How to Make Thanksgiving Dinner for Two, Because 2020

Three notable chefs offer up tips for anyone who's resigned to a slightly more intimate meal this year

November 19, 2020 8:00 am
Tips for Thanksgiving for Two
All the fix-ins for making a post-Thanksgiving sandwich.

Due to the realities of life during a pandemic that appears to be getting its second wind, many of us have had to make tough choices this Thanksgiving in the name of safety. In some cases, that means foregoing family, friends and festivities and instead opting to celebrate the holiday in the company of just one other person, be it a friend, partner or recent right swipe.

That being the case, we thought it might be prudent to get some suggestions on how to make a Thanksgiving party of two in the midst of COVID-19 feel as close to a traditional meal in normal times as possible.

To get said suggestions, we reached out to Chef Robert Irvine of the Food Network as well as Chef Palak Patel and Chef Tracy Wilk of the Institute of Culinary Education. Charles Joly, a world-renowned mixologist and co-founder of Crafthouse Cocktails, also weighed in with a suggestion.

“Of all the difficult firsts we’ve experienced during this pandemic, the holidays are sure to be the most difficult,” Irvine says. “The whole point of getting together at this time of year is to not socially distance. To feel the warm embrace of friends and family we haven’t seen in so long. But it’s not forever. Be strong and be smart and do it right.” 

Luckily for T-Day twosomes who want to do just that, and really anyone else dining with a smaller group than usual this year, our trio of chefs came up with seven tips for having a tasty Thanksgiving for two.

1. Keep it simple

Build a menu with easy-to-prep recipes. With just two people doing all the cooking, make sure to plan the menu ahead of time and stay organized to keep shopping and prepping streamlined.

2. The (whole) bird may not be the word

“If you’re cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for just two people, it doesn’t make sense to have a whole turkey,” Patel says. “So break with tradition and use a different centerpiece for your holiday meal. You could use turkey parts (like cooking just the legs or breast) or even try a smaller heritage-style bird such as quail, hen or duck. Going with a roasted chicken or even a stuffed squash for a plant-forward meal are also options. This will greatly reduce the amount of leftovers and cooking time.”

3. Breast intentions

“Turkey is a lot more versatile than it typically gets credit for because we’re so used to a traditional, slow-roasted whole turkey,” says Irvine. “My suggestion this year: Get a bone-out turkey breast and rub it with a mixture of Cajun spice, brown sugar, salt and pepper, then lay it in a roasting pan on a bed of roughly chopped carrots, onions and celery. Roast it for 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then flip it and roast for another hour and 20 minutes at 325 degrees — or until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. There’s your main dish for Thanksgiving dinner, prepped in under five minutes, and cooked in about 90 minutes. Think you could get used to that?”

4. Less veggies might be more

“Instead of purchasing whole, large vegetables like squash, pumpkin and cauliflower, opt for pre-cut packages of these vegetables that contain fewer servings,” Patel says. “Roasting these vegetables on a single sheet tray lined with foil will take up less room in the oven and make it easy to prepare and clean-up. You can also use frozen vegetables so you can cook just the quantity you need without having extra or creating waste. Try frozen French-style green beans or corn for casserole-style sides. Instead of purchasing a full baguette for stuffing, mix and match with readily available pantry items like grains and nuts to reduce the number of fresh vegetables.”

5. Portion out your potatoes

“Mashed potatoes are easy to scale down, just use fewer potatoes,” Patel says. “Two potatoes can yield up to 1.5 cups of mashed potatoes, so just decide how much you want to make. Make them the day of, right before dinner, and if you have leftovers, turn them into savory potato pancakes the next day. The same goes for sweet potatoes. In general, if you have leftovers, repurpose them in a new dish with a different flavor profile. For example, use leftover roasted vegetables in quesadillas or tacos and add Mexican seasonings to give them a different taste. They would also taste great in soups.”

6. Spend the extra time on yourself

“With your workload lightened, you can use the extra time to shake or stir up a signature cocktail to add to the mix,” Joly says. “Look for fresh ciders from local producers to add to your creations — they’re one of my favorite ingredients this time of year. Also, break out the nice glassware. Treat yourself and have a little time to celebrate your loved ones. Put on that outfit you haven’t worn in eight months … What are we saving this stuff for? Quarantine holidays are the 2020 staycation.” 

7. Do dessert differently

“Incorporate ‘dessert’ throughout the meal so you can just have one dessert that you really love,” Wilk says. “Maybe a cranberry and brie mini turnover as an appetizer or sweet potatoes for a side dish. Using a sweet and savory twist throughout the meal will be indulgent and help you leave room for your favorite dessert. For actual dessert, choose pies or other items that do well for leftovers like pumpkin cupcakes, pecan pie or apple crisp. Also, make mini hand pies instead of a full pie. You can choose one or two different types of fillings to have different options.”

8. Make Chef Irvine’s Thanksgiving leftover sandwich

You will need:

  • 1 slice crusty white bread, toasted
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups gruyere cheese
  • 3 cups shredded turkey
  • 3 tbsp hot sauce
  • 2 tbsp diced bacon


  1. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat add bacon and cook for 5 to 8 minutes.
  2. In a sauce pot add milk and bring to a boil.
  3. In another pot add butter and allow to melt; add flour and allow to cook over medium heat for approximately 4 to 6 minutes.
  4. Whisk milk and allow to cook for approximately 10 minutes. Fold in shredded gruyere. Now you’ve got mornay sauce.
  5. In a separate sauté pan add shredded turkey meat and place in a 300-degree oven.
  6. Place heated turkey on top of toasted white bread top with mornay sauce, crispy bacon, hot sauce and chopped parsley and tarragon.


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