The economy is in a major slump, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pull together a lavish and sophisticated Thanksgiving. Epicurious.com has created a three-course meal with most of the fixings, including stuffing, soup and pie, all for under $80. And if you want to spend an extra $20, you can get two good bottles of wine to pair with the meal, like Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull, a California Zinfandel that's less than $10.
- Go for what's in season: When planning your meal, first consult the calendar. This is no time for asparagus and artichokes. Buy produce in season, and you will get much more for your money, not to mention livelier flavors. Brussels sprouts are at their peak in late November; farmers' markets should have them in huge quantities, still on their stalks. (Serving them sliced rather than whole not only makes them more tantalizing but also helps them go further.) Fresh herbs have become available all year round, so it can be a better deal to buy a bunch rather than an expensive jar of the dried kind — fresh sage might be $1.99 compared with $6.50 for half an ounce dried, which could go stale by the next time you need it.
- Buy a supermarket bird: In an ideal world we would all be eating heritage turkeys. They have outstanding texture and flavor, and when we buy them, we help preserve unique breeds. But they are anything but a bargain: A 12- to 14-pound bird — which feeds eight — from Heritage Foods USA goes for $159 including shipping, or more than $10 a pound.
Supermarket turkeys can be fine alternatives for less than $2 a pound. Just be sure to buy a free-range or organic turkey rather than an industrial one injected with flavored oil. (See our Supermarket Turkey Taste Test for more information.) Plus, brining will add flavor and improve texture in even the least expensive birds, all for about $2.29 for a big box of kosher salt, an ingredient that can be used to season the rest of the meal.
- Start from scratch: Some convenience foods are often ridiculously cheap, loaded as they are with high-fructose corn syrup and chemicals, yet they rarely taste better than homemade. To cut costs and ensure the tastiest of feasts, make your own pie crust, cranberry sauce, and gravy rather than opening up a box or can. Instead of paying $8 for a single loaf from an artisanal bakery, bake up some dinner rolls with yeast, butter, and flour for a little over $7. A bakery-bought pecan pumpkin pie can go for upwards of $50, but a homemade version will run you $15 — and $5 less if you omit the pecans.
- Know when to buy canned or frozen: Some canned and frozen foods are fine alternatives to fresh. Canned pumpkin is one of the great American ingredients, and the generic brands are as good as premium labels. You could make a pie using a fresh cheese pumpkin for $5, but you would wind up with a more watery filling than one made from a $2.49 can. And frozen vegetables can be both superior to and cheaper than out-of-season fresh ones; a bag of Cascadian Farms flash-frozen baby peas is $2.69, compared with $3.99 a pound or more for fresh snow peas, the only kind you are likely to find in November.
- Don’t be a slave to a recipe: If you don't want to spring for three kinds of herbs in your soup or stuffing, choose one. Or none. Nothing but salt and pepper is ever really indispensable. Substitute water for canned stock in a soup; use a slurry of flour and water to thicken your pan gravy rather than making turkey stock. Instead of investing in a can of shortening for a pie crust, substitute butter for the two tablespoons needed in the recipe. The great thing about Thanksgiving is that the whole really is much more than the parts. Cut corners where you have to, and all anyone will notice in the end is a heaping plate.
- Make it a potluck: Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. People are happy to pitch in and bring a dish or two, and potlucks are trendy right now (see our guide to hosting or attending a Potluck Thanksgiving). Wine is not included in the budget here, so be open about suggesting a suitable-for-turkey California Zinfandel, like Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull, which is less than $10. Also check out our suggestions on great-value boxed wines.