Get all of our tips, tricks and recipes to make the holiday a safe, socially distanced success.

Alex Loh
November 05, 2020
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Thanksgiving 2020 is sure to be a unique celebration compared to years prior. While you might not be able to travel far or host as many people as usual, you can still have a safe, and delicious, celebration. One way to do that is to host an outdoor Thanksgiving instead, which the CDC rates as a moderately safe option. 

To help with your outdoor Thanksgiving, we’ve pulled together some tips and tricks to make your gathering a success. Whether that’s menu inspiration or suggestions for keeping your food (and your guests) warm, EatingWell has you covered. 

The Setup

Before you can think about the food, make sure your outdoor space is ready for guests! The CDC currently recommends that guests of different households be spaced 6 feet apart, so make sure you have enough room for all of your guests to feel comfortable. 

If you don’t have enough chairs for your guests, see if they can bring their own. We recommend using camping chairs since they’re sturdy and often come with holders for your drinks—which means less risk of knocking something over and spilling it!

The Food

Food is the best part of any holiday, but especially on Thanksgiving. And just because you’re having an outdoor celebration doesn’t mean the quality of your food has to suffer. The most important part of taking your holiday meal outdoors is making sure your food stays warm, which you can do in a few ways. (Or, to make things easier, you can also think about serving dishes that are delicious at any temperature, like these Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Goat Cheese & Pomegranate.) 

First, if you have a grill, use it! You can easily cook components of your Thanksgiving meal on the grill, like with our Southwestern Grilled Spatchcock Turkey (pictured above) or Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Honey-Balsamic Glaze. Or you could use your grill as a warmer, according to EatingWell’s Test Kitchen manager, Breana Killeen. She suggests putting everything in foil pans covered with foil and/or cast-iron pans and keeping the temp on medium to medium-low.

Another appliance you can utilize is a slow cooker. You can run an extension cord to your outdoor space and plug in your appliance to keep the food warm throughout the meal. Side dishes like stuffing, green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole can easily be made in your slow cooker. Your slow cooker is also a great option for making and holding drinks like hot chocolate or hot cider with brandy. Have your guests bring their own insulated mugs so their drinks (and their hands) can stay warm! (We love Yeti’s 14-ounce mug that comes in multiple colors, $25)

If you don’t have access to those appliances, you can also look into food warmers. If you know you’re going to be hosting many outdoor gatherings, a food warmer like this one from Target is a good option (buy it: Target, on sale for $30). Or you can opt for a reusable Sterno set, which takes up minimal storage space (buy it: Amazon, $19).

The Guests

As important as it is to keep the food warm, your guests need to be warm too! (You can’t enjoy a belly full of turkey if your fingers are frozen.) One way to do that is hosting your meal earlier in the day if possible. A Thanksgiving lunch ensures that you’re outside when the sun is warmest, a tip EatingWell’s senior digital food editor, Megan O. Steintrager, learned from her childhood celebrations. 

Another easy way to keep your guests warm: heated blankets! Many of my colleagues touted heated blankets as the reason they stayed warm at outdoor gatherings. Suggest your guests bring their own blankets while you provide the extension cord for everyone to stay toasty! (We love this option from Target that comes in nine patterns, $30.)

You could also opt for hand warmers like these ones that stay active for up to 10 hours (buy it: Amazon, on sale for $20). Or build a bonfire, which does double duty as a heat source and as an option for making Banana Chocolate S'mores or Strawberry Nutella S'mores

However you choose to celebrate this year—whether that’s outdoors, virtually or just for two—you can easily have a safe and delicious Thanksgiving!