How to Cook an Entire Thanksgiving Dinner Using Just an Instant Pot and an Air Fryer

Graphics: Well+Good Creative
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In 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Brown made history by executing the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. One hundred years later, two friends and I performed a feat of equal magnitude: We cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner using just an air fryer and an Instant Pot.

On a nippy afternoon in New York City, the three of us gathered (pre-COVID times) in my friend's 300 square foot apartment to do what the human imagination deemed impossible. With a Trader Joe's bag full of ingredients in hand and the two devices on standby, we got to work making a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and trappings. Five hours—and two bottles of wine—later, we too accomplished something worthy of the history books. It was a Thanksgiving miracle.

Now that the coronavirus has forced all of us to host smaller Thanksgivings in our own homes, I'd like to argue that this small-scale format is perfectly suited for "these challenging times." Here's everything you need to cook a (six serving) Thanksgiving feast using just your Instant Pot and air fryer.

How to make a menu for an Instant Pot and air fryer Thanksgiving

instant pot thanksgiving
All Photos: Jessie Van Amburg; All Graphics: Well+Good Creative

First of all, if you don't have an air fryer or an Instant Pot (or other type of electric pressure cooker)...get thee to a store (or online). There are tons of deals on these models right now thanks to Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

Next, it's time to plan your menu. There are lots of Instant Pot recipes and air fryer recipes out there that are perfectly suited for Thanksgiving cooking. Pick and choose based on your preferences, but here's the menu that we came up with for our feast.

The great Instant Pot and air fryer Thanksgiving menu

Serves 6

In the Instant Pot:

Turkey breast (recipe courtesy of I Am A Food Blog)
Instant Pot pumpkin pie (recipe courtesy of Spruce Eats)
Cranberry sauce (Well+Good senior food and health editor Jessie's family recipe, modified per Damn Delicious' instructions to work in an Instant Pot)
Mashed sweet potatoes (recipe courtesy of Crunchy Creamy Sweet)

In the air fryer:

• Crispy Brussels sprouts (no recipe; simply seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper)
• Biscuits (Pillsbury)
Stuffing balls (recipe courtesy of BBC, made vegetarian by adding no meat)

The rules of the challenge

Rule 1: You can use the oven only as a warming station for dishes made in the air fryer or Instant Pot.

Rule 2: Dishes can be started on the stovetop if necessary, but cooking must primarily take place in either air fryer or Instant Pot.

Rule 3: You can start prep the night before—if you so desire.

The process, from cheesecake to biscuits

instant pot thanksgiving
Cranberry sauce, turkey breast, biscuits, stuffing balls, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts

Since one member of our trio happened to be a Virgo (the sign known for having a curse, ahem, knack for organization), we had a very detailed Google Doc to reference throughout the cooking extravaganza. We began around 3 p.m. once we obtained a 7-inch springform pan, which we would need to bake the pie in the Instant Pot. Because the Instant Pot requires a longer time to work its culinary magic (and some of the foods we cooked in there required chilling after cooking), we started with its recipes. The whole process looked a little something like this:

Step 1: Crank the holiday tunes. (Michael Bublé? Check. A Charlie Brown Christmas album? Also check.)

Step 2: Prepare the pumpkin cheesecake. While the pie is cooking (roughly for 45 minutes in the Instant Pot), go ahead and do all the prep work to cut the sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, onions, and other ingredients for other recipes. When the pie is done, cover in plastic wrap and leave it in the freezer to set.

Step 3: Make the cranberry sauce in the Instant Pot (no pressure cooking required, just cook on the "Saute" setting with the lid off), then remove and chill in the fridge. Clean out the Instant Pot to get it ready for the turkey.

Step 4: Next up, it's time to prepare the turkey breast. While one person is cooking the bird, the other should fire up the air fryer and get to work on the stuffing balls. When those are done, leave them in the oven to stay warm. Do the same with the turkey breast.

Step 5: While the last item, the sweet potatoes, is cooking away in the Instant Pot, cook the Brussels sprouts and the biscuits back to back. Mash the finished sweet potatoes.

Step 6: Reheat items if necessary, and serve.

The verdict

instant pot thanksgiving
Instant Pot pumpkin pie

The air fryer and Instant Pot Friendsgiving was a smashing success, with each dish a symphony for the tastebuds. When everything was ready to eat, we served up heaping plates and ate to our hearts' content (and then a little bit more, for good measure). By the time we washed dishes and called it a night, the three of us had been on a journey through butter, pumpkin, sage, sugar, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and more butter—with plenty to take home as leftovers.

We were also largely able to stick to the limitations of our challenge; everything was cooked in either the IP or the air fryer. However, we cheated a bit on the turkey. It was entirely cooked in the Instant Pot, but right before serving, we broiled the cooked breast for about three minutes to give it a nice brown color on the outside. We could have eaten it safely (and deliciously) without that step, but it admittedly looked a bit nicer with a bit of extra color and crispiness provided by the broiler.

The recipes we made only yielded enough for about six servings each, which honestly makes it ideal for a quarantine Thanksgiving. However, if next year you wanted to replicate the results but with a larger crowd, you could have someone bring over a sous-vide for the turkey and another bring over a second Instant Pot in order to double the servings (and speed things up a bit) without issue.

"I loved how the cooking was like a different kind of challenge," says Jessie Van Amburg, Well+Good's senior food and health editor and the aformentioned Virgo. "I felt like it was a final exam of sorts that tested our respective air fryer and Instant Pot knowledge. And judging by how delicious everything tasted, I would say we definitely passed!" Bojana Galic, a writer for Livestrong who also participated, adds: "Honestly, I loved that aside from checking recipes or snapping the occasional photo, none of us checked our phone during pretty much the whole night. We were present in the experience, which made it all the more meaningful and enjoyable, in my opinion."

For me, the afternoon proved that the air fryer and Instant Pot work better together. Since the dawn of time (okay, since last winter), Jessie and I have argued over which of the two devices is better. Now it's finally decided: They're a pair! Like John Alcock and Arthur Brown, to do the impossible, they needed each other.

Speaking of pie, how about a healthy blueberry recipe:

This story was originally published on November 25, 2019. It was updated on November 24, 2020.

Speaking of Turkey day, here are the foods to buy instead of make. And the big old salads to add to the table for extra greenery

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