How To Have Thanksgiving Entirely By Can

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Can any meal top Thanksgiving? Not in our eyes. The popularity of Thanksgiving is as understandable as it is undeniable. While the real-life history behind the national holiday isn't as straightforward as many believe (via The New York Times), the rationale behind our love for an entire day dedicated to food, family, and football is easy to ascertain.

Of course, if you're one of the designated chefs for the celebratory meal on the fourth Thursday in November, the day can be a stress-filled bonanza. Ensuring your Thanksgiving dinner is prepared and served without a hitch is of utmost importance, after all – even if you've got nothing at your disposal beyond a cabinet of canned foods.

Actually ... creating a mouth-watering Thanksgiving meal using only canned products? That's precisely the type of challenge we're eager to accept. In fact, considering the range of food products packaged and sold in various types of cans in 2022, creating any meal — even one as important and wide-ranging as Thanksgiving — is quite doable.

Since we're making our own arbitrary rules, we imagined a person with a working kitchen and some non-canned pantry items making the meal. Additionally, any and all food products sold in cans were up for grabs — no matter where they're sold. With that in mind, allow us to present how to have Thanksgiving entirely by can.

Creamy shrimp dip with canned seafood and dried cream cheese

When planning a Thanksgiving dinner entirely by can, we found very few dishes were entirely off limits. Frankly, our research opened the doors to some truly unexpected Thanksgiving dinner options for canned connoisseurs. In that vein, what better way to start the meal than an appetizer seemingly infeasible without fresh ingredients: Creamy shrimp dip (one inspired by a recipe from recipe developer Susan Olayinka).

Now, the availability of canned shrimp (including from Bumble Bee Seafoods), is unlikely to shock any crafty or thrifty cooks. After all, seafood companies have been canning and selling various types of seafood since the 19th century. Canned cream cheese, on the other hand? That's an entirely different story, and we can relate to any inherent hesitation. Yet a powdered (and canned) cream cheese product is indeed sold by MRE Depot, and we're inclined to believe it would do in a pinch.

The idea of a creamy shrimp dip made with dried, canned cream cheese may not be preferable to one made with wholly fresh ingredients, but we're confident this shellfish-centric dip would be far more flavorful and enjoyable than you may imagine. Not only that, but you can keep the canned theme going, and grab a few cans of Pringles to serve alongside the dip.

Fully-cooked white turkey meat from a can

When someone mentions Thanksgiving in a can, our first thought turns to the classic Season 4 "Bob's Burgers" holiday episode, "Turkey in a Can." But unlike the gross-yet-tender animated image of Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) dropping a bird into the toilet while dreaming he's potty-training his daughter, the prospect of your Thanksgiving turkey coming from a can doesn't have to be nauseating. In fact, you can actually purchase pre-cooked, all-white canned turkey meat from Keystone Meats (sold on Amazon).

It goes without saying that turkey is the star of every Thanksgiving dinner — by can or otherwise — so it's worth considering options beyond simply dumping the contents onto a plate. Don't be shy about jazzing up the meat with various seasonings and spices, particularly rosemary, thyme, and garlic, though the only real restriction is your personal palate and preferences.

Additionally, preparing it the same way you'd reheat leftover turkey is a strong option. Using canned chicken broth will ensure your turkey stays moist and may impart some additional poultry flavor while cooking (unlike water).

Canned ham (if you prefer pork to poultry)

Turkey's supremacy on Thanksgiving dinner tables is impossible to deny, but it's not the only centerpiece protein commonly served on holidays. In particular, if you're aiming to craft a satisfactory Thanksgiving entirely by can but aren't salivating over canned turkey meat, there's a fairly obvious alternative. After all, since few items can compete with baked ham's widespread usage at holiday dinner tables already, canned ham offers an easy alternative meat for any Thanksgiving meal prepared with canned foods.

There's no shortage of canned ham brands to choose from, of course, but aiming for a larger, intact product is ideal when constructing your holiday feast. You can never go wrong with a Dak canned ham (available on Amazon), which can be roasted whole if you're looking for aesthetic value or sliced and cooked in individual servings.

Canned ham is one of the easiest additions to a Thanksgiving entirely by can. Whether you prefer pork to poultry or are looking to diversify the meat options available to dinner guests, don't hesitate to grab a canned ham or two when preparing your menu.

Crescent rolls

To be perfectly honest, when it came to what could or could not be classified as a canned food, we were on the fence about canned crescent rolls. After all, is the package for the baked good (available from Pillsbury) actually a can, or a just a can-like cardboard tube? At the end of the day, though, we remembered that we made the rules, so crescent rolls make the cut.

For one thing, including bread of some sort on your Thanksgiving dinner table is a given. There are certainly other canned baked goods (from Pillsbury and similar companies) that could fill that void, like biscuits. But we simply can't resist a nice, fluffy, fresh-baked crescent roll — or croissant, if you prefer being fancy.

Additionally, since ease of preparation played a hand in our Thanksgiving canned food choices, the fact you don't need anything but what's inside the can to produce a perfect final product boosts crescent rolls in our estimation. In that sense, the choice to include crescent rolls is obvious, regardless of any potential quibbles regarding its packaging.

Mashed potatoes with canned potatoes, butter, and milk

It may come as a surprise, but there are a number of legitimate advantages to using canned products in your Thanksgiving dishes instead of fresh items. Canned potatoes in particular can vastly reduce your mashed potato prep time (via Today), and if you can prioritize purchasing items without additional salt, you'll have the same blank potato canvas as fresh potatoes. As a result, making mashed potatoes with canned potatoes will likely produce a dish just as delicious as scratch-made.

The biggest advantage to choosing canned potatoes for your Thanksgiving mashed serving over fresh ones is that canned potatoes are already cooked. Canned potatoes are sold whole (like the Great Value brand from Walmart) or sliced (including from Del Monte), and allow any chef to construct delicious mashed potatoes with their eyes closed.

Additionally, it's not just canned potatoes that can help create a memorable mashed potato dish. You can use a canned butter product sold by Red Feather in New Zealand (available on Amazon) and incorporate canned evaporated milk, as well. If you're unsure how to use that product, the answer can be found straight from the horse's mouth, as Nestle features a recipe for mashed potatoes using its Carnation evaporated milk.

Sweet potato casserole

We'd expect many folks will find themselves tempted to make certain future Thanksgiving dishes exclusively with canned foods after seeing how easy — and tasty — those ingredients actually are. Similar to the extreme ease canned potatoes provide in making massive quantities of mashed potatoes, making a dynamite sweet potato casserole (similar to this recipe from Kristen Carli) is almost stunningly simple when mainly canned ingredients are utilized.

Even though whole canned sweet potatoes are sold (including from Bruce's, which is available at Walmart), we'd opt for a pre-pureed product for maximum ease — like this item sold by Farmer's Market (and also available at Walmart). Since you'll need to mash the sweet potatoes eventually anyway, skipping that step only speeds up the process. In addition to sweet potatoes, though, you can find other main ingredients for this casserole in cans. If you order canned butter from Red Feather (available on Amazon), you can truly create a perfect casserole base almost entirely by can.

As for the topping, the recipe we included calls for a pecan topping, which is fairly easy to accomplish with canned foods. After all, while various nuts are sometimes sold in pouches, it's rather easy to find canned pecans (including from Planters).

Stuffing prepared with brown bread in a can (or already premade)

As noted, we created an arbitrary set of rules for this article. If we don't have and follow rules as a society (or food-centric website), after all, we're apt to swiftly devolve into anarchy. We want turkey-flavored stuffing, and while we could have included plastic canisters of stuffing (like this from Stove Top) as our stuffing option, we could only find a chicken-flavored canned product. As a result, we'd opt for homemade stovetop stuffing using the miracle of canned brown bread.

Don't adjust your phone or computer screen, though, because you read that right: Brown bread in a can — as in a fully-cooked loaf of dark bread — does, indeed, exist (sold by B&M). It's not just a baked can of bread that allows you the opportunity to create a well-rounded stuffing for Thanksgiving entirely by can, though. Some of the standard vegetable additions, like chopped celery, are also sold as dehydrated products in cans by Augason Farms (available on Amazon).

If you're looking for a quicker and easier solution to a labor-intensive stuffing recipe, though, you can always turn to a pre-made canister. After all, Stove Top tastes just like homemade and can always be souped up by potential additions — and, quite honestly, there's little to no discernable difference between chicken and turkey-flavored stuffing

Green bean casserole

Green bean casserole often feels like a relic from a different era of popular cuisine. But traditions don't die off easily, which is a good thing for anyone crafting Thanksgiving dinner entirely by can. After all, even if you're on the fence about green bean casserole as a standard Thanksgiving side, the fact it's already largely made from canned ingredients means it's perfect for a canned turkey day meal (like this recipe from Miriam Hahn).

Since you're always expected to cook green beans entirely before making the dish proper, canned green beans (like these from Del Monte) make for an extremely easy substitution in many recipes. Additionally, green bean casserole generally calls for canned cream of mushroom soup and a can of crispy French-fried onions, easing your ability to prepare the dish entirely by can.

There's no shortage of canned soup brands, of course, and you can't go wrong with a classic cream of mushroom can from Campbell's. As for the crispy fried onions, you can find them in a can sold by O Organic (which is available at Star Market, among other retailers), allowing a final product chock full of canned ingredients.

Buttered peas and carrots

It's virtually impossible to imagine anyone unfamiliar with the importance of consuming vegetables. In other words, you're almost certainly aware that the food group is essential to your overall health and well-being. Perhaps that's why this simple-yet-delectable side dish for your canned Thanksgiving dinner may migrate to regular inclusion at future meals. Because canned buttered peas and carrots make a natural, healthy, and delicious addition while removing further prep work from your crowded schedule.

Seriously: Creating a buttered peas and carrots dish for Thanksgiving entirely by can is almost too easy. You literally just pour sliced canned carrots (like these from Del Monte) and canned peas (like the Great Value brand from Walmart) into a pan, add a scoop or two of canned butter from Red Feather (sold on Amazon), and voila. A scrumptious and scary-simple side dish — one that might help reduce at least some of the guilt you feel from consuming so many other rich, decadent foods on the big day.

Cranberry sauce from a can is already the best option

The debate between lovers of canned cranberry sauce and advocates of the fresh-made variety rages every year. But for us, there is no contest: Canned cranberry sauce is, without question, the best possible option for Thanksgiving. Frankly, even if every other component is created with fresh ingredients, we're still reaching for a canned variety of the sweet and tangy side.

There's not a whole lot you likely need us to tell you when it comes to serving canned cranberry sauce (sold by Ocean Spray in jellied and whole varieties). Maybe you prefer simply taking the jelly straight from the can and serving it as is — with indented can ridges on display for all to see. If you're turned off by that processed shape, though, the whole berry sauce has a slightly more natural look.

While Ocean Spray is known for selling both whole berry and jellied varieties of cranberry sauce, there are numerous generic versions at various grocery chains around the country (including from Great Value brand by Walmart). We'd wholeheartedly recommend jellied, but if you prefer whole berry cranberry sauce with your turkey, go ahead and eat to your heart's content.

Canned gravy is plentiful

Not unlike the incredible ease with which, say, cranberry sauce can be prepared and served for Thanksgiving from a can, there's no shortage of shortcut gravy options for the time-strapped chef this holiday. We've even previously ranked premade gravy brands for sale at grocery stores and supermarkets to help guide consumers. Gravy is widely available in numerous brands and flavors — including a classic turkey gravy from Campbell's.

No matter how delightful a cooked turkey's pan drippings may come out, it can be a struggle to avoid creating a lumpy disaster when you try to make gravy from scratch. Because of this, we actually prefer canned gravy over scratch-made at times. Frankly, then, whether you're following a gimmicky plan to craft a holiday meal with nothing but canned good or are simply short on time once the bird is ready for carving, canned gravy is a fantastic go-to option for Thanksgiving.

We clearly have our favorites, but even a lesser-known gravy brand is worth considering. After all, if you're not thrilled with the initial flavor, you can always tinker with additional seasonings and spices.

Bread pudding with brown bread and premade custard

Obviously, no dessert option complements a Thanksgiving dinner quite like pie. And while there's a veritable barnyard of potential pie options at a normal Thanksgiving dinner, the unfortunate reality is pie crust isn't readily sold in cans. So, we were forced to look outside the traditional pastry route, which led us to a fairly simple solution: Bread pudding.

The availability of brown bread in a can meant the decision to make bread pudding for a Thanksgiving dessert entirely by can was an easy one to make. Additionally, since many bread pudding recipes call for raisins, the fact that B&M sells brown bread in a can with raisins simplifies the dessert-making process.

Obviously, you're welcome to follow the remainder of a bread pudding recipe directions, but there are some other simplifying steps to consider with canned foods, as well. If you're in a time crunch, you can skip the homemade liquid component and simply add a premade canned custard (sold by Ambrosia on Amazon) to your chopped bread mixture. 

Pumpkin pie crisp

Even if pies aren't an option when crafting a Thanksgiving meal entirely by can, you can still create some delightful desserts. Case in point: desserts that utilize a crumble topping, like an apple or peach crisp. After all, crisps can be made with canned oats, and provide a similar (if upside-down) experience to a pie with a bottom-layer crust. Since Thanksgiving isn't complete without pumpkin pie, go with the next best thing when making a meal with canned products and flip it by baking a pumpkin pie crisp.

It's not just the widespread presence of canned pumpkin puree (including from One-Pie, available on Amazon) around the holiday that makes pumpkin pie crucial to the season. Pumpkin pie spice just may be the flavor most associated with autumn. 

When making a pumpkin pie crisp, first prepare the pumpkin pie filling as usual. But rather than pouring it over a crust, add the prepared filling to an empty pan, then add a crisp crumble on top before baking. Luckily, you can stick with the canned theme when making the topping. Many recipes (like this peach crisp recipe from Jessica Morone) use oats in the preparation of the crisp topping, so you can grab a can of Quaker Oats and prepare a phenomenal pumpkin dessert almost entirely by can.

Wine and juice to quench your thirst alongside soda and beer

A splendid meal can't be achieved solely through top-notch food items. After all, that line of thinking ignores the other half of meal consumption: drinks and beverages. Luckily for any folks hoping to present an impeccable selection of drink choices while having Thanksgiving entirely by can, there are plenty of canned beverages to consider outside the standard soda or beer options.

Obviously, grabbing some 12 or 24-packs of soda and/or beer is an easy process. Both of those products are available pretty much everywhere. Still, if you're looking for a non-alcoholic, non-carbonated beverage choice, several companies, including Ocean Spray, offer different canned juice products for purchase.

There's also good news for any adults hoping to imbibe alcohol that isn't beer. Aside from hard seltzers, many companies offer pre-made canned cocktails, and different types of wine are also sold via can, including a number of different red and white wine selections sold by House Wine.