11 Chefs Share What They Secretly Buy for Thanksgiving

Scroll through to see what 11 chefs from all over the country buy and make for Thanksgiving.
Illustration by Kaitlyn Flannagan

Judy Joo, Jinjuu


"I have a very multi-cultural family and a huge Thanksgiving planned this year for 25 people in Los Angeles. In addition to the usual turkey, we always have some of the greatest and somewhat trashy American sides. French’s Green Bean Casserole made with a can of Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup, topped with French’s Crispy Fried Onions always makes it to the table, as well as Ritz Cracker corn casserole. Both are a bit 1970s in style, but are always a hit as they really are so tasty and ridiculously easy to throw together. There's a reason people still make them all the time.


I always insist on making my own apple pie, crust and all.  I always make a great lard crust—it’s so much flakier and really adds a nice savoriness. I make whipped cream with a fresh vanilla bean, and a dash of rum to spice things up.


We do a DIY pumpkin creme brûlée, where we pass a mini kitchen blow torch around the table (adults only) and everyone “brûlées” their own sugar on top. This is always so fun, as it turns into a competition as to who can do it the best without burning it."

Courtesy Judy Joo

Salvatore Lobuglio, Co-Owner and Lead Chef at Little Cupcake Bakeshop


"I buy Beyond Meat plant-based burger patties during Thanksgiving, which definitely no one would ever have imagined since we are a traditional Italian family.

When we were young we used to buy pasta and for desserts cannoli and chocolate brownie cake...but not so much anymore, because we can bring our own goods now."

Courtesy Salvatore Lobuglio

Agathe Lerolle, Founder of She is French

"Thanksgiving is one of my favorite celebrations. It reminds me of long Sunday lunches in France where nobody wants to leave the table and you continue to talk long past the meal, until the wine runs out.

My Thanksgiving style is more like a potluck as I'm lucky to have some of my best friends that cook fantastically. Everyone brings an assortment of vegetable and desserts. I stick with the turkey, but I’ve never been able to do the stuffing as well as the one from Whole Foods. And I always make the mousse au chocolat from my mom’s recipe."

Pamela Berkovic

David Burke, James Beard Award Winner, Executive Chef at Tavern62 and BLT Prime

"Making awesome stuffing from scratch is a must. My two favorite varieties are sausage cornbread stuffing, which I serve as part of Thanksgiving dinner at Tavern62 and Oyster Rockefeller stuffing with spinach, Parmesan and bacon. Making your own turkey is a must, but you don't always need to roast a whole one, depending on the amount of guests. Prepare a simple entrée of Turkey Cutlets, either Parmesan-style or encrusted with chopped pecans.

Order pizza without any of the cheese or sauce, then top with fresh herbs, olive oil and shaved parmesan. You can also turn store-bought pumpkin pies into individual pumpkin pie sundaes with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and chopped nuts."

Susan Mezzulo

Elizabeth Blau, Founder & CEO of Blau + Associates, Co-Owner of Honey Salt

"The ingredients in green bean casserole are simply over-the-top, but once a year you can splurge. You must use Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup, butter, sour cream and mayo. Don’t use the canned onion rings. I cheat and get the fried onions from Honey Salt."

Courtesy Elizabeth Blau

Chef Steven Zobel, Executive Chef at Big City Tavern

"I’ve been making the same stuffing for years. It has chicken livers and andouille sausage, tons of butter and, although I add killer brioche croutons to it, I find you can’t beat Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Cubed Stuffing croutons. It saves a lot of work and they bring back the flavors of my mom's famous Thanksgiving stuffing."


Fabio Viviani, Top Chef Contestant and Cookbook Author

"I keep frozen vegetables on hand—partly to save time on chopping and partly because the vegetables are flash-frozen at their peak and taste great. I buy puff pastry or pie crust to save the time and the extra clean up.

I never buy pre-marinated roast meat. Whether you’re making a turkey, a pot roast or braised pork, it’s so easy to make your own dry rub or marinade. The cooking process itself is fairly no-fuss—just marinate then toss in an oven, Dutch oven, or slow cooker."

Courtesy Fabio Viviani 

Shira Lenchewski, Dietitian and Author of The Food Therapist

“Pumpkin pie is my favorite part of Thanksgiving, so it’s the one time I’ll really go all out and steam fresh pumpkins versus buying canned. It’s a bit labor intensive and not practical at all, but I can taste a difference, so it’s worth it to do once a year.

On the other hand, I’m too nervous to make my own turkey (that’s a lot of pressure), so the past couple of years we’ve bought an organic one from a local restaurant and it’s been absolutely amazing— and a huge relief.”

Morgan Pansing

Cassidee Dabney, Executive Chef of The Barn at Blackberry Farm

"I always buys French's Fried Onions versus making them from scratch. I don't have a home fryer or the time to fry and it's incredibly messy business. It destroys the kitchen and wreaks havoc on your eyes and clothes. Plus, French's stay crunchier than anything you could make from scratch."

Courtesy Blackberry Farm

Sam Talbot, Finalist on Bravo's Top Chef and Owner of Pretty Southern

"I love using frozen cranberries for cranberry sauce. Most people think you have to use fresh cranberries to get a better sauce, and that's just not the case. Frozen are sweeter and way easier to work with. I use frozen cranberries not only for my cranberry sauce, but for pies and parfaits on the Thanksgiving dessert table."

Courtesy Sam Talbo

Billy Olivia, Delmonico’s Restaurant’s Executive Chef

"I buy Libby’s Canned Pumpkin Puree but make my own pie crust. I buy cannoli and struffoli (honey balls from my neighborhood pastry shop, Artuso in Yonkers). I pick up cured meats and cheeses at my neighborhood Italian deli, Avitabile Deli, also in Yonkers.

I make everything else myself, especially homemade cranberry sauce, bacon-wrapped turkey (if I really want to impress, I'll wrap my own 18-hour slow roast cured bacon around the turkey and roast to boost flavor) and stuffing. I use my mom's recipe with sweet Italian sausage, fennel seed, onion, celery, garlic, toasted bread, thyme, and sage—it's the same recipe I use at Delmonico’s. I also make Artichoke Casserole with artichoke hearts, capers, bread crumbs, butter, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and olive oil."

Courtesy Billy Olivia

On Thanksgiving, everyone loves a homecooked meal…but even professional chefs agree that it’s okay to cheat. The Observer spoke to chefs all over the country to find out their favorite secret ingredients, from Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup to French’s French Fried Onions. So this year, when you secretly buy pre-made pie crust and pretend you made it from scratch, you don’t have to feel guilty.

Scroll through to see why even world-famous chefs sometimes opt for canned pumpkins and frozen vegetables.

We noticed you're using an ad blocker.

We get it: you like to have control of your own internet experience.
But advertising revenue helps support our journalism.

To read our full stories, please turn off your ad blocker.
We'd really appreciate it.

How Do I Whitelist Observer?

How Do I Whitelist Observer?

Below are steps you can take in order to whitelist Observer.com on your browser:

For Adblock:

Click the AdBlock button on your browser and select Don't run on pages on this domain.

For Adblock Plus on Google Chrome:

Click the AdBlock Plus button on your browser and select Enabled on this site.

For Adblock Plus on Firefox:

Click the AdBlock Plus button on your browser and select Disable on Observer.com.

Then Reload the Page