A Trader Joe's Thanksgiving Feast You Hardly Have To Cook

Not in the mood to cook this year? Trader Joe’s has your back.

Trader Joe's is pretty well established as a leader in heat-and-eat meals, and in the category of traditional holiday foods it keeps its crown. The grocery chain is offering a whole range of prepared items for Thanksgiving this year—so many, in fact, that you can build an entire spread without having to cook anything from scratch.

How did all these items fare in a Thanksgiving dinner taste test? Let's go dish by dish.

Turkey

Turkey is always the most expensive part of the Thanksgiving meal, but prices are predicted to be sky high this year, thanks to both inflation and the bird flu that took out many turkeys earlier in the year. As a result, you may not want to get more meat than you need. Or maybe don't want to cook a whole turkey for hours and hours. Let's face it, there are a lot of reasons this precooked, brined, seasoned half turkey breast might make sense. It even comes on the bone, so you still get to do a little carving.

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This was priced at $7.99/lb. I ended up with a 4-lb. breast, which came to about $32. By comparison, Trader Joe's brined fresh turkeys (uncooked) are 12-16 lbs. and cost $1.99/lb. for conventional or $3.99/lb. for organic. That means the largest of the conventional turkeys would come in around the same price tag as the four-pounder I bought. But, of course, you're paying for the convenience.

I followed the package instructions, which were to put the turkey and its juices into a baking dish, cover it with foil, and heat it for 25 minutes. Then I was to take the foil away, baste it, and keep coming back for more basting until it was "golden brown," which the package said should be another 12-15 minutes. In practice, it was at least another half hour, maybe even 40 minutes. There were no instructions specific to temperature, but Butterball's instructions on a similar product said it should be heated to an internal temperature of 140 degrees.

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I must say, this turkey surpassed my expectations. Its flavor was delicious, just as good as any fresh-cooked turkey I've had. Given the emphasis on basting in the instructions, I was worried I was going to be battling dryness, but it was perfectly moist.

Stuffing

Trader Joe's does have a heat-and-eat cornbread stuffing, but it was already sold out at my store, so I went with TJ's Turkey Sausage Stuffing Fried Rice, which I found to be a surprisingly good addition to my Thanksgiving plate. It had the essence of stuffing, but the texture of rice among the other sides was novel.

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Vegetable hash

I thought this Holiday Vegetable Hash was going to be a home run, but after sautéeing it and adding some salt, I just didn't find it that extraordinary. I think it would be a great mix-in for stuffing. And actually, once it was on my plate, it mingled with gravy and the stuffing rice, and it it did complement the whole experience. But I didn't love it on its own.

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Cranberry sauce

I figured we'd better try both fresh and canned, or in the case of Trader Joe's, jarred cranberry sauce. Just for kicks, I took it out of the jar to see if it'd keep its shape. But because the mouth of the jar narrowed, it didn't come out in a pleasingly unbroken mass. Instead, it was a semi-solid pile of (not very jiggly) cranberry sauce that I didn't love the flavor of.

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For a non-jarred version, I opted for Cranberry Orange Relish over Fresh Cranberry Sauce, and that was a fantastic decision.

Gravy

I bought Trader Joe's heat-and-eat turkey gravy, and it was really lacking. In retrospect, I wonder if adding some salt and pepper might have helped, but generally, I didn't find it to be a good stand-in for gravy made from scratch. However, the package for the precooked brined turkey breast did include instructions to make a quick gravy out of the drippings from the turkey, which might be a good option for those who don't want to be disappointed by this somewhat bland boxed version.

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Mashed poatatoes

Trader Joe's heat-and-eat mashed potatoes come frozen in a 28-oz. bag, and when you add them to a pot, they're formed into rods, kind of like packing peanuts.

The packing peanuts stuck to the bottom of my pot, which I believe I had set to too high a temperature. Don't be like me; follow the directions and heat the pot on low. Once cooked, these potatoes had a good consistency and made for a fine gravy vehicle, which is what I wanted them to be.

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Sweet potatoes

Unlike the mashed potatoes, Trader Joe's frozen sweet potatoes came out of the bag in little circular nuggets.

These heated easier in my pot (no sticking). In terms of flavor, it comes out tasting like straight-up sweet potato mash, because that's exactly what it is. If you're more accustomed to a cinnamon-and-brown-sugar type of sweet potato situation, you could easily add some of those warm flavors to this mash and I think it would help them.

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Green beans

Trader Joe's has all the ingredients for green bean casserole, but that would have taken me out of heat-and-eat territory, so instead I bought a bag of the fresh green beans and steamed them. A classic addition to the Thanksgiving plate.

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Pumpkin pie

I had low expectations for the Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie. Store-bought pies aren't usually my thing, and I really like my aunt's from-scratch pumpkin pie. There was no way this thing was going to be an apt replacement. But to my surprise, this was one delicious dessert.

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It was just sweet enough, with a crust that's kind of cakey in a delightful way. All in all, a very good pumpkin pie, and a very fitting finale to a meal I didn't have to do much prep for.

Is a Trader Joe’s Thanksgiving right for you?

This was a fine meal, the standouts of which were the turkey and the pumpkin pie. If you buy those two items for your Thanksgiving feast, that alone could open up enough physical and mental space in your kitchen that you could make some of your side dishes from scratch, if you wanted, sparing yourself the blandness of Trader Joe's gravy and veggie hash.

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Speaking of physical space: Despite the fact that I didn't make anything from scratch, this meal still presented a bit of a challenge. I heated the gravy, rice, and both types of potatoes on my stove. (There are microwave instructions for each, but I'm one of those millennials who doesn't own one.) Because the turkey ended up taking longer than expected, I put each side dish in a little casserole dish with foil and stuck them in the oven with the turkey to stay warm.

It all worked out, but it took some juggling. Still much less than if I'd made it all from scratch, of course, but it's worth knowing that although the heat-and-eat route requires no chopping or measuring, it still takes some clever kitchen maneuvering. Maybe for your family, that level of work is the perfect middle ground between cooking and ordering takeout.

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