Make a Traditional Thanksgiving Menu ... Completely Gluten-Free

Make turkey and all the trappings gluten-free

gluten-free thanksgiving dinner
Make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner gluten-free. DNY59/Getty Images

At first glance, you might think making a traditional Thanksgiving meal gluten-free would be difficult or even impossible. So many of the foods that symbolize Thanksgiving involve gluten—think bread-based stuffing, gluten-thickened gravy and pumpkin pie.

But believe it or not, it's possible to make just about everything on the typical Thanksgiving table gluten-free—you just need to know where the gluten lurks and what to substitute to avoid it.

And once you're done, your guests might not even realize everything on the table is safe for those who follow the gluten-free diet.

There are actually plenty of convenient gluten-free foods and ingredients for Thanksgiving you can use as shortcuts, or you can decide to make everything on your menu from scratch—your choice. 

How to Make a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Meal

Here's a rundown of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, and what you need to do to make them gluten-free:

The Turkey

You can't go wrong with a fresh turkey. Fresh, plain turkeys—those without any added broth, spices or other ingredients—are always gluten-free. If you prefer smoked or pre-flavored turkey, don't buy it pre-made unless you can verify it's gluten-free. Generally speaking, it's always better to smoke and flavor your own turkey than to trust a pre-made variety.

Don't open any gravy packet that's included with a turkey unless it specifically states "gluten-free"—those almost certainly contain gluten.

One final turkey caveat: Whatever you do, don't ever eat gluten-stuffed turkey!

Stuffing

You don't need to mourn your favorite stuffing—it's extremely easy to make gluten-free stuffing, and once you add spices and other ingredients, it's likely to taste almost exactly the way you remember it. You can use a mix or simply use gluten-free bread crumbs (either packaged or from your own stale bread) in your own traditional recipe—you shouldn't even need to alter the recipe.

 

If you add spices, make sure they're from a safe source—I typically use the fresh herbs you find in the produce section of the supermarket, but there are other brands of gluten-free spices, including McCormick's single-ingredient dried herbs and spices and Spicely Organic. 

Here's my guide to this part of the traditional Thanksgiving meal: Gluten-Free Stuffing for Thanksgiving

Cranberry ​Sauce

There's no reason for cranberry sauce to contain gluten, so this should be an easy item to check off your list—there are multiple options available, including the ubiquitous Ocean Spray brand.

If you're feeling ambitious, you can make your own from fresh cranberries in the grocery store ... or you can purchase a store-bought cranberry sauce. My gluten-free cranberry sauce list explains more details on what's safe and what's questionable.

Mashed Potatoes

Like cranberry sauce, there's no reason for mashed potatoes to contain gluten. I usually make mine with fresh potatoes, butter, and some milk—I skin and boil the potatoes, mash them, add the butter and a little milk, and whip them with a hand mixer until they reach the right consistency.

Some brands of instant mashed potatoes are gluten-free, as well, but you're better off making your own.

Meanwhile, you'll need to steer clear of other favorite potato dishes such as au gratin potatoes, or follow a specific gluten-free recipe. For more information on various other potato dishes and whether or not they're gluten-free, check out my article Which Potato Dishes Are Gluten-Free?

Sweet Potatoes

You might find a recipe for candied sweet potatoes that includes flour as an ingredient, but I think it would be more the exception than the rule—the vast majority I've seen are naturally gluten-free. Therefore, you can use your old family recipe, or try something new. 

Gravy

Many of us grew up watching our mothers make Thanksgiving gravy using the turkey pan drippings, plus wheat flour. Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to make gluten-free gravy—just substitute corn starch for the flour. You also can use a gluten-free gravy mix: McCormick's offers one that's available in many stores.

Again, make sure you don't use any of the packets of gravy mix that come with certain turkeys, since they likely contain gluten (unless specifically marked "gluten-free").

Dinner Rolls

If you're trying to make your gluten-free Thanksgiving meal indistinguishable from a traditional, gluten-filled meal, dinner rolls are the one item that may trip you up. We all know how difficult it can be to make decent gluten-free bread, and rolls are no exception.

However, gluten-free bread products definitely have gotten much better over the past few years, and now there are dinner rolls your guests might mistake for gluten-filled — my guide to gluten-free dinner rolls explains what's possible. Also, instead of rolls, you might consider deviating a little from the traditional menu and trying a gluten-free cornbread recipe.

Pumpkin Pie

The trick to making a decent gluten-free pie is placing the emphasis on the filling, not on the crust. That being said, it's not difficult to make a good gluten-free pie crust, or you can purchase one pre-made and frozen at many high-end grocery stores.

When it comes to the filling, Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin is gluten-free, so that can serve as the base. Most pumpkin pie filling recipes already are naturally gluten-free, as well, so if you have a favorite, you should be able to use it. You also can try one of these gluten-free pumpkin recipes, which include ideas for pies and more. Just make sure that all your other ingredients—spices, mainly—are from safe sources (see the list of safe spices above).

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