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Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is no small task; between roasting a perfectly juicy and flavorful turkey (with a golden brown, crispy skin), finding a way to fit everyone's favorite side dish on your stovetop or in your oven, and rolling seemingly endless amounts of dough for the pumpkin and apple pies you'll be serving after the big meal, you're bound to need a few shortcuts along the way.

Even the most skilled home cooks can benefit from a few, strategically chosen premade items. The trick is knowing which items are best made from scratch and which aren't worth the extra effort.

It can be tempting to tackle too much on a holiday. We often plan to make too many dishes (and too many of those from scratch) in an effort to make a special meal, one that will make our friends and family members happy and that will keep long-held holiday traditions alive. However, making your great-aunt's famous puff pastry (for example) from scratch on such a busy day doesn’t make sense when there are a number of excellent premade substitutes. Even things that you regularly make from scratch may be worth buying instead since you’ll be making so many different dishes for Thanksgiving dinner.

If you’re going to take a few shortcuts, it’s important to consider tradition, the amount of time and effort that it takes to make something from scratch, and the quality of prepared substitutes. Canned cranberry sauce, for example, is convenient, but if you can spare 15 minutes and virtually no effort (just combine cranberries, water, and sugar in a pot and simmer until the cranberries are soft) you can have a much tastier version on your holiday table. Something like pumpkin pie filling, on the other hand, isn’t worth the work; you’ll spend lots of time and energy cutting, roasting, and puréeing pumpkin when you can buy additive-free purée that’s just as delicious.

If you’re looking for ways to save yourself a little bit of time on Thanksgiving Day, consider taking a few of these shortcuts.

  • 1. Appetizers

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    Don’t waste time topping tiny pieces of toast or filling mushroom caps to make appetizers; unless you’re simply mixing some seasonings with Greek yogurt for a speedy dip or cutting up crudité, you’re spending too much time on pre-dinner snacks. Stock up on your favorite frozen appetizers and pre-made dips and toppings that you can use to make appetizers with little to no effort.

  • 2. Dinner Rolls

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    Yeast-risen bread requires a fair bit of time and attention. If you’re overwhelmed with things to do on Thanksgiving Day, fake it; you can order dinner rolls from a local bakery in advance or buy frozen dinner rolls from your local grocery store. If you really want to make your own dinner rolls from scratch you can still take a shortcut by making the dough in advance and simply baking it on Thanksgiving Day. Most yeast-risen bread dough can be safely stored for three to four days in the refrigerator.

  • 3. Pie Crust

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    There’s no reason to spend time rolling and resting pie dough on a busy day like Thanksgiving (or on the days leading up to it). Though any premade pie crust will save you time, frozen pie crusts are your best bet; they come in a disposable pie pan which means you don’t have to worry about fluting the edges or making a decorative border for your pie.

  • 4. Puff Pastry

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    Like pie crust, there’s no reason to roll and fold your own puff pastry when such high-quality substitutes are available. Whether you’re wrapping a wheel of Brie or making a quick batch of cheese straws, use frozen puff pastry. 

  • 5. Pumpkin Purée

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    Cutting, roasting, and puréeing a pumpkin is a lot of work. If you’re making pumpkin pie, use canned pumpkin purée; you’ll be adding spices and other ingredients to the filling so it will still taste great. Save the fresh pumpkin for dishes with fewer ingredients and add-ins.

    Check out more Thanksgiving shortcuts.

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