Out of an Ingredient? Here’s Your Last-Minute Thanksgiving Substitutions Cheat Sheet

Entertain, Holidays, Thanksgiving


It’s Thanksgiving day and you just realized you ran out of a crucial ingredient. Don’t freak out! Luckily, many ingredients can be approximated. While these swaps aren’t perfect, they may work in a pinch. Be sure to use common sense: if the missing ingredient makes up a large portion of the dish, you’ll likely have less luck than if it’s a supporting player.

Your Thanksgiving Substitutions Cheat Sheet

  • Heavy cream: Substitute two parts whole milk to one part melted unsalted butter. Do note: a mixture of whole milk and melted butter can not be transformed into whipped cream.
  • Butter: Substitute other fats like extra-virgin olive oil or refined coconut oil (if it’s a substitute for butter in its solid state). Since butter is made up of both liquids and fat (it isn’t 100-percent fat), you may want to reduce the amount used by about 10-percent.
  • Buttermilk: Ssubstitute 1 cup whole milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice for every 1 cup of buttermilk. Let stand for 10 minute to thicken before using. (Powdered buttermilk is great to keep on hand so you don’t run into this problem.)
  • Sour cream: Substitute whole fat Greek yogurt.
  • Wine: Substitute chicken stock (season the dish to taste with a bit of lemon juice or white wine vinegar).
  • Fresh herbs: For sage, rosemary, or thyme, substitute one of the others (sage and theme should be used more sparingly than rosemary as their flavor can be overpowering), or dried herbs at a ratio of 3:1 (fresh:dry).
  • All-purpose flour: Substitute equal parts cake and bread flour, sifted together for baking applications. For less-precise applications like rolling out pie crust, or thickening gravy, one or the other will work without blending.
  • Cornstarch: substitute arrowroot (1:1), all-purpose flour (3:1), tapioca starch (2:1), or potato starch (1:1). Arrowroot and tapioca operate similarly to cornstarch, potato starch is a bit more prone to clumping (whisk well), flour will yield a cloudy appearance.
  • Brown sugar: Substitute a mixture of white sugar and molasses. For light brown sugar, beat together 1 cup white sugar and 1 tablespoon molasses until uniform in texture; for dark, add an extra tablespoon of molasses.

And don’t forget to stock up on these oft-forgotten essentials: Buy extra to be safe, especially if you’ll use them in multiple dishes.

Stock Up on Extras of These Ingredients

  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Herbs (sage, rosemary, and thyme)
  • Nuts (if they’re a component in any of the recipes — they’re prone to burning)
  • All-purpose flour
  • Chicken stock
  • Ice (always a good idea when hosting a party or dinner)
  • Tinfoil
  • Wine (for cooking and for drinking)


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