No stove, no problem: How I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people without a stove

  • We had just moved to our new house and the stove and oven didn't work at the same time.

  • When trying to fix it, the gas company left us without a stove days before Thanksgiving.

  • We had 20 people coming over and I was excited about the challenge of cooking without a stove.

We moved into a new house a few months before Thanksgiving, the same year we were expecting our largest crowd. I bought matching silverware and extra chairs to accommodate everyone. But there was one major concern: my stove top and oven didn't work at the same time. They both worked. But, once either was ignited, the other didn't turn on. I decided not to risk it for the holiday. If there's one day of the year you need an oven, it's Thanksgiving.

There was time to order a new range, and I found a deal at a clearance center for a high-end floor model. While hooking up the stove, one burner caught fire. With no ability to fix the gas leak, the delivery men turned off the gas, left us with our "final sale" purchase, and took the old half-working stove with them.

The gas company red-tagged the stove days before Thanksgiving, declaring it hazardous. It was too late to cancel, and I didn't want to relocate the dinner to another relative's house or cater the meal.

I looked forward to cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and an inoperable stove wouldn't stop me.

We tried new side dishes that were easy to cook

The biggest obstacle was the turkeys. That year, we bought two turkeys to feed the large crowd, plus enough for leftovers.

I had visions of my husband tending a smoker at 2 a.m. We had no experience deep frying or smoking turkeys and didn't own a fryer or smoker. Instead of risking having no turkey, I outsourced the main course to my parents.

Then, I planned a menu using the tools available — a slow cooker, grill, and toaster oven. I found recipes for slow cooker sides to stand in for our family favorites and planned to grill vegetables. I realized I needed more appliances to host a holiday, so I borrowed a second crock pot and bought a three-burner crock pot and a vegetable grilling rack.

An oven-free holiday was an opportunity to try new sides like cornbread casserole, green bean casserole, and hits like cranberry sauce, one-pot sweet potato casserole with fresh sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese. We grilled a mix of eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers that delighted guests with a burst of color in a sea of beige on our Thanksgiving table. And stuffing, made with our family recipe, baked perfectly in the toaster oven.

The menu required a lot of coordination

Each recipe had different cooking times, and some sides had finishing instructions such as adding the topping to the sweet potatoes and cooking for additional time. Coordinating the menu required a detailed prep and cooking schedule so everything would finish at the same time.

We also had pies. Baking is my favorite part of the holiday, so I didn't outsource that either. The night before Thanksgiving, I brought homemade pie crusts and premeasured ingredients to my parent's house and baked a chocolate pecan and a pumpkin pie.

At the last minute, six guests couldn't make it, which gave us more room at the table and a lot of leftover turkey. My family raved about the hot and fresh side dishes, the result of coordinating five slow cookers.

That was the first Thanksgiving in my new home and the last Thanksgiving my family spent together before COVID-19. Since that year, I still include some traditional family side dishes, especially ones that honor my mother-in-law's memory. But slow cooker sides are now a part of my holiday menu. They make cooking for a crowd much easier, and everyone appreciates home-cooked sides straight from the burner.

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