishes like: bejewelled rice, or winter squash agradolce, or root vegetable tarte tatin, or Oaxacan stuffing, or roasted brussels sprouts with gribenes… you get the idea.
I like to invite guests to bring 1 side, 1 beverage, and 1 dessert. There’s no way you actually need a meal with a pie per person, but there’s something glorious about staring down a table with more pie on it than anyone can eat. Part of the joy of Thanksgiving is having pie for breakfast the next day. With proper dessert coverage, you can send every guest home with the gift of pie leftovers. Just make sure to have ice cream and whipped cream on hand to go with all the pie options.
If you’re looking for some pie inspiration, here are some of my favorites:
• Apple: This should cook for much longer than you think. Apples piled super high is the key. If you’re keeping your meal non-dairy, you can swap butter in the crust for vegan butter or vegetable shortening.
• Cranberry: This cranberry lime tart is far from a traditional pie, but it’s a stunning dessert that is equally as delicious as it looks.
• Pumpkin: I’ve been forever changed by adding espresso powder to my pumpkin pie, but you can always go
• Vegan and Gluten Free Coconut Cream Pie: To satisfy any guest with dietary needs or a love of coconut, this is a great plant-based pie option.
You can easily skip appetizers, but know that people are going to come hungry, and there’s a good chance some guests will show up late. I like to assign one eager helpful friend the task of bringing a starter. Crudites and dip, toasted and spiced nuts, bruschetta, or marinated warm olives are all good options.
Most guests will bring wine, one might even bring an interesting bottle of booze, and for those who don’t drink I suggest bringing sparkling water or a case of La Croix. Actually, I would make sure someone brings a case of La Croix.
Oh, and don’t forget to have ice!
About the oven
No one is allowed to use the oven without written permission in advance.
This is the rule that will save you. Often, friends will bring a dish that needs to be warmed up. That’s cool, but it’s got to be planned in advance, especially if you have a giant turkey/small oven/any sides you’re planning to make. Be realistic about what can fit in the oven and at what time. This is where a list or a spreadsheet will save you. As a bonus, a turkey should and can rest for a nice chunk of time before it gets served. That opens up precious real estate in the oven for any sides that need to be reheated and/or served hot.
Because Friendsgiving is usually celebrated in addition to actual Thanksgiving it’s an opportunity to skip out on the most expensive, most ovenspace-consuming part of the meal. If you keep kosher, it’s also nice to have a meal that can involve dairy, since many of the best classic side dishes involve butter and cream. Why not go meat-free for Friendsgiving? Trust me, no one will miss the bird.
Do you have a friend who loves playing DJ? Assign them the task of creating a playlist. My sister-in-law gifted me a Thanksgiving playlist a few years ago that now is required listening during the holidays. It has fun food-related music, and happy tunes that inspire gathering and cooking and cleaning up and having fun.
Speaking of cleaning up, if you’re a guest at someone else’s Friendsgiving, offering a hand with washing up and cleaning is a huge mitzvah and bound to get you invited back.
I like to have a bunch of empty jars or containers on hand for leftovers. There’s always a ton of food, and it’s nice to send friends home with some good stuff from the meal.
The more the merrier
As is my philosophy with all large-sized parties, the more people the better. Make sure to leave some wiggle room for last minute additions and extra party guests. A full house Friendsgiving is the perfect entry point into the winter holiday season.
And remember, even if the turkey is super dry and maybe even a little burnt, and even if the food isn’t that good, and even if no one brought extra pie and you run out of dessert, somehow that will be the story. Friends is the only necessary ingredient for a memorable Friendsgiving.